The definition of the urban area of Athens is an issue that, like the question of the number of inhabitants, is a source of debate, both among Greeks and among foreigners. The official data on the number of inhabitants of Athens is similar to the reported economic data on euro accession: they are confusing, complex and they are wrong. First of all, the administrative urban area of Athens with 700,000 inhabitants is relatively small and comprises only the center around the Acropolis. The coherent urban area in the urban metropolitan area is much larger and comprises about 50 small and large towns with a reported 3.8 million inhabitants (2011) on a populated area, which is approximately the same area as Berlin and administratively under the Metropolregion Attica is taken, whereby Attica is much larger than the urban-populated space. An aerial image comparison with Berlin shows the similarly large population area, but also the extreme densification in Athens, in some cases the population density is up to 40,000 people per square kilometer (e.g. Kallithea).
Population density in Athens (l) and Berlin (r) from 50km altitude
Another comparison with Madrid illustrates the problem of defining urban areas. The Metropolitan Area of Madrid has officially more than 6 million inhabitants, the cohesive urban space is however both, in size as well as of the population, much smaller than in Athens. The high numbers of inhabitants of the Metropolitan Areas often result from a very large area, where the core cities or the connected urban area can be comparatively small.
Cohesive urban space in Athens (l) and Madrid (r) from 35km altitude
The settlement density has different consequences for the quality of life. Where in Berlin or London there is space for parks, small gardens and family residences, in Athens there are the typical 5-8-storey apartment houses and almost always twice as many streets and apartments per square kilometer. What initially appears to be disadvantageous, but also has positive effects, such as a denser infrastructure, where on foot much more is available in a confined space. Typical boom cities of the industrial age such as London, Paris or Berlin are designed mainly for car travel – a development which Athens has completely overslept, and the city has now arrived involuntarily directly in the future. The possibilities and qualities of life in Athens that could open up with the end of the internal combustion engine are incredible! The following pictures illustrate the situation using the example of central locations in Berlin (Mitte-Friedrichshain) and Athens (Ag. Dimitrios):
Density of buildings in Berlin (above) and Athens (below) from 4km altitude
A special feature or even difficulty in determining the number of inhabitants in Athens is that there is no register obligation, but there are many good reasons not to register in Athens, but somewhere else. For Greeks, a registration on land brings tax benefits and register in the hometown, which is mostly outside Athens, gives the right to vote and co-determination, which is traditionally very important for many Greeks. Immigrants enter the risk of all kinds of inconveniences, up to the eventual deportation, while without registration they are largely left unattended. Especially in recent years Athens has developed into a hotspot of new migration movements. EU citizens are avoiding the application because of fear of tax disadvantages, although the city is a popular second home, especially among Northern Europeans. As a result, only 2.9 million voters are registered in the metropolitan area of Athens (compared to 2.5 million in Berlin, for example). According to the standardized key “electorate = 75% of the population”, all the official statistics report a population of 3.8 million.
However, there are some indications that suggest a much higher population in Athens. There is, for example, the number of customers reported by EYDAP, the Athens water supply company, at 4.3 million, although EYDAP does not even supply the entire urban space. Then there are the data of different municipalities on the population numbers. Kallithea, for example, cites a population of 200,000, although the census of 2011 has only determined 100,000. Egaleo writes on his website, “According to the 2011 census, the population is 69,940, but in reality, at least 100,000 people live and work in the city.” Zografou gives 150,000 instead of 70,000. Kifissia writes: “According to the 2001 census, the population is 67,456 inhabitants, but the actual population exceeds 100,000.” Similar examples can be found on almost every community presentation, and if you live on the spot, you can at least estimate for its neighborhood that the census data are far too low. For Kesariani, the census has determined 26,000 inhabitants, at the same time there are also 25,675 eligible voters, how is that possible?
Through conversations in the house and on the street I have the experience that about 30% of the inhabitants are not registered in Athens. A city population of more than 5 million, a figure which mention most of the Athenians also, would be the equivalent. In this context, an article from the 1970s is also interesting, according to city planners, which predicted a population of 6.5 million for Athens by the year 2000. Completely diametrical to this are more recent forecasts, for example, a new report by the Berlin Insitute shows a 10% reduction in the population in Attica by 2050, due to the crisis and low birth rate. A closer look at this question would be important, as it is likely that Athens is the third largest city in the EU after London and Paris, and that would have consequences, from geopolitical aspects, through city planning to the granting of funding.