NEWS

Environment Ministry lists scores of houses for preservation in central Metaxourgeio

For decades it was the capital city’s backyard, home to its less appealing side, full of warehouses and brothels. Nowadays its inhabitants include young people pursuing an alternative lifestyle and migrants, while bars and restaurants are springing up along its borders with Gazi and Psyrri. As Metaxourgeio claims its place on the new map of Athens, it faces problems inherited from its past on the sidelines. The Environment Ministry has got things moving by listing 52 buildings for preservation, most of them simple dwellings from the 1920s. As an inner-city area, Metaxourgeio developed early, in the mid-19th century. Factories and later the main produce market brought in lower-middle-class residents. By the early 20th century, it was a vibrant working-class neighborhood of one- and two-story houses with many local stores. Things changed after the 1950s. The area was not affected by the «antiparochi» system, popular elsewhere in Athens, of exchanging land for apartments in the new blocks of flats to be built on it. Instead, local residents began to leave the old houses and move to apartments with more modern comforts. Traffic along Pireos Street and Athinon Avenue became heavier, and soon Metaxourgeio filled up with automobile repair shops and warehouses. At the same time, the growing number of brothels, seedy bars and hotels serving the sex industry put off longtime residents, who gradually abandoned the old houses. In the late 1990s, when Psyrri became desirable, high real estate prices spread to the nearby areas. Apart from where it borders on Gazi and Psyrri, however, Metaxourgeio did not see the same rapid development, though rents remained high as it attracted residents looking for something «authentic» in a less run-down area. The idea of sprucing up Metaxourgeio so as to reverse its decline has often been raised. Years ago, the traditional settlements department of the then Environment, Planning and Public Works Ministry conducted a study in the area and proposed listing buildings for preservation en masse so as to maintain its residential character. Those plans came to nothing. From time to time, individual listings were made (54 in all, chiefly on Agisilaou, Granikou, Thermopylon, Mykalis and Salaminos streets), but most of the housing has been deserted. All that remains of the former scene are the small plots, which made it unprofitable to erect apartment blocks, even though building coefficient regulations allow six-story apartment blocks in some spots. Now the Environment Ministry’s Traditional Settlements Department has resuscitated the proposal for mass listings. Currently awaiting the minister’s signature, the proposal will list 51 early 20th-century buildings. What makes this decision unusual is that it applies not to grand neoclassical structures but to simple houses from 1920-30, with tiled roofs and wooden-framed windows. They have small courtyards, simple architectural features and French windows and are entered from the street. In other words, these are buildings that the younger generations only know from old movies. «The gradual preservation of the buildings aims at saving worthwhile examples of traditional local architecture, to help upgrade the neighborhood environment, to showcase the town plan of the area but above all to halt building development, allowing for architecture that couples the old and the new,» states the study. Let’s hope that once they are listed, the buildings get the fate they deserve, delivered with a bit of imagination.