Street Panthers, Athens

13 11 2007

Athens, once the cradle of the public space is now the cradle of the pitched battle to preserve a vestige of the public space, the city sidewalks. Athenian drivers are effectively turning Athens into a suburbanized, private space with no sidewalks.
Not to fear, though, Athenian pedestrians are resisting car colonization on the sidewalks of Athens.

Pedestrians quoted in Anthee Carassava’s recent article (New York Times, 11/9/07) say they have virtually no where to walk or even stand in Athens. Athenian drivers aggressively colonize sidewalks, parking their SUVs across the public path and the deputy mayor says they “aren’t to blame.” It’s actually city government’s fault, he says, that the drivers have largely removed the 50,000 or so steel columns planted on sidewalks to prevent sidewalk parking during the 2004 Olympics. It’s actually the city’s fault that drivers have “…rammed, removed or ruined most of them.”

Pedestrian rights organizations claim that Greece flagrantly disregards the European Union standard of pedestrian right of way. In Athens walkers have no room left on the sidewalks and if they try to walk along the side of the street they are appealing targets for drivers.

Some walkers resist as individuals, like graphic designer Tassos Pouliasis who touched an SUV in such a way that its alarm went off and now waits for his trial (in 2008) on a bundle of charges that could get him four years in prison.

Other walkers have joined the Streetpanther organization ( and are guerilla walkers. Thei website (click for English) introduces them this way: “We are a bunch of friends from Salonica who started going “illegal” late last year, when walking round the city had become a living hell.” The St.Panthers label offending vehicles with “Day-Glo orange stickers” with a donkey in the driver’s seat, “I park wherever I want.”

plan “b” is guessing that Athenians, especially ones who drive monster cars, are deeply offended by being called an ass. It seems a quaintly nostalgic way to insult someone who commands a satellite-directed, computerized urban tank. But anything that works to settle the hash of a sidewalk parker or SUV driver! is fine with plan “b.”

Speaking of nostalgia, plan “b” is reminded of the 1960s in Paris, when the first of the private autocars, small ones like Deux Chevaux, made of very light metal, gaily parked where they pleased, which meant on the sidewalk even when street parking was available. Post-war consumer cars meant everyone might learn how hard parallel parking really was.

Parisians in those days, men and women, simply sighed their collective “O la la!!s”, four or five pedestrians would look at each other, shrug, and then two fore, two aft, lift the tiny car and deposit it somewhere guaranteed to “put the driver in difficulty.”
plan “b” remembers the time some hefty guys wondered if they might actually get the car up on top of a high wrought iron park fence (the kind with gilded spear tips at the top). They had that heady optimism of people who had just come out of their after work cafe where they’d paid each other half dozen rounds of beer while they played bar dice, waiting for rush hour to subside and the Metro to clear out.

If Athenian (and any other) drivers, especially of SUVs really think the sidewalk belongs to them, plan “b” says let’s make a deal. The maximum allowed car size will be tiny, let’s say 1960s Italian Comedy Fiat tiny. They drive Tiny Car and can park it where they want. If it gets in the way of pedestrians, as few as two can simply heave it out of the way.

It seems like the city of Athens can’t escape its City State of Athens past. Part of the world has appreciated that whole public space thing that Athenians decided to trade-mark way back whenever. And wasn’t Athens the first European city to experiment with even/odd city parking days back in the 1990s, when they had a mayor with an Illinois Institute of Technology plannning degree?

In a way you could tell Athenian sidewalk parkers they brought it on themselves by their association with preserving the public space. Of all people Athenians have a responsibility to expand the public space, not eliminate it. Get the Tiny Car and things will work out the plan “b” way.




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