OPINION

Reclaiming the center of Athens

We have written about the ghettoization of parts of downtown Athens on a number of occasions in this column, as well as about the dystopian future ahead. The decline of the Greek capital began a long time before the crisis started taking its own toll on life in the city. The authorities have proved either incapable of or unforgivably remiss in tackling the problems that plague Athens as burgeoning numbers of illegal migrants and petty criminals eat away at the urban fabric and create more pockets of poverty, racism and violence. These groups exist outside the parameters of the state even though they can be seen just a stone?s throw away from Parliament and City Hall.

The recession that began in 2008 has simply broken down the last lines of defense against the spread of the decline. Today, the violated city center, its streets dying as hundreds of shops are boarded up, has been surrendered to the homeless, the beggars and the drug users. It has also been abandoned to crime.

What needs to be done, though?

Obviously the historic center of the capital, the parts of it that extend around the Acropolis, should not be allowed to remain in this sorry state and should not be allowed to convey a picture that does an injustice to the entire country and completely distorts the overall reality. It is also obvious to even the most frightened resident that policing of the city is necessary but also that there?s not enough of it to reverse the progress of the factors that are destroying Athens. Poverty and decline cannot be erased by sweeping them under the carpet. The drug users and beggars will keep coming back from whatever purgatory they are consigned to unless we do not first tackle the root of the problem.

The only solution for Athens is the one that?s the hardest to achieve. The capital needs money to fund plans to salvage struggling businesses and make it attractive to residents who have fled from the chaos, the crime and the violence. Only a healthy economy and society can revive the city and the spirit of democracy. But achieving this will take a far-reaching development plan that transcends electoral promises and bombastic announcements, one which is coupled with a campaign to strengthen civil society and instill the principles of a democratic culture into civic life.

Police raids against illegal migrants and drug users are short-term fixes; only development will work in the long run. Reclaiming the city center should be the first order of business on the path to getting the country back on its feet.