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Downtown Athens in a state of flux September 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Greece Athens.

Rapid changes to inner-city areas > Change. A neighborhood in the process of change, Gazi, home to many nightclubs, is becoming a residential option but some worry about the effect on the old neighborhood of five-story apartment blocks looming over neoclassical houses. Six new apartment blocks and two new studio complexes nearby are currently under construction. 

Ten years ago, you couldn’t find a bar in Gazi that played Madonna or the Pet Shop Boys; Thiseion had an alternative style; bars were unheard of in Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio, and Gazi was a home for the homeless, still fenced in by the old gas works. Then the first taverna opened on Persephone Street, then unknown and now so crowded you can barely walk along it.

An evening stroll in Kolonaki shows how much Athens has changed. There’s no comparison between the quiet pace of Tsakalof Street in Kolonaki and the nightly hubbub in the square behind Technopolis Municipal Arts Complex in Gazi with the oversized new metro station.

It’s not just the extended metro that is reshaping Athens but also changes in lifestyle, the family, the way we see ourselves in relation to the city, as well as the influence of new technologies on how we work.

It was the most enthusiastic reception for a new station in short history of the Attiki Metro. The grandiose construction, overly ambitious for its humble location, will be seen as a milestone in an urban change that had already begun.

What’s different in Gazi is not the 20-30 new businesses that have sprung up in the square and the surrounding streets, but the apartment blocks that have mushroomed. Of average height, high-tech modernist in style, and 70-90 square meters at the most, they are ready for their new inhabitants. For the first time since the local Muslim population was encouraged to leave before the 2004 Olympic Games, Gazi will see a major influx of a very different population.

Six new apartment blocks and two new studio complexes nearby are currently under construction. Some worry about five-story buildings looming over dilapidated neoclassical houses. The problem is more complex: Nothing can hold back demand, but the issue is how the state and the municipality prepare for change. Not much has been done in that direction, save the metro station and the residential zoning.

Metaxourgeio joined the entertainment business two or three years ago. At first it looked like a mass version of Psyrri, though a bit more sophisticated, a bit more chic, with gourmet restaurants and fancy bars. But an evening stroll reveals more: lots of rock-style cafes, cheap eateries and a Leftish atmosphere. It’s too soon to label a neighborhood that hasn’t even got a worthwhile bookshop, but something new is happening in Metaxourgeio.

Kolonaki > In the late 1990s, some locals complained about Kolonaki’s irresistible appeal. They couldn’t stand the crowds in the streets and the fact that Athenians from areas they didn’t know (or pretended not to know) flooded “their” bars and restaurants. Now they can sit comfortably in the square, since Kolonaki is no longer prime choice for the “barbarians” of the northern suburbs. Those hordes now take the metro to Monastiraki, Thiseion and Gazi. Kolonaki, more residential than ever, hasn’t acquired a new look. Its admirers will continue to love it for what it truly is. Skoufa Street continues to thrive, and the bars on Ploutarchou Street are jammed night and day with young lawyers, advertising executives, media people and hard rock fans.

Aeolou Street & Co > It was only a matter of time. Once Psyrri got overcrowded, somewhere had to meet the demand. Now the so-called historic triangle bounded by Syntagma, Omonia and Monastiraki Squares is the fastest growing district downtown. It has pretty streets, excellent transport, pedestrian zones and atmosphere, and it’s quiet. But it has few apartments ready to be lived in, unluckily for those who’d like to live here but find only offices and warehouses. Aeolou Street has already got to the point of no return. The stores selling cashmere, trousseau ware and linen are under pressure. Some have become cafes, bars and clothes stores catering to those who frequent bars. Places like Booze, Kinky and Magaze create an alternative, artistic air that is light years from the jumble of styles in Psyrri.

Exarchia > Don’t let the news reports mislead you. Exarchia is more mainstream than ever. Almost all of the eastern side of the square is given over to the well-known Greek concept of frappe-sports paper-lounge music. Needless to say, you don’t need to be politicized to go to Exarchia. Try the new promenade on Benaki Street with modern tavernas that are doing good business, and deservedly. The problem with Exarchia is that the liveliest spot downtown is also off-putting with its confused network of streets and side streets.

Thiseion > Once upon a time, everyone wanted a house in Thiseion. That was in the days of bohemian hangouts like Stavlos. Thiseion had the insubordinate air of Exarchia, without the dirt and the claustrophobic streets. Then came the much-vaunted Megalos Peripatos, the long pedestrian street of Dionysiou Aeropagitou and Apostolou Pavlou. Indeed, it was a striking walk (except during book exhibitions) but we all knew what would happen with the cafes and the view of the Acropolis. Five cafes became 20 and the stroll is more like a parade of marriageable daughters in some provincial town. Thiseion will never cease to be an attractive alternative to the city center, as demand and prices show. The lookalike style of the businesses is disconcerting, with exceptions like the Lemoni bookstore on Irakleidon Street merely proving the rule. But it’s not the end of the world; it’s walking distance to Gazi and Metaxourgeio.

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