As Greeks Abandon Troubled Athens, Are Cities Really Sustainable?


Image credit: Jay Galvin, used under Creative Commons license.

There's been much talk about the relative sustainability of urban versus rural living. What with the small carbon footprint of New Yorkers, and the tiny fridges of Copenhagen, many commentators argue that cities offer inherently more efficient, compact and therefore sustainable lifestyles without sacrificing quality of life. Yet news comes that young Athenians are leaving their city in droves in the wake of a devastating financial crisis and increasing lawlessness, instead seeking a simpler life in the country. Is this a disaster for sustainability, or the first shoots of a greener, saner path forward? Reporting over at The Guardian on the ongoing Greek financial crisis, Helena Smith tells us that there is a mass rural migration going on among young Greeks. Struggling to find jobs, worried about increasing crime and unrest, and disillusioned by the idea of Greece as a modern, market-driven economy, they are instead trying to build a more traditional lifestyle:

High in the hills of Arcadia, in a big stone house on the edge of this village overlooking verdant pastures and a valley beyond, a group of young Athenians are busy rebuilding their lives. Until recently Andritsaina was not much of a prospect for urban Greeks. "But that," said Yiannis Dikiakos, "was before Athens turned into the explosive cauldron that it has become. We woke up one day and thought we've had enough. We want to live the real Greece and we want to live it somewhere else."

Dikiakos, who is apparently soon to be joined by 10 friends also sick of Athens, blames politicians for failing to fix a crumbling economy. Bu he, and many like him, are returning to villages in the hope of rediscovering or rebuilding traditional social support networks independent of government support.

As someone who has mused over the merits and drawbacks of his own voluntary rural "green" lifestyle, it's fascinating to see current events driving this trend from necessity, not romanticism. Perhaps this is just one more reminder that sustainability means little without resilience. If we want our cities to continue to deliver efficient, low-impact living well into the future, then we would do well to focus on their ability to do so equitably and effectively, even when the going gets tough.

More on Rural Versus Urban Living and Sustainability
Is Rural Green Living An Elitist Illusion?
Is It Greener to Live in the Town or the Country?
New York City: Sustainable City?
tTiny Fridges Make Better Cities: Oprah Visits Copenhagen

Tags: Cities | Economics | Greece | Poverty

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