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The reformation of Athens, in recent years, changes the daily life of residents, businesses and workers. The new condition produces multiple displacements that generate social and spatial inequality but also pose new issues and questions for policies that prevent gentrification phenomena and encourage social, environmental justice and economic sustainability of the city.

This is what the new study of the Institute of Small and Medium Enterprises reports GSEVEE entitled: “Gentrification in Athens and effects on the media”.

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As noted in the preface of the study, an attempt is made to record the contemporary trends and transformations that define the character of the city through policies and processes and affect uses, functions, ownership and housing patterns and overall access to goods and services. Indications of this change are the creation of a quasi “theme park” with a large geographic displacement in central areas, consisting of consumption, tourism and leisure uses. The image of the center is changing rapidly in buildings and uses with particular dynamics, driven by private initiative, mainly the real estate industry, public policy and international and local trends in the tourism industry. In this context, the ongoing transformation of the city changes the daily life of residents, businesses and workers. The crisis in housing, the loss to a large extent of the characteristic multifunctionality of Athens resulting from the mix of uses and economic activities, the monoculture of tourism and leisure uses in large parts of traditional commercial areas and in the neighborhoods, where together with the housing, the small business activity, are indications of urban restructuring resulting in the direct or indirect displacement of residents, users and uses.

The new condition produces multiple displacements that generate social and spatial inequality but also pose new issues and questions for policies that prevent gentrification phenomena and encourage social, environmental justice and economic sustainability of the city.

The implications for small businesses are multiple

In this context, as noted, the implications for small businesses are multiple. The rapid changes and transformations in trade in recent years are altering its historical structure and resilience that it has had for many decades. Specialized trade stores, with a long historical depth, based on production networks, are closing due to the onslaught of short-term economic activity such as restaurants and tourism, which exerts unequal pressure on local markets. The above displacements, direct (through the increase in rents, changes in the use of shops or the conversion of entire buildings into hotel units) or indirect, through the mutations that exist in the uses and squares and affect the internal and external networks in them, the changes in the demand and the preferences of the consumer public etc., are taking place at a rapid rate, affecting even businesses that endured through the crisis. The development of “boutiquing” with specialized marketing and personalized goods, the spread of digitization (digitalization) and the competition caused by large store chains contribute to the formation of the new landscape.

To the above changes are added the overall price increases and inflation – especially in relation to the disposable income of the citizens, the taxation regime (indirect and direct), energy and rent costs that make it difficult for residents and businesses to survive in the city of Athens. The new condition produces multiple displacements that generate social and spatial inequality but also pose new issues and questions for policies that prevent gentrification phenomena and encourage social, environmental justice and economic sustainability of the city.

Towards an integrated policy for the city and the media

An intervention is necessary which, however, has the character of an integrated policy which offers an in-depth recording of the new data (geographical, urban planning, economic) with case studies and data on the characteristics and experiences of local markets as well as the effects of tourism and gentrification. This process will, on the one hand, record and monitor the developments of the local socio-spatial and economic reality and, on the other hand, draw up an active policy for the support and empowerment of local communities and businesses in the context of maintaining and encouraging the social mix and urban multifunctionality.

Four areas are identified on which an integrated policy-making plan can be focused, based also on the rich recent experience from the European area, which gives examples and alternatives that respond to the moment.

– The first field concerns the recording of data related to small and medium enterprises (size, sector, location, dynamics, financial data, networks, etc.) as well as the classification of sector data on a single basis. This process can provide a basis for policy making with real data. Recording can be implemented through different tools (registry/ observatory) which have been implemented from time to time in European cities, but also implemented by different bodies (e.g. local government, confederations and professional bodies, institutes, state structures). It is important that this recording is dynamic and connected to a digital platform, has a geospatial reference and is user and business friendly.

– The second field of policy concerns regulations, conditions and limitations of operation and development of activities and protection of uses. These regulations can be of an urban planning nature or be part of urban planning and development strategic planning tools (Local Urban Planning Plans, Special Urban Planning Studies, OCHE, SVAA, SOAP). The above tools can regulate the development of residential, commercial, tourism-leisure, manufacturing, administration uses and specify sizes, scales, combinations of uses, saturation, etc. At this point, urban regeneration and equipment, the design of public spaces, free spaces and green spaces, the public transport network and sustainable mobility and transport networks are of prime importance. In this context, it is necessary to regulate parameters that affect land uses and which are not part of the urban planning legislation (short-term rental accommodation). This is where the experience of the Special Urban Plan for Tourist Accommodation (PEUAT) introduced by the Municipality of Barcelona is very useful. PEUAT operates in four distinct zones with specific regulations aimed at achieving an urban balance, which is a sustainable mix of the tourism sector in relation to other economic activities and the quality of life in the city. Each zone depends on the distribution of accommodation in it, the ratio between the number of tourist dwellings offered and the permanent population, the relationship and conditions under which certain uses are allowed, the effects of activities on public spaces and the presence of tourist attractions.

– The third field is the active promotion of SMEs through support and aid programs with incentives for existing and new businesses. The intervention activates financial tools, urban development pilot programs with the inclusion of SMEs as a driver of local economic development (see Elaionas) and provides integration and strengthening of small and medium entrepreneurship. In addition, it includes programs to upgrade the building stock (renovation, energy upgrade, equipment) with parallel protection and business preservation provision.

The recording of data at an earlier stage can lead to development proposals for strategic redirections, specializations and interconnections – synergies of businesses with other uses, functions and labor markets.

– The last field concerns the governing bodies that undertake the promotion and implementation of these policies. The European experience shows that the most effective implementation of such programs comes from the local government which assumes such a role. This presupposes the development of a consultation scheme with all stakeholders in the inclusive and transparent local economic development process.

Finally, the above proposals should be included in an integrated strategic plan, which in a coordinated way will be able to take into account the interactions of uses and balance interests and conflicts.

Gentrification, as an “urban renewal” movement

Gentrification, as an “urban renewal” movement, began in the 1960s in the Anglo-Saxon world to internationalize and soon spread on a global scale. Accumulated research, 60 years later, despite different approaches, locates the term as a process of class restructuring of cities through change in the population of users in such a way that new users have a higher socio-economic level than previous users, combined with corresponding reinvestment fixed capital. The above broad interpretation of the phenomenon is used for this purpose, in order to emphasize the different forms and the different temporal circumstances under which the phenomenon takes place in different places. This relationship of place and time highlights the particularities and geographical context of gentrification.

Gentrification is one of the most important, complex and socially unjust processes of urban restructuring affecting cities worldwide and requires, on the one hand, an understanding of local specificities for the real forms and nature of the phenomenon and, on the other hand, the elaboration of policies to protect the local community and of daily operations from the rampant commercialization of space.

In Athens, studies on gentrification have been developed since the 2000s, located in processes with varied characteristics and spatial parameters. Today, we are in a new phase of development of the Athenian landscape through processes and transformations linked to urban tourism. The development of tourism, after a phase of great devaluation of real estate in the crisis, as well as other processes that preceded it, shaped the conditions for the increase in land prices and rents and caused changes in the economic and urban functions of the city and the daily life of the people. citizens.

Many researchers have developed the issue of gentrification—however, few have examined how gentrification has affected small business owners in the field. The absence of studies, focused quantitative and qualitative geographically marked research on the effects of gentrification on businesses, makes it difficult to investigate the phenomenon in depth and develop localized intervention policies. Therefore, the study of INE-GSEVEE, due to the limited scope and access to necessary data, contributes to a first investigation and recording of wider trends and processes taking place today in Athens with the aim of developing reflections and questions that can help in the development actions related to small and medium enterprises.