“The situation is now desperate. We cannot move, we cannot sleep, we cannot live.” George Zafeiriou has been living on Pittaku Street for the past 25 years Plaka.
Like all permanent residents of the area, he notes that this year the situation is unprecedented, resulting not only in a huge increase in the number of tourists, but, in general, lawlessness:
“Our main problem is noise pollution. Cafeterias, taverns and restaurants in Plaka compete with each other in the volume of music. We understand when the municipal police are approaching, because suddenly the volume of the sound is reduced. To rise again as soon as they leave. Although the installation of speakers in the open air is prohibited on Plaka by presidential decree, all stores have them, music plays until dawn. The problem, however, is not limited to ground level. The “new fashion” that has made our lives hell is roofs“.
Although a presidential decree expressly bans rooftop catering establishments, shops and recreational areas in the area are growing one by one.
“Only on Mitropoleos street at the moment there are at least 20 rooftop bars . It’s not only from hotelsbut also from buildings that have completely turned into “branches Airbnb“. The same thing happens inside Plaka, many started by creating a space on the terrace to offer breakfast, and breakfast turned into dinner until the morning…
Many of them host parties until 3.30 am. “If you don’t have double glazing in your house, you won’t be able to sleep,” says Noni Sterioti, a resident of Lisiou Street for the past 30 years. And it’s not just the bars. For example, opposite my house, an educational institution decided to arrange an open-air theater on the roof, and every evening from 8.30 to 10.30 I listen to the same show in English. Everyone does what they want. The only good solution that we have noticed is the cleanliness of the territory and the anti-graffiti campaign.”
Residents of the area, who are forced to “lock themselves” in their apartments due to the fact that music and noise are carried in the neighborhood, feel helpless. “Since the pandemic, noise pollution has been increasing every year. Incredible noise from square in Monastiraki is heard to Plaka. There are no hours of general silence,” says Despina Stratigi, a resident of Kyrristou Street for the past 25 years. “We appeal to the police, the municipal police, but, unfortunately, to no avail. We can’t go anywhere for help, our daily life has become a torment.”
Residents are forced to “lock themselves in” due to loud music and fuss.
Residents say lawlessness is not limited noise pollution. “Traffic is an important issue,” says Ms Sterioti. “Firstly, the traffic schedule is not observed (a question to the mayor: where did the system introduced in 2020 with entry bans on Plaka go to anyone?). Huge trucks drive into alleys and sidewalks, blocking them tightly. They stay there for some time with their engines running until they are unloaded or loaded, just like the buses that carry tourists. Add to all this the famous train, merrily ringing a bell and smoking an old and broken diesel, groups of cyclists starting from squares of the Roman Agora and pedestrian streets such as Lisiou, where restaurants take their tables to small sidewalks. The situation is chaotic. Parking employees located in Plaka use residents’ parking spaces to park visitors’ cars. The result, of course, is that we don’t find a place.”
Trucks and cars enter lanes and sidewalks, closing them for a while.
“Another important issue is the occupancy of public places with tables,” says Mr. Zafeiriu. – There is no measure, sidewalks and squares are lined with tables. As if people don’t live in Plaka, but this is a huge tourist restaurant. Some argue that this will not be the case every year, that restaurateurs want to compensate for the period “killed” by the pandemic this year, but I am afraid that this situation will be fixed.”
Being the “heart” of tourist Athens, Plaka gathers tens of thousands of visitors every day. Many simply enjoy the walk, but more and more people are staying there as many homes are rented out through Airbnb platforms. “The good thing about Airbnb is that a lot of the old houses have been refurbished. On the negative side, the number of tourists has increased with all the consequences, from the loss of the daily life of the area to the pressure on the infrastructure – the sewerage in Lysikratos “breaks” all the time, ”says Mr. Zafiriou.
“What can we ask? For Airbnb, check the number of permits and do not give permits to buildings with more than one apartment for rent if they do not have a separate entrance. For roofs and noise pollution, it would be enough to implement the city’s decree regarding Plaka. For traffic control will help.The key issue is the work of the police.There is an explosion of lawlessness in our area, and without tight control the situation will not improve.I am very afraid that the situation in Plaka will be a bit like the situation that developed in the 70s and led to her being abandoned permanent residents.
There are few places in the area that are “survivors” of the anti-graffiti campaign.
“We do what we can”
The municipal police are doing their best with the limited means at their disposal. This statement is supported by the Deputy Mayor of the Municipal Police and Public Places, Vassilis Koromantos. According to him, the main problem in the Plaka area is the illegal expansion of places with tables and illegal rooftop bars, for which the municipality has filed lawsuits.
“In Plaka, about 15 shops operate on rooftops, although a presidential decree forbids this. For this reason, we are filing claims, already about 30 this year, ”says Mr. Koromantos. “We are interested in reducing noise pollution. Hotels usually don’t bother. Trouble with rooftop bars where parties are held. In the three that refuse to comply, the sealing process is underway, as the three lawsuits required by law have already been filed. As for the places at the tables, if a violation is detected, the owner is notified to remove them, and if he does not, the municipality removes them on its own. In addition, if he then fails to comply with the rules, his seating license will be revoked for 6 months. On Plaka, we have not removed any licenses at the moment, but have made several notifications.”
Monastiraki and Plaka are patrolled daily by 8 municipal police officers. “We are focusing on the most touristic places, such as Monastiraki Square, Adriana, etc., and we are faced with a very difficult situation. Unfortunately, our employees are not enough for more.”
You can look at the beauty of Plaka from under the chimneys of restaurants. But somehow it’s not particularly beautiful.
“Plaka needs to be kept in order”
Stefanos Manos proposes to recreate the “Plaka Office” in order to immediately solve the daily problems in the area and its strict protection, to counter the current situation. As the “father” of the presidential decree that halted the degradation of Plaka in the late 1970s and returned residents to the area, Mr. Manos believes that retaining and increasing the number of permanent residents largely depends on the most simple and at the same time complex: maintaining order.
“Unfortunately for many years both the state and the municipality have been indifferent to Plaka and have not shown the care that is needed,” says Mr. Manos. “It doesn’t help to repeat what I tried to do in the past, and Antonis Tritsis continued. The project succeeded because it had continuity. The most important organizational step was the creation of the “Plak Office” (ss in the then Ministry of the Environment, Spatial Planning and Public Works), which had the competence and power to deal with all day-to-day problems. The office was able to intervene effectively and consistently with the assistance of groups of local residents. However, unfortunately, a few years ago it was gradually devalued and canceled.”
Mr. Manos doesn’t see Airbnb’s growth as a problem. “Airbnb exists in all parts of the world. It would be wrong to ban when we seek to attract visitors. If the government imposes restrictions on Airbnb, it must also have an administration capable of enforcing its work, which, unfortunately, we do not have.”
According to him, the main problem is to ensure law and order in the territory. “There is no police in Plaka, from traffic control to enforcement of shop conditions. The presidential decree was intended to “freeze” the distribution of entertainment in Plaka and make it clear that it is a residential area, with the exception of certain places. In my opinion, we do not need anything other than maintaining order. If the rules in the area return, then the residents will return. If you leave the situation as it is, the residents will simply refuse it. It’s a pity, because it took a lot of effort and many years to return the house to Plaka.”