In recent weeks I’ve written about how to cool cities, and how to reduce the risk of urban flooding. The kinds of adaptation measures I described in both those posts are visible in a city that’s been in the climate news recently: Athens. Greece’s capital is currently preoccupied with fires to the north, but other climate disasters also trouble the city. It is very built up and has too little green space – the lowest per capita green space of any city in the EU in fact. This exacerbates the urban heat island effect, and the city is often 10C degrees hotter than the surrounding areas. That same dense urbanisation makes it vulnerable to flash flooding and air pollution.
In response, Athens has a number of initiatives to cool and green the city. To begin with, existing green spaces will be enhanced and protected. The most important of these is the urban forest of Lycabettus hill, a prominent and popular viewpoint. Improvements around the area will focus on reducing floods and erosion, and increasing biodiversity. Work is also going into making it more accessible to people with limited mobility, and increasing the number of entry points into the woods so that more local people can enjoy them on foot or by bike.
From the woods around the hill, a green corridor flows through the city to join up with another important green space at Strefi hill. This includes new tree plantings, green walls, hedges and birdboxes.
Elsewhere, new pedestrianisation schemes will reduce traffic and create space for trees and shade. Existing squares and plazas are reducing paved areas and introducing more green space. Altogether the target is to create 25% more green space across the city. Some of this will be on buildings, with vertical gardens or green roofs. 14 schools in the city have been retrofitted with green roofs. Vacant lots are being made into pocket parks.
There’s blue infrastructure as well as green. Athens used to have a lot more fountains, and many of them fell into disrepair after budget cuts during the financial crisis. There is an ongoing project to restore and reactivate 34 fountains of various sizes throughout the city.
These are all measures that reduce the heat island effect and cool the city, which is increasingly important as climate change amplifies the risk of heatwaves. It also reduces dust and noise, improves biodiversity, and lowers flood risk. The city also becomes a more attractive place to live in and walk around, which improves the lives of residents and tourists. There are many benefits to this kind of climate adaptation – which works in tandem with Athens’ climate mitigation plans.
In July of this year, Athens was one of 31 global cities to sign the C40’s Urban Nature Declaration, committing to further increases in green space and biodiversity. Among the other signatories are London, Curitiba, Los Angeles, Durban, Mumbai, Sydney, Tel Aviv and Tokyo, suggesting that this kind of climate adaptation is a global movement. And with temperature records broken on a regular basis, it’s an urgent priority for the world’s cities.