2015 | Dec
Gentrification refers to the spatial and social processes in the restructuring of deprived city areas. As the process evolves, older and weaker – in financial and political terms – populations are displaced and replaced by middle and upper social strata. At the same time, land prices increase and capital gains are generated mainly through the formation of a rent gap (Smith, 1986). The rent gap refers to the difference between actual and potential rents and reflects the gains formed in the land market in a region that shows “gentrification” trends. As this process develops, the urban landscape changes as new residents impose their aesthetic preferencesLand use also changes, with the prevalence of upgraded and more profitable uses that serve consumption habits acceptable by the new residents and by the new users of the neighbourhood (Smith 1996, Beauregaurd, 1986, Ley 1996). At this point, we should underline that gentrification theories were mainly developed in the Anglo-american world. When considering corresponding processes in areas with contextual differences from the theoretical model as regards economic, social and spatial configuration dynamics, attention should be paid the identification, characterisation and analysis of the gentrification processes (Maloutas, 2012). The interpretation of gentrification dynamics should reflect local conditions, in order to allow the particularity of each case to emerge and, ultimately, in order to document the gentrification process.
In the centre of Athens such spatial and social changes have been observed since the 1990s, with a first gentrification example in Plaka, a neighbourhood at the foot of the Acropolis. Through strong state intervention, the urban fabric of the area was listed, buildings were expropriated by public agencies [mainly the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Planning, Environment and Public Works (YPEHODE)] and specific regulations were adopted for building, traffic, and operation of commercial and entertainment activities. As a result of these regulations, households comprising of vulnerable populations that lived in the area until the 1990s were displaced, as were the land uses serving this population and the special (rock/punk) cultures of the previous period. The tourism and entertainment industries were mainly catering to tourists and upper social strata, who bought and renovated neoclassical buildings in the area. To a large extent, the housing stock of Plaka was restored and the area has become a reference point in every Athens guidebook.
The transformations in the areas of Metaxourgeio-Gazi
The spatial and social transformations that took place since the early 2000s in the area of Gazi and Metaxourgeio represent newer trends in the gentrification process in the centre of Athens. Some theatres appeared in Gazi in the mid-1990s and bars also gradually followed suit. The entertainment industry aggressively invaded the neighbourhood and converted it into endless party place following the restoration of the Gas plant and its transformation to the “Technopolis” cultural venue, but especially after the launch of the Kerameikos subway station. Roma families living there were forcibly displaced from low-rise houses with inner courtyards, and were replaced by bars and reinvented tavernas (Alexandri 2005, Tzirtzilaki 2008). The entertainment industry in Gazi was accompanied by an informal market, such as car parking services from bouncer gangs and extortion affecting property rights in the neighbourhood. If one did not accept the offered parking service, they were likely to find their car with serious damage and if one did not accept to change the use of their property they were likely to find it burnt down, as was the case in an old bakery whose owner refused to cede the premises for a new bar.
Map 1: The neighbourhoods of the Athenian centre
In the mid-2000s, luxurious newly built structures appeared, promising a new life in lofts in the centre of Athens. As a trend, loft-living was initiated by artists in New York, who rented large open-plan areas of old factories,so-called lofts, and used them as a place for working and living. Their lifestyle and various spontaneous artistic events and parties turned a new form of architectural trend (the loft) into a new market for real estate: designing residences with open spaces in old industrial shells. We should underline that the new buildings in Gazi were not the result of the conversion of old factory areas, but mimiced architectural forms that emerged in New York through the lifestyle of artists and of upper and middle class social strata. However, in Gazi the capital gains from the rapid development of the entertainment industry and its negative impact on the everyday life of the neighbourhood (noise from bars, clubs and modern tavernas, parking and traffic problems, etc.) had an adverse effect on attracting new residents. This, of course, does not diminish the brutality of the displacement suffered by weaker social groups, such as the Roma, or the brutality and threats of the new “masters” of the area against old residents. To this day, for Gazi the term gentrification refers more to new commercial uses of land, rather than residences.
A better gentrification example regarding residences is the area of Metaxourgeio, where gentrification refers to both uses of land and to residences. The spatial and social restructuring process in the area of Metaxourgeio followed a slower pace compared to its adjacent neighbourhood of Gazi. Since the mid-1990s, several households from the upper social classes, having insider information on the future upgrading of the area, rushed to buy and renovate houses, thus managing to place themselves in the market before the formation of a significant rent gap (Alexandri, 2013). At the same time, the area started to attract theatres, which subsequently attracted artists as residents and consumers of new land uses. The fashion of raki drinking and contemporary coffee houses became prominent since the late 2000s, while more eclectic restaurants featuring molecular and ethnic cuisine or wine bars completed the picture of the new entertainment uses developed in the area. New land uses, such as fashion boutiques, organic food shops, pet shops and new hair salons come to serve the needs of the new residents, be they wealthy or bohemian, with artistic interests.
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