NEWS

Missed opportunities for housing sector

Over the years, there have been attempts made to bring under control the increased spread of concrete along the Saronic shore. Some efforts have worked better than others. Others failed either because they were abandoned before they were completed or because new needs made them redundant. Athens has seen two major influxes of people in its recent history. The first was after the Asia Minor war in the early 1920s, when almost 300,000 ethnic Greek refugees settled on the outskirts of what was then a small Balkan capital The second was during the 1950s and 1960s when people flooded into Athens from the provinces ravaged by the Second World War and subsequent civil war. In the former case there was a coordinated response, in the latter there was none. The first attempts to organize the city’s housing development was not to house refugees. During the 1920s the suburbs of Psychico, Ekali and Filothei were designed along the lines of English garden cities. The initial name given to Filothei was Nea Alexandria, after the cooperative of National Bank staff members that set it up. The advertising leaflet for Psychico, issued in 1929, left no doubts as to the desired social and financial status of prospective buyers. It contained photographs of magnificent estates and promises of privileges such as a shopping center, independent water and electricity supplies, a local stone quarry and private bus routes. Filothei, on the other hand, was managed by a bank cooperative and not by private individuals as was Psychico. That meant that Filothei initially kept a more petit bourgeois profile that at least nominally rejected «arrogance» and the «foreign» architecture of the Psychico mansions. Despite occasional alterations, both these suburbs have retained their original character, offering quality in a city where aesthetics and the environment have been reduced to a common denominator. At the same time, the Greek state was trying to deal with the acute problem of housing the refugees, whose influx resulted in an increase in the city’s population that in 1930 was 10 times higher than the number provided for in the original town plan. The Refugees’ Care Fund, the Refugees’ Resettlement Committee and the Welfare Ministry built settlements on the outskirts of the city center, at Kaisariani, Vyronas, Hymettus, Nea Philadelphia, Peristeri, Kokkinia, Tavros, Halkidona and Nea Ionia. Individuals also took initiatives, such as in Nea Smyrni where a less ambitious version of the Psychico-Filothei experiment was attempted. Today most of Nea Smyrni’s houses have been demolished to make way for apartments, but traces of the original design remain in the many squares and parks. Apartment buildings Designs for refugee settlements were usually limited to drawing up town plans that provided for humble abodes with only rudimentary facilities, but during the 1930s the construction of new homes coincided with the growing popularity of Modernist apartment buildings. These led to the refugee apartments on Alexandras Avenue and in Dourgoutiou Street in Neos Cosmos, which were imbued with a new housing ideology that was open to the demands of the time and technological advancements. After World War II, growing internal migration forced the state to build worker housing in apartment blocks influenced by the principles of the Modernist movement. The realization that a crisis was occurring in Athens did not lend itself to exciting ideas. With the exception of the Olympic Village in Thrakomakedones and the restoration of Plaka as a listed district, the authorities have not implemented any comprehensive housing policy. Only the major earthquake of 1999, and to a lesser extent, the 2004 Olympic Games provided an impetus for sporadic restorations of refugee and worker housing complexes. In fact, over the past few years there has been a growing trend for private settlements to be built in the suburbs, destined for families in the middle- and high-income brackets.