In Athens, I have a learned, there is something known as antiparochi. The practice took hold in the middle of the 20th century at a time when Athens was in desperate need of new housing. Supposedly during the 1950s, an estimated 560,000 people came to Athens from the countryside in search of opportunity — effectively doubling the population of the city. That was a bit of a problem for a city with no money to build new housing. So something needed to be done. The solution was a ground-up arrangement (i.e. it wasn’t a government initiative) that allowed developers and contractors to increase the supply of new housing without having to ever pay for land. And given the time period in which this took hold, it also spurred quite the modernist building boom, leaving an architectural legacy that to this day continues to define Athens.
Here’s an explanation of how antiparochi works (taken from this BBC article by Alex Sakalis):
Here’s how it worked: a contractor would approach the owner of a house and offer him a deal. He would knock down his house, and build a block of flats in its place. In return, the homeowner would be given a certain number of flats (usually two or three), while the contractor would then make his money by selling the remaining flats to Greeks who were seeking accommodation. Generally, no money was exchanged and no contracts were signed.
What’s so incredible about antiparochi is that it emerged spontaneously out of the housing crisis in Athens. “There was no specific law which told people ‘OK now you have the right to collaborate and build whatever you like’. It was the people themselves that found out this possibility,” says Panos Dragonas, professor of Architecture at the University of Patras.
Even more incredibly, the state completely accepted what its citizens had started doing, introducing only a few minor regulations, such as a maximum height for the apartment buildings – known as polykatoikies in Greek – and a ban on building over archaeological sites or on top of Athens’ seven historical hills. There were no property taxes – the state never made any direct income from antiparochi.
The elegance of antiparochi was that it appeared to solve all of Greece’s problems at once. It provided homeowners and home seekers with modern apartments, while creating enough profit for the contractors to continue investing in construction without state subsidies or bank loans.