Call for action in historic center

A committee of local and central government officials as well as residents and businesspeople from the capital’s run-down historic center yesterday agreed on the need for an organized initiative to improve quality of life in the increasingly dirty and crime-ridden district. Addressing Parliament’s environment committee, the participants – including Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis and Athens Prefect Yiannis Sgouros – submitted proposals for ways in which the area can be purged. «Upgrading Athens’s historic center cannot be achieved with police sweeps but with an organized and gradual intervention that tackles town-planning, architectural, environmental, social and financial concerns,» the committee’s president, Costas Kartalis, said. Sgouros, who has long campaigned for a cleanup of the historic center, blamed a lack of political will for the absence of progress and said a real improvement could be overseen by a special committee comprising local and central government officials. The prefect also called for legislative reform that would allow the restoration of dozens of derelict buildings in the center, many of which have been occupied by destitute drug addicts and illegal immigrants. Kaklamanis said the pedestrianization of busy Athinas Street would smarten up the area. Yesterday’s initiative by the parliamentary committee came a few days after a European Commission report ranked Athens, Hamburg and Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, as the EU cities that have the most worrying rates of «ghettoization.» A committee representing citizens and traders in the area has long protested the flourishing activities of local drug and prostitution rackets that exploit hundreds of illegal immigrants in the area. Locals are due to stage a protest rally in the area today. Asked about the problems in the historic center yesterday during an interview with Skai, Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos said, «If we want to upgrade Athens, we need to set down some rules and faithfully adhere to them.»

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