An apartment with a view, for now

Antigone and her family moved recently from Faliron to Markopoulo. When they were looking for an apartment and the idea came up of moving out to the east of the city, she was alarmed. The thought of living so far from the center where she works and her friends live did not appeal. Yet the area had the tranquility of other suburbs without their prohibitive prices. They found a good apartment with a view in a newly built block. «It’s lovely. In the end it takes about the same time to get into the city by Attiki Odos, and the Vari-Koropi road suits me too. The only thing that bothers me is that every day I go out onto the balcony and see yet another building site.» The new building where she lives comprises six apartments, all of which were bought by former residents of central or middle-class suburbs of Athens who wanted to get away from rental accommodation. Athens is expanding. Psychico, Halandri, Glyfada and other traditional suburbs no longer monopolize the interest of homebuyers looking for better living conditions. Their high prices on the one hand, and on the other the convenience of transport via Attiki Odos and, to a certain extent, the suburban railway, have impelled Athenians beyond the city limits. Markopoulo, Koropi, Vari, Kalyvia, Gerakas, Kantza, Mati, Loutsa, Porto Rafti and Anavyssos no longer seem so far away, and many home buyers have friends who have already chosen to live there. Lina Karayianni and her fiance started looking east of Athens recently too. Their dream of a house became reality in Gerakas. «My parents had bought a block of land there ages ago. At that time it was deserted. We never imagined going and living their ourselves,» she told Kathimerini. Besides, they were used to living downtown where everything was handy. «And yet in the past few years it began to look like a good idea. We wanted to get away from paying rent and we were also fed up with the noise of the city. The center began to seem repulsive to me, the atmosphere was suffocating and we couldn’t relax.» So they decided to build and have not regretted it. «Coming here, I realized that you can have a better quality of life. I can see the mountains and breathe fresh air, and at last I can see the sunset.» Not everything is rosy, however. Karayianni uses her car even to get to the local kiosk, and she has to drive along Attiki Odos every day to get to work. «I calculate that I spend more than 200 euros a month just on tolls and gasoline.» In Gerakas, of course, building is going on everywhere. «But I don’t think it will ever become like Kallithea. Besides, there’s a low building-to-space ratio. I hope some open spaces and squares remain.» Greenery at risk But the building development of Athens cannot be left to hopes. As Giorgos Sariyiannis, professor of town planning at the National Technical University, told Kathimerini, «If Athens continues to be built according to present conditions – in other words, legally – it will contain 30 million inhabitants.» Sariyiannis does not see the expansion toward Mesogeia as a positive development. «It will be the same as when Athenians went to the northern and southern suburbs a couple of decades ago. The green belt of Athens was destroyed, extra commuting caused more smog and traffic congestion worsened. I know people who have moved from Maroussi to Kapandriti. Not even Maroussi satisfies those who want clean air any more. So we’ve destroyed the nearby suburbs and we’re leaving them to go and destroy other areas. It’s a vicious cycle. But we have to understand that if there is no greenery around Athens – if Mesogeia, for example, is turned to cement – air masses will stop circulating, raising the temperature even higher.» Sariyiannis does not believe the recent trend to return to the center is very strong: «The center has been upgraded lately and some people choose to live there, but very few. Yet there is a wealth of housing in Athens that is not being utilized. Investors are returning to the center, chiefly to underprivileged areas that are now being revamped, such as Gazi, to create bars and restaurants. But such changes do not benefit residents, because they change the social character of these areas.»