[Below is a text of a letter I wrote to the Mayor of Athens in August 2015 about the rising drug problem in our area]
Dear Mayor Kaminis,
I own and run The Cube, Athens’ largest coworking space and tech startup cluster based near Kannigos square. It is home to some of Greece’s best web and tech entrepreneurs, people who are building globally impactful businesses. It is the defacto location for many of Athens’ tech meetups – daily , weekly and monthly group meetings of people with common interest in various technologies, tools and methods. Together, we are some of Greece’s most impactful changemakers.
Unfortunately, life in this part of the city has once again become untenable and I can no longer expend energy trying to convince the authorities that they need to do the commonsensible. I am tired of calling officials to complain about the lack of policing, the lack of cleanliness, the lack of adequate lighting – more seriously, the blatant surrender of the streets we have the unlucky fate to be in, to drug dealers, prostitutes and vagrants.
We have an ever present gang of drug dealers peddling their poison less than 50m from our entrance. Drug use on our street is significant. Addicts are constantly spiking themselves right outside our door, leaving their used needles, spraying blood on our pavement, sometimes passing out for hours on our street, very often fights break out and there is a general feeling of an unsafe neighborhood. The Police seem unable to take control of the situation, their patrols are minimal and they almost never arrest anyone. If they do, the same dealers are out on the street again within hours.
This is not a proud moment for me as I am writing to tell you about our combined failure. I am writing to inform you that due to this combined failure, it is my intent to move our business and all of our tenants out of central Athens at the first opportunity.
Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince some of Greece’s most talented entrepreneurs to come and work here, in The Cube, a place that has been recognised as one of the most positive things that has happened in this country in recent years.
It is regretful but our talented clients and coworkers refuse to co-exist with the vagrants that have embedded themselves here.
Unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives.
I suppose one could argue that it is actually we who embedded ourselves in their territory, but I had hoped that with us moving to this troubled part of the city, that we might instigate some change and some level of care from the authorities. None has emerged, despite our efforts.
Why on earth did I choose to come here you ask? Well, I was inspired by an initiative in Lisbon, where another entrepreneur like me did the same. His story and the success delivered to his neighborhood is something that should be replicated in many parts of the world.
In creating The Cube, my second coworking initiative after founding coLab – Greece’s first (and quite famous) coworking space, I specifically wanted to go to an under-served part of town and do some good. I wanted to create an initiative that would help uplift one of the many areas that have significant challenges and are undergoing urban decay. Kannigos square was once full of life. By the time we arrived, two and a half years ago, it had descended into a no-mans land of drugs, prostitution and petty crime. The opportunity to do good had appeared. We found a fantastic building – Seven times larger than our previous location – a building that once was home to a stockbrokers, one of Greece’s biggest – but they unfortunately decided to depart after an attack by anarchists. I’m not worried about anarchists. Startups are kind of anarchists by nature too. I was more worried about the drugs and the needles. My co-investor was especially nervous about my choice for this building, as were many of the members of Athens’ startup community, but I convinced him, as I did them, that new things need to be built on the ruins of bad things and if we came here, we would give life to the neighborhood. This very large building was empty for 4 years which of course means that the city received no city taxes during that period. We came and brought life to the building and to our small street. It had become dark and lifeless. The Cube, as a working concern, currently pays very significant city taxes. I feel we get very little value in return.
In the past few days, while we were away, our tenants tell us that the situation had become extreme. We returned to find chaos in and around our office building entrance. It had become a drug den. We returned and immediately began cleaning the urine and fecal matter from HIV and Hepatitis infected addicts literally in the entrance of our office. The drug pushers stood a few meters away while we did this.They had even been so kind as to leave a small shovel for use of their customers when, in a drug induced bout of diarrhea when have the urge to relieve themselves of their infectious waste, they can use the shovel to move their fecal matter into the surrounding bushes.
Over the past two years, I have personally called the Police, the Narcotics bureau, the Ministry of Public order, several city Councillors and deputy Mayors and finally your office uncountable times. Yet, this same gang of four or five Ghanaian or Nigerian drug pushers continue to work the streets surrounding The Cube day in and day out – right under the nose of the authorities who simply raise their hands and pass the buck from one official to the next official. Your office tells me your hands are tied. I respond saying your hands are raised.
I called again and visited Omonia police station after being threatened by the drug dealers yesterday. Today, I was threatened by the addicts themselves – I was chased all the way to Omonia, manhandled and had my phone removed while they deleted photographs I had taken of the decay in Kannigos square to show to the authorities.
Enough is enough Mr Mayor. I explained to one of your aides today that my job here is to provide good working conditions to my members. I have failed them and I feel the city has failed me.
Your job, Mr Mayor, is to make the city attractive for businesses and provide the conditions (in collaboration with the other authorities) for our citizens to want to work here and for entrepreneurs to want to invest here. All parts of the city require your attention. I’d say that you might consider giving the more troubled parts, and especially those parts with the potential for improvement, with high impact individuals, as I have described above, more attention. We chose to come to this part of the city because it was at a good price and we could do something to uplift it. Without your help and support, we have no reason to remain. We are losing customers and without customers we cannot remain. Our customers are asking us to move.
I consider myself an ambassador for our city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem when I travel to speak abroad on entrepreneurship and business – I’m afraid I’m finding it difficult to represent this city given the current situation.
Today, while talking, at your office with one of your aides, I asked to see you so that I can explain this to you in person. I don’t really need to see you to complain. I have complained enough here already and I have complained to you in person before, and while I have often been accused of complaining by various authorities, including city officials, I must say it is simply because I’m very invested in this city.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Founder – The Cube Athens
/cc Minister of Citizens Protection – Mr Yiannis Panousis