2015 | Dec
Athens grew very dynamically in the first three post-war decades, during which its population more than doubled (from 1,500,000 in 1951 to 3,500,000 in 1981).
The city’s increasing population was housed in two main ways: a) individual privately-owned housing in the city’s outskirts, characterised by poor construction standards and b) housing in modern apartments built through the flats-for-land (antiparochi) system that mainly covered the needs of the middle and working-class social strata.
Flats-for-land, building density and social segregation
The flats-for-land system is a barter system based on an agreement between a land owner and a builder-contractor to construct a building and split the ownership of the apartments and/or offices and shops built, as per an initial contract describing each side’s level of participation in the relevant investment.
Its great success was due to:
- the huge demand for cheap and modern buildings by the city’s rising population and the expanding middle class, during the first post-war decades
- the fact that it was a system that suited small urban land property owners and construction businesses who lacked capital
- the policy of tax benefits that rendered it hard to compete with in terms of building construction costs
The apartment buildings of this kind, which are still the majority of the housing stock of Athens, were erected up to the late 1970s, to a large extent. Between 1950 and 1980, approximately 35,000 buildings with five or more storeys were built, while prior to this period the total number built did not exceed 1,000 buildings. After 1980, construction activity decreased significantly, particularly in the city centre.
The additions to and reshaping of the housing stock caused by the flats-for-land system through the rapid proliferation of apartment buildings had significant impacts on the city’s social geography (meaning, the way social groups are distributed within it). The two main impacts are related to:
- the redistribution of social groups throughout the metropolitan area
- the change of the social profile of central city areas, where the flats-for-land system was mainly applied
In relation to the first aspect, the flats-for-land system caused multiple chain reactions:
- rapid increase in building density, initially in central areas and then in areas around the city centre: during the period from 1951 to 1971, the resident population of the Municipality of Athens increased by more than 60% (from 550,000 to 890,000)
- deterioration of environmental conditions in the city centre, as the increase in density was not accompanied by improvements in infrastructure, while the situation was significantly aggravated by the large increase in the number of vehicles
The degradation of environmental conditions in central areas led to the gradual outmigration of a significant proportion of the middle and upper-middle strata to the north-eastern and southern suburbs. The upper social strata in particular showed significant spatial re-distribution: Between 1971 and 1991, the distribution in the upscale suburbs of upper social categories (public and private sector executives, freelancers and other professionals) increased from 10% to 30% and decreased in the centre (Municipality of Athens) from 62% to 27%. On the contrary, relocations were much more limited for employees (table 1).
Table 1: Spatial relocation of upper social and professional categories and salried workers depending on the social character of the areas of residence in the Athenian metropolis
Whereas higher building density degraded living conditions in the city centre, apartment blocks gradually became a “plebeian” version of the interwar urban apartment buildings in terms of building quality and lack of architectural imagination.
Due to these shifts, the East/West and not the Centre/Periphery division, became the dominant spatial expression of social separation of the part of the city that lies within the Attica basin. Athens, a city where upper social classes traditionally lived in the centre and working classes lived in the periphery, came closer to the paradigm of the English-speaking world, where the affluent live in the suburbs and the working class live around the centre. Lower social classes –other than their increased presence in the centre– still prevailed in most of the western suburbs and the more peripheral locations within Attica (map 1).
Map 1: Social differentiation of residential areas in Athens according to the percentage of upper professional categories (2011)
Vertical social segregation
The second aspect of the impact of the flats-for-land system were the changes that it brought about in the city core, namely:
- the significant population growth during the period when the flats-for-land system (1960-1980) was most extensively used to add dwellings to the housing stock, but also a decrease ever since (from 890,000 in 1981 to 660,000 in 2011), due to the degraded living conditions in the centre, caused by its uncontrolled development.
- the greater social mix, through the entry of lower-middle strata families in the growth period and the exit of upper-middle strata in the period of decline.
- the significant presence of migrant groups from the 1990s onward, who were attracted by the affordable living cost in declining city centre areas.
Map 2: Areas of Athens with most apartment buildings constructed up until 1981 (2011)
Sociospatial rearrangements were largely shaped by the structure of the flat-for-land apartment block per se, which allows for living conditions in the city centre to differ by floor: building density did not affect the upper and lower apartment blocks floors equally, contributing to create vertical social segregation.
Vertical segregation is largely due to the better conditions in the upper floor apartments (better view, less noise, more light, better ventilation, usable balconies…). In addition, upper floor apartments are usually larger (Figure 1). The difference in living conditions quality among different floors of the same building weighed more heavily for residents as building density increased
Figure 1: Percentage of residences by size and by floor, in apartment buildings in the Municipality of Athens (2011)
Figure 2: Percentage of professional categories by floor in apartment buildings in the Municipality of Athens (2011)
Figure 3: Percentage of individuals according to their level of education by floor in apartment buildings in the Municipality of Athens (2011)
Figure 4: Percentage of individuals by housing surface per head and by floor, in the Municipality of Athens (2011)
Vertical separation was identified and discussed many years ago (Leontidou 1990, Maloutas & Karadimitriou, 2001). However, while up until now, it was documented based on small scale field surveys, the 2011 Population Census offers the possibility to fully document it, as it is the first time that the floor of a building can be linked to resident characteristics. Thus, based on the 2011 census data, there is clear differentiation of social characteristics by floor in apartment buildings in the Municipality of Athens (Figures 2-6).
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- Maloutas T and Karadimitriou N (2001) Vertical social differentiation in Athens: alternative or complement to community segregation? International journal of urban and regional research 25(4): 699–716. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17672030.