Greeks get green – putting nature in citizens’ hands

Green spaces are fundamental to urban living. They provide us with places to exercise, socialise and relax. They also play a vital role in cooling our cities, improving air quality by removing smoke, dust and other pollutants from the air. Despite the considerable benefits, there simply aren’t enough green areas in many dense cities around the world.

This is especially true in mainland Greece. The proportion of urban green spaces per citizen in Athens is only 0.96m2, just 11% of the 9m2 that the World Health Organization recommends (OECD). On top of this, many of the green spaces that do exist are in poor condition, or unknown to locals. It’s little wonder that the citizens of Athens are among the most disappointed in Europe when it comes to accessing green spaces (European Commission).

The World Wide Fund for Nature has partnered with Microsoft to change this. Rather than simply campaign for more land, WWF Greece had an exciting idea: why not get Greeks passionate about their parks again? What if we were to mobilize citizens and encourage them to play a more active role in how their parks are designed and cared for?

WWF Greece launched WWF GreenSpaces, a straightforward app that uses crowd-sourcing to map and manage 945 urban green spaces in 109 cities across Greece. Through the app, citizens can easily provide feedback on the quality and cleanliness of their parks, flagging any areas that need improvement. Information shared on the app is tracked by WWF Hellas, and is shared with local authorities and volunteer groups to turn citizens’ comments into action. Citizens can also read reviews, meaning they are kept informed of new green spaces to visit and the progress of park improvements.

“WWF GreenSpaces is an app created by citizens, for citizens,” said Achilleas Plitharas, Awareness Officer at WWF Greece. “Every time I visit a green space, I want to be able to share my thoughts on what can be improved, and know my opinion will reach my fellow citizens and the authorities.”

The citizens of Thessaloniki have already made their voices heard through GreenSpaces. Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece, and more than 1,600 citizens have downloaded the app. Prompted by citizens’ feedback, the municipality’s Department of Green Infrastructure has already improved the cleanliness of 10 green spaces in the city, with an ambitious plan to restore all negatively rated green spaces.

“Our purpose is to raise citizens’ awareness regarding the protection and improvement of urban spaces,” said Evagelos Matziris, Head of the Department of Green Infrastructure in the Municipality of Thessaloniki. “The data is valuable for our department because our citizens’ opinions are clearly reflected, helping us schedule targeted actions that correspond to the true needs of our citizens.”

To make this kind of crowd-sourcing-into-action possible, WWF Greece needed a way to connect citizens, governments and volunteers through just one platform. WWF choose Microsoft Azure, to ensure the app could be available everywhere, at any time.

“Reliability, and the renowned stability of Azure, was the main factor that drove us to choose Microsoft,” Plitharas explained. “WWF Greece is committed to achieving a balanced relationship between man and nature. But this requires both time and resources, and tools that can make our ideas a reality. Working together with DICE and Microsoft, we were able to do that.”

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