Land values have risen as residents accept the area’s planning rules

The refugee settlement in the heart of the municipality of Nea Philadelphia was built in the 1920s by what was then Welfare Ministry in conjunction with the Welfare Fund. It took three years to construct the neighborhood of 549 buildings, comprising 1,720 residences. Architecturally, the buildings were based on seven basic Pi, E or T-shaped structures designed to house between one and eight families. All had tiles roofs and small gardens. The first residents, known as the «fire victims of Ambelokipi,» had been left homeless by the large fire at the Home for the Elderly in 1927. They were followed by thousands of refugees from Asia Minor, whose diligence and culture infused the city with new life and who, in 1932, endowed it with its new name. As time passed, Nea Philadelphia generally managed to resist the whirlwind of antiparochi, or the practice of exchanging plots of land for space in new, multistory apartment blocks. Large sections of the city were still made up of traditional low-rise buildings, which were well-built and comfortable enough to meet the needs of the families that lived in them for decades to come. Earthquakes Then came the earthquake of September 7, 1999. Statistics from the Ministry of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) show that some 400 refugee houses collapsed or were deemed uninhabitable and subsequently demolished. The earthquake seems to have dealt the final blow to those few buildings in the area that had survived the 1981 earthquake and the successive waves of antiparochi. The need to preserve this significant part of the city’s history, which makes up more than a third of the municipality, led to discussion about what measures could be taken. Eventually, in 2001, the city council of Nea Philadelphia proposed to YPEHODE that the refugee settlement be listed as «traditional.» Presidential Decree 476D was published on June 18, 2001, and was supplemented on June 25, 2003 by an amendment to the town plan which made provisions for a network of sidewalks in the area. The traditional refugee settlement of Nea Philadelphia extends from Halkidona to Nea Madito and Nea Ionia to the national highway. «The decree includes a number of restrictions so that any new houses built in the area will resemble the traditional architecture of the 1920s refugee buildings,» Spyros Kakridonis, a civil engineer who works in the area, told Kathimerini. «It also sets limits on the number of floors, mandates 2-meter-high tiled roofs with wooden supports, particular kinds of windows and small balconies.» Work has also gone ahead on a new presidential decree (which is currently with the Council of State), that will relax some of the restrictions (for example, allowing full transfer of the building coefficient). In 2003, YPEHODE decided to list 10 refugee buildings for preservation. In the beginning, local residents were not enthusiastic about the new measure, which entailed specific restrictions on how they could capitalize on their property. For instance, they could not offer their single-family houses which were being demolished in an antiparochi transfer. «There was a lot of opposition at first,» said Pantelis Gretzelias, who was mayor of Nea Philadelphia in 1991-2001. «People thought their property was being devalued. But eventually the objections were overcome, and one by one the plots of land were built on by their owners and their value began to rise. Surveys of the area show that housing construction has risen by 150 percent and acceptance is more than 80 percent.» The trend continued and intensified over the next four years. As outgoing mayor Nikolaos Adamopoulos says, 30-40 percent of the housing that was demolished in 1999 has been rebuilt, according to the new regulations, while scores of buildings are under construction. It is noteworthy that the new buildings are not being put up by contractors, because they don’t offer a large profit margin. «Usually the cost is borne by two or three siblings or two or three families. Few houses are for sale,» explained Thomas Koumarianos, a local real estate agent. «If there were no ownership issues, they would have been rebuilt much sooner.» Now the refugee housing of 1922 coexists with «neo-refugee» housing of 2001, creating an attractive scene reminiscent of a village. «It was the right thing to do and should have been done in other areas as well. The state might not compensate the public for restrictive measures, but Nea Philadelphia has become much more beautiful,» said Kakridonis. «The outcome of the experiment was totally positive and it saved the appearance of the city,» the two former mayors say. Deputy Environment Minister Stavros Kaloyiannis agrees: «The case of the traditional settlement in Nea Philadelphia has every prospect of success,» he told Kathimerini. Asked whether YPEHODE would be willing to establish similar restrictions in other areas, he is not against it. «Similar centers could be set up in Athens and other cities, as long as the [ingredients are] there. In this field, operation with local authorities is important. As for the initial objections, I think that in the medium term the benefits are greater. In 10 years, the residents of Nea Philadelphia will have a much more beautiful city.»