On consuming..space

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Ampelokipi, Athens

We were born subjective. The world makes sense only through our own eyes. Yet, our realities get crossed; get severely entangled.

I was always fond of seeing the world through eyes other than my own. I was always fond of watching my reality expanding to include others in it. To include other ways of thinking; other ways of being. I would happily grab every opportunity to see new landscapes, listen to different perspectives, enter in unknown situations, see myself failing and coming up with ways to rise up. Expanding my miniscule horizons became a lifetime objective. And I thought of this as a constructive procedure.

Although I am not a city person, I did fall in love with a few cities: Lisbon, Galway, Athens. I used to love going back to them, roaming around their streets. I loved visiting small shops, meeting the inhabitants, getting mixed with local people in spaces they have built, in places which have been created through the cities’ history; through historical moments; through everyday life. Observing the changes around me somehow always helped to see the changes within me. However, in a last couple of visits, I failed in repeating this “ritual”. It seems that now, things have changed. Now the old traditional neighborhoods are filled with bright shops selling traditional but modernized delicacies wrapped in vivid packages and fast-track tour tickets to see all the essential sights in a day. Now, local people get thrown away from their spots and spaces, to create others, more appealing to visitors. This is not something recent, one would argue. It has been happening for years. However, now, city centers look like fake bubbles of what they actually are not: normal, everyday life seems to be far away; history seems to be happening elsewhere.

While local inhabitants should be the ones shaping a cityscape, now it is visitors and tourists that do it instead. It is our greedy eyes that constructed the gentrificated alleys of Lisbon. It is our thirst to consume culture and beauty that substituted dozens of traditional shops with restaurants and hostels, in the historical center of Athens. It is our thirsty crowd that pushed local people away from their city centers. But isn’t this bad news? Visitors won’t invest their lives to build a city and tourists might, one day, stop coming. We are creating spaces for the ephemeral. We are building cities based on the culture of vagabonds. How can these values shape a healthy and functional cityscape? They can’t and they won’t, I am afraid. And I am afraid that we should take a share of the blame.

Are you suggesting we should stop travelling, visiting places, looking for new experiences? One might think. But I am not. I am suggesting we should take a moment to think. Every action, triggers a reaction. Every single choice has a consequence for the world around us. I am suggesting we should ask ourselves, what is it we, people who love travelling, are seeking around the world. If uniqueness and authenticity is what we are after, we should look further, invest more time, invest more effort. For, I think such values cannot be found in Tripadvisor. For, I am sure, Ryanair cannot quite reach them. For, I am afraid, it is time to reconsider our “constructive” procedures.

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