Kyspseli is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Athens and in the world. Developed in the 1920s, Patesion Boulevard stretched a new modern identity for the expansion of Athens north of the archaeological museum and the polytechnic university. During the “golden” age of the 1960s, Patesia and Kypseli defined a new metropolitanism. To use American terminology, these neighborhoods experienced “white flight” in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, they represent loss of control, economic degradation and the incoherence that ensues when the middle class flees to the (yet further) northern suburbs. The Kypseli of today is a new animal perhaps as interesting as its older moments of the 1920s garden city or the 1960s dense metropolis. See my earlier post on 1920s Patesion here. Like much of downtown Athens, Kypseli is a laboratory of globalization. Greeks are a visible elderly minority of landlords. Asian, African and Central European newcomers are calling the shots.
I was born in Kypseli. While visiting my sister in Kentucky yesterday, I looked at an old family album showing me as an infant in 1969 on our thin Kypseli balcony. Forty years later, I find myself owning that balcony, inherited from my father who bought it with his first savings. When my wife and I visited Kypseli this summer, we felt quite at home with the ethnic mix of the neighborhood. It feels a lot more like our hood in Philadelphia than any other place in Greece, although the human density, mechanical noise, and dog-shit still took us by surprise. We basically had to decide as a new family unit whether to keep the tiny apartment or sell it. We decided to keep it, despite the financial burden it will impose. And we find ourselves in Kypseli as our Greek base and a future place of reference for our two-year-old, we pay close attention to the neighborhood vibe. Who knows? A returning 1.5th-generation Greek-American, his American wife, and 2nd-generation Greek-American toddler might be part of the new global soup of Kypseli.
Thanks to the web, I can keep track of my new old neighborhood. A few months ago, the renovations of Mars Field Park were completed. This rare patch of park land was looking rather shabby in the last decade as urban resources ran out. See article by Demetris Regopoulos “Patesion Street starts believing in itself again,” Kathimerini (Feb. 2, 2011). Other installations have sprung up.
Most interesting, a trio of Kypseli inhabitants are recognizing the new vitality of the neighborhood and through the medium of art seek to build a bridge between the Kipseli of now and the intellectual Kipseli of the mid-century. They are two artists and a writer, Giannis Isidorou, Giannis Gregoriadou and Katerina Eliopoulou, founders of the art space SALON DE VORTEX on Ithakis 24 (and I. Drosopoulou). Salon de Vortex’s mission statement includes engaging the neighborhood’s global present. Salon de Vortex makes me particularly excited because it happens to be housed in the office of Kostas Kitsikis, one of Greece’s premier modernists. Since I haven’t yet visited the gallery, I don’t have much to report on first hand. Salon de Vortex founder Isidorou published an opinion piece in Kathimerini that intrigued me. I quote the whole editorial here. It is entitled “Why We Chose Kypseli”
Giannis Isidorou, “Γιατί προτιμήσαμε την Κυψέλη” Kathimerini (Feb. 5, 2011)