Traffic and waste, pollution and abusive stalls, collapsing roads and historical monuments obscured by a layer of smog, bottles left on the stairs of the cathedrals, bivouacs and a widespread sense of insecurity. The situation of these Italian art cities is dramatic, indecent, and sad. A slap in the face of a wonderful country, which could live on tourism alone, yet disregards its fortune. The last case is that of Florence; the “new Athens” dreamed up by Renaissance masters, is increasingly resembling a pitiful copy of Beirut. A particularly significant statistic number: 260 Minimarkets clog its historic center. Many of them are less than 15 square meters and do not have toilets for disabled people. It is too much even for UNESCO, which elected Dante’s native city as heritage of humanity, but now threatens to change its mind unless the authorities take action to change the situation.
Last week a formal communication had been delivered to the Palazzo Vecchio, the headquarters of the local administration, by the UN agency for the protection of world culture. “You cannot go on like this – this was the content of the message in a nutshell – Florence is under observation”. Dario Nardella (Democratic Party), the mayor of the city to whom Matteo Renzi passed the baton, hastened to ensure he is willing to take measures immediately. The result is a very complex package to be submitted to the city council for approval, then come out without harm from the potential myriad of appeals to the Regional Administrative Tribunal. Here are some of the measures it contains: shops (managed mostly by foreigners) smaller than 40 square meters and without services for disabled people shall be closed, the sale of alcohol in the center shall not be allowed after 9 pm, and is planed the introduction of the “function of historic activity” which will allow the workshops and quality commercial activities to continue to exist. But Florence needs to come to terms also with the rubbish people leave in the streets, homeless people (especially in the neighbouring areas of the station), with mobility- and traffic-related problems.
This scenario resembles a lot Rome, about which all kinds of scandals have been already told and written. Less than two months before the beginning of the Jubilee, the Eternal City is still struggling with the emergency situation caused by squalor and corruption. The beginning of the process against Mafia Capitale is seen as the possible watershed between two eras which will leave behind a period of absolute decline and make room for hope for future revival. While waiting for the resignation of Ignazio Marino to become official and for the subsequent appointment of a commissioner, the duo Cantone-Gabrielli works to render the city presentable in view of the Holy Year. “We are going to make it, although it will cost us effort” assured the president of ANAC, which has already blocked the first announcement for the allotting of a contract concerning road maintenance due to suspected bribery. What needs to be solved is the vexing problem of public transport, inefficient and inadequate on an infrastructural level. The resigning council had made a clean sweep inside ATAC (the local public transport company) after the recent scandals and started a plan for its rehabilitation. But those measures, while appropriate, will produce effects only in the long term, probably close to or after the closing of the Holy Door. Hence, the Jubilee finds Rome with bad business cards: hawkers, dirt, lack of organization, and a road system which seems that of a Third World country.
In the ranks of art cities which are grappling with negligence and incivility there is also Venice. Last summer several bodies of information showed dozens of tourists who ignored all rules and behaved as if they were at home. Some of them swam naked in the canals, others sunbathed on the benches or on right on the ground in the city center, still others squatted down to defecate in the historic calles. There were also bivouacs in the shadow of the Procuratie, and foot-baths in St. Mark’s basin. Not to mention abusive minimarkets, counterfeit paradises with thousands of euro of incomes from the sale of their products to visitors. In the south the situation is even worse. Naples, which was to become the “Italian Barcelona”, is grappling with the usual critical situations. The pedestrianization of the seafront, strongly supported by the Mayor De Magistris, does not suffice to gain back the city’s former splendor. Furthermore, it has created huge mobility problems in an urban environment already characterized by chaotic traffic and disrespect of the rules of the road. And let us not forget the collapse of the old buildings, such as Galleria Umberto I, from which in July 5, 2014 broke away some fragments which killed the 14-year-old Salvatore Giordano. A tragedy for which on October 22 were investigated 8 people.
A few kilometres away there is Pompeii, the protagonist of an international sorry figure for our country. One of the most important archaeological sites in the world had to come to terms with abandonment, collapse, dirt, and works restoration ended up in an investigation due to an excessive allocation of funds. And how can we not mention Palermo in Sicily? A wonderful city, solar, on the sea: a mix of Punic, Norman, Arab and XX Century treasures which became a huge marketplace, devastated by abusive structures which erased Conca d’Oro, the wonderful neighbouring orange grove. Writing to Palermo Today this summer, an indignant Australian tourist contemptuously called it “the European Thailand” after having seen dirt and waste. In this bleak landscape the only city which seems (the conditional is a must) to escape criticism is Milan. But perhaps it was a gigantic operation of maquillage to sell the product in view of a large international event. Of course public transport works, the streets are clean, and efficiency seems to become the main protagonist. But what has become of the “water ways”, the majestic project that was supposed to be the symbol of the event and to give a new face to the Milanese capital? It fell into oblivion. And in the city there are people who are afraid of how things will be handled after EXPO, wondering how its structures will be adapted. A fair question in a country which has already shown its ability to destroy the sublime heritage of history.