Problems encountered by residents in the Psirri district

Vasso Nikolakopolou, president of the Cultural Union “Panathenaia”
Πλατεία Ελευθερίας, κτήριο Κουμουνδούρου, κατεδαφισμένο
Πλατεία Ελευθερίας, κτήριο Κουμουνδούρου, κατεδαφισμένο
Πλατεία Ελευθερίας, ο χώρος
όπου βρισκόταν το κτήριο Κουμουνδούρου
Πλατεία Ελευθερίας, ο χώρος όπου βρισκόταν το κτήριο Κουμουνδούρου

I live at the centre of Athens, at the Psirri district, since 1973. It was at that time, when most of the neo-classical buildings were knocked down, probably because they were not proclaimed “preservables” and thus protected by the Ministry of Culture. One by one they were demolished and in their place multi-storied -graceless- buildings sprang up, few for residence most for small industries. It was then that Koumoundouros’ villa, situated on the corner of Sahtouri Str. and Eleutheria’s Sq. (ex Koumoundouros’ Sq.), was taken down together with the 9th male Gymnasium, which was under the same roof. After the demolition the Gymnasium was positioned temporarily” along with the 34th Lyceum at Ano Petralona … as it is still today. In this way, the area became vivid and full of noise from the knocks of the hummers and the humming of the machines due to the many clothe and shoe industries.

The great earthquake in 1981, centred in Alcyonides, caused serious damages to the remaining buildings. The house yards that smelled basil and whitewash were abandoned since the buildings were considered dangerous and inappropriate for residence. During the 1980-1990 the “wise men of the Parliament” voted for laws and presidential degrees (for the use of land) deciding that the small industries should go and the use of the buildings for: plain habitation, traditional stores, groceries, coffee shops, taverns etc. should be encouraged. On the other hand, the Objective Values of the land had greatly risen. Some scenic coffee shops and taverns were indeed built by some romantic entrepreneurs that clearly loved the neighbourhood. However, whatever happens in one area is “adhesive” to others and along with the fair professionals came those that believed they could become rich at any cost. Unfortunately, the State did nothing to protect the residents of the area and the fair professionals. The situation was chaotic and nobody could make any sense.

Then the “Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens S.A.” came along with their “big banners”, promising that we will receive a “breath of life”; but even they, in their way, excluded the residents. They created pedestrians zones for the buses and no sufficient study for the traffic issues was conducted; which resulted in the protection of the uninhabited areas -due to the antiquities- while in the inhabited areas traffic congestion was caused and great air and noise pollution.

In Eleutheria’s Square, a playground was removed because it did not fit in the new planning, together with the benches in order to avoid being taken over by homeless people and marginal immigrants. However, the problem was not solved; homeless people and marginal immigrants still inhabit the Square and use free spaces, pilotis and pedestrian ways for their human needs. It is vital to consider building an asylum for the homeless and them being registered together with a centre for the reception, hospitality and registration for the (il)licit and economic immigrants.

During the last years, the Chinese merchandise flourishes in the area. Most of the small or medium industries in the area and the wholesale in Euripidou Street surrender in the Chinese merchandize after receiving a small amount of money. The equilibrium is lost in the neighbourhood in such a point that in a while instead of bread, only pyjamas and shoes would be bought in the area. These issues exist at the centre of Athens, at the Psirri district, 50m from the Town Hall of Athens and 500m away from the Hellenic Parliament.

In spite of the problems, we do care for our area and through the Cultural Union “Panathenaia” we struggle to keep alive the neighbourhood cell. What is more, we hope that the schools will be built, eventually, in the sites owned for almost 25 years by the O.S.B. and that the playground will be placed somewhere.
We hope that tomorrow will be a better day for all: habitants, employees, and entrepreneurs.

The Cultural Union “Panathenaia” exists since 1997; in its early years as the Coordinative Committee of Residents in the wider area of Koumondouros’ Square, Psirri, Metaxourgeio and Kerameikos. It aims at the upgrading and enhancement of the area and the improvement of the quality of life for all the residents.
Address: Sahtouri Str. 8-10. Tel: +30210 3251035