A downtown entertainment factory

One of the oldest pedestrian zones in Athens, Fokionos Negri Street in Kypseli, has become a nightmare for local residents. Noise pollution, lack of space, trash, motorcycles parked in the entrances to apartments blocks and broken paving slabs are just some of the things that spoil it. Yet the street remains home to many obstinate and well-known urbanites who don’t want to see this charming old Athenian neighborhood at the mercy of flagrant violations of the law. The historic street, whose cafes have hosted the elite of the Greek intelligentsia and where Greek actors and the new wave of artists used to gather, has degenerated into an entertainment factory. At least eight bars and six restaurants have spread their tables and chairs far and wide, preventing residents from entering their own homes. The street «has become impassable due to motorcycles of all kinds that drive around from the afternoon til midnight, often at a speed that endangers pedestrians,» retired ambassador to the United Nations Nicolas Katapodis, who has lived on Fokionos Negri since 1987, told Kathimerini. «They park at the entrance to apartment blocks and on narrow sidewalks on nearby roads so you need the skill of an acrobat to cross from one sidewalk to another. Will anyone ever take any interest in improving the situation?» he asks. For the past 18 years, residents have been writing letters of complaint to the mayor of the day. They have suggested that the municipal authorities stop issuing new licenses for bars and extending the hours at which music is permitted – to no avail: In November the Sixth Ward of the City of Athens signed new licenses and allowed an extension of the hours at which music is permitted to 3 a.m. (in fact, the music continues till much later than that). Neither written complaints to the city nor calls to the municipal police or Greek police force have had any effect. As retired diplomat K.E. Daratzikis says: «Right in the center of the pedestrian zone is a cafe-nightclub that plays music full blast till 5 in the morning. Both mayors have tackled the problem personally but stopping the noise has always got tangled up somewhere in ‘bureaucratic’ snags.» Another nagging problem on Fokionos Negri is that peddlers take over the street with wares of all kinds, taking up far more space than the 80 centimeters allowed by law. The vast majority of the establishments do not possess the appropriate permits. For example, for the past few years a coffee grinder’s shop has been operating without a permit from the town-planning authority and, despite fines, has become a coffee-packaging outlet (with a chimney that emerges illegally from the light well of the apartment building). Fines are imposed from time to time, but they are so small (in this case, the entrepreneur paid the municipality 750 euros), that it is almost encouragement to break the law. «The prefecture does not manage to curb infringements because, when the health inspectors found an illegal outlet pipe in a light well of an apartment block, the stench of which caused a serious problem, all they did was to inform the municipality about it. The municipality then proceeded to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear, failing once again to deal with the residents’ problems,» Chryssoula Georgoulopoulou-Pappa, representing the Friends of Kypseli association, told Kathimerini. The association’s efforts managed to save the Municipal Market of Kypseli at the very last minute. Built in 1935, there were plans to make it into a garage, but local residents appealed to the Culture Ministry and the building was soon listed for preservation.

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