January 28 2013

Metaxourgio in Athens: A Territory of Rapid Changes

Metaxourgio is a residential area of west-central Athens, in close distance to square Omonia. The vicinity’s current urban characteristics stem from its industrial past, which, today, is composed of a big reserve of empty unused buildings, open spaces, small traditional cafés, craftsmen’s workshops on the ground floors of residential buildings, and half-abandoned buildings. Metaxourgio is also a territory of interesting social mingling: working-class residents, immigrants from China and Islamic countries, and people from its red-light district create a multicultural and underground human mosaic.

Nevertheless, during the last decade Metaxourgio has been the territory of rapid urban transformations with an apparent goal of invigorating this blighted area and turning it into an artistic meeting point, a quarter of luxury rental places, and entertainment. These urban transformations were introduced either by the state and the private sector, or were the consequence of urban planning in nearby areas, like those of Psiri and Gazi. [map]

Some milestone years for Metaxourgio were:

2000: Inauguration of the Metaxourgio metro station and the revamp of the adjacent squares, Avdi and Dourouti;

2006-2008: Construction of a complex of luxury apartments in the heart of the area after a European architectural competition. The competition was held under the initiative of a private construction company, called “Oliaros, that for years has been trying to develop its vision for the same area;

2009: Selective interventions like the construction of the Municipal Art Gallery of Athens in Avdi Square, the foundation of the Greek Film Archive, and the film museum next to Iera Odos Street.

These transitions increased the number of original cafés and bars in the area, led to an explosion of art galleries and theatres, attracted visitors all over Athens, brought wealthier residents to the area, and contributed to a rise of values in the residential market. On the other hand, during the last two years, the economic crisis has lowered real estate prices and has hindered the fast pace of the aforementioned interventions.

Do you think that, in some cases, an economic crisis would help urban transitions to develop in a less abrupt and a more sustainable way?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Alkisti Eleni Victoratou

Alkisti Eleni Victoratou originates from Andros, a Cycladic island in Greece, and has lived and studied in Thessaloniki, England, Spain, and Athens-where she currently resides. She holds a B.A. in Economics from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and in Architecture from the National Technical University of Athens. Having this multicultural and interdisciplinary background gives her a better understanding of socially sensitive urban issues. Her dissertation thesis in Architecture dealt with the study and assessment of the legislation relating to Bioclimatic Architecture in the European Mediterranean countries of France, Spain, and Greece. Her interests also extend to sustainable technologies and parametric design, contributing to building design and urbanism. During her internship with The Grid, she will concentrate on the most important top-down and bottom-up urban transformations of Athens during their current Crisis. Her aspirations are to further her academic and professional specializations in urban issues and sustainable design.

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 28th, 2013 at 10:30 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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3 Responses to “Metaxourgio in Athens: A Territory of Rapid Changes”

  1. Panayota Protopsaltis Says:

    I moved in Metaxourgio -in a small 1930′s house- about 7 years ago when it had just started to rise from “obscurity”.

    In previous years the municipality had successfully managed to work on upscaling the neighborhood.
    Unfortunately since the economic crisis not much is done in the area and it feels like we are going backwards.
    There are still quite a few empty industrial buildings as well as old neo-classical residences with great potential.

    Another issue is that because Metaxourgio is of great archeological importance (being part of the city of ancient Athens) the archeological society is very strict when it comes to alterations in existing buildings.

    There are buildings from the 30′s and 40′s that were badly damaged by the big 1999 Athens earthquake.
    The problem is that in most cases that owners demolished the houses significant archeological sites were discovered (like the “Athenian sima” cemetery for prominent ancient Athenians like Pericles, Clisthenes, Solon). This resulted to the archeological society taking over until excavations are finished. Unfortunately due to lack of funds everything seems to be in a halt.

    On the other hand I have noticed that since the crisis and because of low rent young artists have chosen this area to open their workshops.
    They might not be as glamorous as one would expect some years back but in my opinion overrated attempts of the past were crushed due to the crisis.
    These down to earth attempts with small safe steps, patience and artistic improvisation is what is needed in order to secure a sustainable future.

  2. Alkisti Says:

    Your comment adds to the blog two important dimensions for the area of Metaxourgio. The first one is the archeological importance of Metaxourgio and the second is the change of uses.

    Metaxourgio area is indeed very important for its ancient cemetery and since 1993 is included in the program of the unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens that “aims to restore the historic continuity of the city”. In my personal view, Athens should protect its cultural heritage and Athenians should show patience at any cost. A few years ago we had a similar problem with the extension of the metro lines. During the construction of the red and blue line, especially in the more central areas, the archeological excavations were delaying tremendously the completion of the metro lines. Although that, in the end, very interesting findings were brought up to light that today add real value to the city of Athens.

    The restoration of the neo-classical buildings should also follow strict rules but in a broader architectural sense and with the aim of protecting the residential use and not turning the existing neo-classical buildings into bars, cafés and restaurants. (like in Psiri area). Metaxourgio is a case study of gentrification based more on the change of uses and less on the change of residents. Personally, I hope that future policies and measures taken will not gradually push away current residents–in order to attract wealthier ones-and that the area will succeed to maintain its main residential use. Metaxourgio before the crisis was also running the risk to turn into a bad-taste entertainment pole like that of Psiri due to the effect of overspilling. Of course Metaxourgio presents different characteristics and the recession has indeed brought many transformations into a halt but the danger still exists.

    The case study of Metaxourgio is a very interesting one and rather multifaceted. The question of what would be a sustainable future for Metaxourgio is also a very difficult to answer.

  3. Jeremy Borsos Says:

    We just bought a place in Metaxourgio because we are cultural workers and it was affordable to us. More than that we were amazed by the raw beauty of the area and a complete social spectrum living together. We are so new, we know nothing but we feel something. Having lived in Berlin and coming from western Canada I can say that Metaxourgio has a richness not measured in Euros but instead by cultural potential. We believe in this place. We are slowly making the transition spending part of each year, slowly rebuilding a small flat ourselves and learning about the place and the people. We will never be from Metaxourgio because we came form somewhere else but we are excited about being part of it in the future.The economic crisis is obviously bad but it may have stopped the worst of what can happen to a place when there is too much money around. Uncontrolled growth deepens the divide between those who have and those that don’t. Perhaps this neighbourhood will own more of its future.

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