2022 | Aug
The waterfront of Athens and the case of Vouliagmeni
The capital traditionally had its back to the sea, and Piraeus –which always functioned as a separate unit– used the sea primarily for transport and trade. The waterfront has never been a focus of intense residential development for the capital. The area from Elliniko to Varkiza, i.e. the central part of the so-called “Athenian Riviera” (a term in the logic of realtor place branding), was sparsely populated until the 1980s and many of its settlement nuclei were not on the water. On the contrary, for many decades, large scale sports and other facilities were located in central parts of the waterfront –such as the old airport and the Hippodrome, which were moved to Spata and Markopoulo respectively, but also the Karaiskaki stadium (i.e. the home ground of the city’s biggest soccer team) and the Peace and Friendship stadium, which remain. The most central municipalities of the waterfront (Neo Faliro, Moschato Kallithea), also did not have their center on the beach. Even in Palaio Faliro, which was a recreational area with the sea as its central element, the dynamic of its residential development was fueled by the desire of the uprooted Constantinopulians of the 1950s to have the contact with the sea to which they were accustomed.
Maps 1-4: Distribution of the population according to the age of the residence
Source: ΕΚΚΕ-ΕΛΣΤΑΤ (2015)
During the interwar period, private businessmen created suburban-garden-style settlements, with specific urban planning and architectural standards, in the suburbs of Athens. Τhe road network from Faliro to Vouliagmeni, which was built at that time, played an important role for the development of the necessary infrastructure of the coastal front. In 1922, the first plan was drawn up for the area of Evryali (Glyfada) which was expanded in 1925, while in 1926 the plan and building regulations were approved for the settlement of Alimos (Kalamaki), the settlement of “Trachones” (today’s Argyroupoli), and Voula. An exception is Paleo Faliro which was designed from the beginning (1880) as a resort. During the 1930s, building cooperatives were also established in the wider area, such as in the areas of Voula and Varkiza (see. Καυκούλα, 1990).
At the same time, the coastal front was never a place of mass suburban concentration of the high socio-professional groups of Athens, such as Psychiko, Filothei, Kifissia and Ekali. It used to be a vacation area with a relatively cross-class character, which gradually turned into an area of permanent residence. Its social profile was dominated by the middle classes, without a strong presence of working classes and with few and spatially localized concentrations of upper-class groups.
Maps 5-8: The plans of suburban-garden-style settlements
The evolution of the demographic and social profile of the city’s waterfront, compared to some other areas of the Athenian metropolis, is summarized in Table 1. Population-wise, the section from Faliro to Vari-Voula-Vouliagmeni shows a significant increase (+26%) in the period 1991- 2021, while the increase in the whole city was only 3.8%. In the other part of the waterfront (from Piraeus to Kallithea) the population decreased by 19% and in the center of Athens by 23%. With regard to the social profile, the waterfront municipalities from Paleo Faliro to Vouliagmeni show a significant ‘upgrade’ between 1991-2011, witnessed by the ration of the percentage of high professional categories –managers and professionals– in this area divided by the percentage of the same categories in the whole city. This trend is opposite to that recorded in all the other areas of the city listed in Table 1. The Municipality of Athens shows a significant decrease in the relative presence of high professional categories, which decreased from 1.21 times their average percentage in the city in 1991 to 0.92 times in 2011. Even the areas with the highest concentration of higher occupational categories –such as the Municipality of Filothei-Psychiko– register a decrease of their relative presence during the same period. Overall, there is a convergence of the social profile of the waterfront (from Faliro to Vouliagmeni) with that of the residential areas in the north-eastern suburbs of the city, where the upper and especially the upper-middle professional categories are mainly clustered.
Table 1. Demographic evolution of the coastal front of Athens (1991-2021) and change of the social profile (1991-2011)
Source: ΕΚΚΕ-ΕΛΣΤΑΤ (2015) for 1991 and 2011 and ΕΛΣΤΑΤ (2022)
Map 9: Demographic evolution in the Attica region (1991-2021)
Source: ΕΚΚΕ-ΕΛΣΤΑΤ (2015) for 1991 and 2011 and ΕΛΣΤΑΤ (2022)
Vouliagmeni, considered today a residential area of upper social categories, contains significant differences within it. The center of the community –on the western slope of the hill that separates it from Varkiza (Photo 1))– used to be scattered with wooden one-story holiday shacks that were gradually replaced by modern constructions. This part of the municipality was significantly altered during the dictatorship, when high-rise apartment buildings were built, often of low quality (Photos 2-3), driven by the large increase in the local construction coefficient (Photos 4-5).
The surrounding areas that were built later, i.e. the lower points on the two sides of the hill that separates Vouliagmeni from the communities of Vari and Voula (Photos 6-7), attracted newer upper-middle classes in maisonette-type units or small apartment buildings, as the construction coefficient had meanwhile declined and mortgage lending for such properties was out of reach for lower income groups. Upper social categories in the area have been clustering, for many decades, on the edge of the Kavouri peninsula (Photo 8) and, more recently, around the entrance of the “Alexandros Flemig” research center, on the small road that connects Vouliagmeni with Vari (Photo 9).
Photos 1-10: The residential development of the wider area of Vouliagmeni
A major stake for the future of the wider area is the privileged and undeveloped, until now, district of Fascomilia, along the coastal road that connects Vouliagmeni with Varkiza. Plans of the owner –the Church of Greece– to develop the area have been blocked several times by the municipal authorities and at a more central level. The transfer, however, of the development of the “Athenian Riviera” to the Fund for the development of public real estate property [ΤΑΙΠΕΔ] (Χατζηγεωργίου 2022) and the aggressive investment orientation of the New Democracy government for the “Piraeus-Sounio” coastal zone, create serious concerns for the environmental and social future of this piece of the coastal front of Attica.
If the future of the unbuilt Fascomilia is still at stake, there are many other developments in recent years that clearly show the direction things have taken in the city’s waterfront.
Changes in the real estate market
Construction activity, which had been limited for many years, has been strongly revived recently. This involves new buildings on the outskirts of the coastal communities, but mainly the construction of luxury apartment blocks (often with a private pool per apartment) replacing older holiday homes and small apartment buildings. This activity is vibrant in Vouliagmeni, Voula, Glyfada, Varkiza (Photos 11-22). For example, in a small street in Vouliagmeni, second parallel to the coastal avenue, where there was no construction activity for many years, three new buildings are erected at the same time along with many renovations within five small building blocks.
Photos 11-22: New constructions in Voula and Varkiza
The new constructions give the impression of an environmentally sensitive architecture –something that is not necessarily the case– which follows a pattern of impersonal buildings for everywhere and nowhere, unrelated to the context that surrounds them. Moreover, these buildings clearly foster the isolation of their residents from their natural and social surroundings. The living area of the residence is visually isolated and fortified against the street with high retaining walls and other physical barriers to safeguard persons and property, while it is also distanced from the sea, which is functionally replaced by the private swimming pool and functions as a backdrop. Islands of residential luxury  are thus built for those who can afford them (Photos 23-28).
Photos 23-28: New luxury residences in Vouliagmeni and Glyfada
Map 10: Spatial distribution of short-term rental ads in Vouliagmeni
Source: AIRDNA.co, 5/08/2022
Increased construction activity is obviously related to increased demand. This involves domestic demand from affluent households who choose to move to the beach –recently also as a result of the pandemic– but mainly concerns demand from abroad. The latter includes the demand for touristic short-term rental, as well as for longer-term rental (that of digital nomads, for example) or for investment aimed at exploiting the increased demand for accommodation in the area. The increased demand on the waterfront is reflected in the map of short-term rental ads and in the smaller demand curve on the coast compared to the rest of the metropolitan area (Ρουσάνογλου 2022). At the same time, the presence of demand from abroad emerges through many micro-stories: in a small family apartment building with five apartments built in 1966, in the centre of Vouliagmeni, two of them were sold by the original owner (the first in the 1970s and the second in the 2000s) to the same Greek buyer, who used them for his family’s holiday home and long-term investment.
- Carlucci M, Vinci S, Lamonica GR & Salvati L (2020) Socio‑spatial Disparities and the Crisis: Swimming Pools as a Proxy of Class Segregation in Athens, Social Indicators Research, 161, 937–961 (https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11205-020-02448-y.pdf)
- ΕΚΚΕ-ΕΛΣΤΑΤ (2015), Πανόραμα Απογραφικών Δεδομένων 1991-2011. Διαδικτυακή εφαρμογή για την πρόσβαση και χαρτογράφηση κοινωνικών δεδομένων, διαθέσιμο από: http://panorama.statistics.gr/.
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