Plakas listed status under threat

first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram What were the reasons behind the decline of Plaka, the Athens old town, during the 1960s and 1970s? Was it greed, neglect, or just plain stupidity?The answer is not as straightforward as one might expect, even for those who have spent their whole life in the shadow of the Acropolis. What most do agree on, however, is the reasons that led to the gradual renewal of this historic neighborhood in the decades that followed. It was a series of presidential decrees that helped protect Plaka as a single settlement ensemble. A number of stores were closed down, strict building restrictions were introduced and select buildings were saved from demolition.However, a new set of measures introduced over the weekend by Greece’s Environment Ministry put the character of this architectural showpiece at risk.It is worth looking at the history of the legislation. When lawmakers decided in the late 1970s to take action to save Athens’s oldest neighborhood, the signs of decline were already evident. Over the preceding decade, the area had been invaded by the typical tourism businesses of the time: tavernas, discos, a rash of neon signs, pushy tradesmen and annoying taverna staff dressed up like evzones, and of course prostitutes. The first people to abandon the area were its residents.Dionysis Zivas led a group of experts who hammered out “Plaka, the Old Town of Athens: A Study on Its Present State and Its Future Survival,” on which later legislation was based. “There were 90 clubs operating in Plaka. Half of the residents had left and the only people who stayed there were the ones that could not leave,” he says.In 1973, Zivas was assigned by the General Directorate of Housing to prepare a survey on the area. The study was submitted in 1974, he now says, and it remained shelved for around two or three years until it was picked up by Stefanos Manos, who was then deputy housing minister. “He invited us over and asked us to put together an action plan to save the area. In January 1979, the plan was put into action.”The campaign was launched in 1979 and it was groundbreaking, even for present standards. The first decree was to turn Plaka into a pedestrian zone. Further measures addressed specific issues like shop licenses and signs. Plaka was declared a traditional settlement and some 550 buildings were declared “listed.” The most recent decree was issued in 1993.“Plaka was where the idea of land use was first introduced in Greece,” says Yiannis Michail, vice president of the Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage, better known as Elliniki Etairia. “The authorities were determined to enforce the law: Forty-two bars and restaurants were shut down in 1983 alone. In the decades that followed, people gradually returned.”Legislation left some room for a small number of bars and restaurants. Businesses whose licenses had been issued before 1982 would be exempt from closure, as long as the ownership did not change.The Environment Ministry first tried to tweak the legislation in 2008 as it passed a package of measures regarding the expansion of businesses and so on. Reactions forced the ministry to withdraw the amendments. However, these were soon to be reintroduced through the back door via the bill for the new Regulatory Plan for Athens. Once again they were withdrawn.The latest bill, which was voted in Parliament on Saturday, allows owners to transfer their licenses. Reactions forced the ministry to at least withdraw a provision which allowed businesses to expand on different floors of the same building. All amendments have been criticized as being tailored to specific business interests.Questioned by Kathimerini during the presentation of the bill, Alternate Environment Minister Nikos Tagaras admitted that the City of Athens had not been consulted on the amendments. He added that the ministry could not give an estimate of how many licenses would be affected as no impact study has been carried out.Criticism also came from the City of Athens. Mayor Giorgos Kaminis asked for the regulations to be withdrawn, saying that the measures aimed at “overturning fundamental principles of Plaka’s protection regime overnight.”Zivas says the bill is a disaster. “It will simply undo what has been achieved over the past 30 years. In order to serve certain economic interests, we will go back to a new version of what we experienced in the 1970s.”By Giorgos Lialios for Kathimerinilast_img read more