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Interview with the Mayor of Athens on crisis management and the path to recovery
Kostas Bakoyannis has been serving as Mayor of Athens since September 2019. In this conversation he shares how the coronavirus pandemic has shaped his term and priorities and what his recovery plans are for the time after the crisis.
Mr Bakoyannis, the beginning of your term as mayor of Athens coincided with a huge challenge for every member of society - the COVID-19 pandemic. How have the municipal social policy and its digital services been restructured in 2020?
The most important thing we can do as a city during the pandemic is to support our most vulnerable residents. Along with existing programmes, services and structures, we have quickly created and implemented new ones in order to assist low-income families, the elderly, people with disabilities, drug addicts, homeless people, women with children, victims of domestic violence as well as migrants and refugees.
Food, medicine and every other possible support and assistance (psychological, consulting, nursing, house cleaning services, family aid, legal advise, housing, integration services etc.) have been distributed regularly in municipal structures, on the street (streetwork) or at home. The enhanced support program for vulnerable groups "Help at Home Plus" is the back-bone of this effort, supported by other specialized structures like the three new Social Clinics (Mental Health, Pathological-Surgical and Dental Clinic), the new Multipurpose Homeless Shelter (24/7 Day Center, Dormitory and Hostel with a total capacity of up to 400 people) and the Guesthouse for homeless drug addicts.
We created hotlines for outreach and support so that there is always an expert and someone who cares available to talk on the phone.
As far as the restructuring of our digital services is concerned, please allow me to say that, in a sense, we have tried to see the crisis as an opportunity for changes that were pending for years, if not decades, such as the digital restructure of the municipal services, which allows us today to offer the citizens a broad variety of services and dozens of certificates that, until a few months ago, required physical presence of the applicant at the municipal offices.
So, this urgent necessity to apply social distancing measures for the protection of the citizens’ and municipal employees’ health has accelerated a much needed digital transition. This new form of “communication” with the citizens not only facilitates them in their everyday life but also promotes sound and transparent procedures in the relation between the administration and the citizen.
What are some other measures you have introduced that you consider to be among the most timely and effective?
Covid-19 demands that we become more agile as a city, and has made it crucial to look at the basic features of city life. How do we keep the city clean and safe? How do we provide services for our citizens? How do we move around the city?
Of course, these questions are not just relevant to Athens, since every city in the world is talking about building back better and sharing stories and examples. We immediately invested in cleaning streets and sidewalks, and over the long term we are investing in waste management and raising awareness about recycling.
We expanded our digital infrastructure so that we can provide more basic services remotely. And we are creating a new sustainable mobility plan that will give people more options to get around the city, from rebuilding sidewalks to securing space for bikes and electric vehicles.
Did you and your administration face understanding and support from citizens when implementing these measures?
While I was running for mayor in early 2019, I was walking through our neighborhoods every day and talking with residents about their visions for Athens. People did not share vague thoughts, indeed they had many concrete needs and ideas.
Athenians are very familiar with these conversations about the future of the city because we have been discussing plans to change the city for many decades. Since moving into the mayor’s office, our team has been driven by the need to turn conversation into action, to spark new investments, and to compete on a global scale.
I am confident that our citizens understand the challenges that we face as a city and that they want to see action, and they also realize that for the first time in many years we have the need and opportunity to take action.
What are your other priorities beyond the health crisis?
We’re prioritizing a green and resilient recovery. In the next months, we will implement a new strategic plan that invests 40 million euros in entrepreneurship, jobs, and social support.
This crucial roadmap managed through the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency will help small businesses and the tourism sector adapt to the new economy. It will create new and more sustainable jobs, enhance our social support infrastructure, and sets high expectations for digital innovation.
What do you wish to the inhabitants of Athens for 2021?
I really hope that nobody feels lonely this year as we will do our best to stand by our citizens and leave no one behind.
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