While waiting for the Rome’s mayoral candidates to come up with 7 points for a more sustainable city , here are some simple suggestions, actions which don’t even require any consensus or additional legislation:
- insist that the municipal police enforce the traffic code, ticketing and towing all motor vehicles that violate the law, including vendors parked in violation of code, and remove from duty those officers that neglect to perform their duties or violate the traffic code themselves. (cost = 0, revenue = €millions)
- remove all illegal advertisements and fine the companies and their clients responsible for them (cost = €thousands, revenue = €millions)
- insist that AMA remove all trash from Rome’s public spaces, including abandoned vehicles, illegal dumping sites, advertising and constructions (cost = 0, part of AMA’s existing job description)
- insist that AMA return all trash receptacles to their appointed locations and begin fining residents who use them inappropriately (such as putting paper, plastic or glass in the green bins). (cost = 0, part of AMA’s existing job description)
- require that all public transit respect published schedules and that employees be held accountable for not doing so (cost = 0, part of ATAC’s existing job description)
- ensure that all public employees and contractors perform adequately the jobs with which they are tasked (cost = 0, potential savings from eliminating ineffective jobs)
- place a moratorium on all construction projects in violation of the city’s master plan, regardless of variances which have been declared. (cost savings from not paying for unnecessary infrastructure and services = €millions)
These actions are just ordinary maintenance, necessary to restore normality to a city which has fallen into a state of disrepair in recent years. They require decisiveness and determination by administrators, not new posts and programs. Above all, they require inverting the perceived pyramid of public administration, placing the citizens at the top, civil servants working for directly for them, managers supporting civil servants, and at the bottom of the inverted pyramid the mayor working to make function the entire system. Only once a minimum of decency has been restored, should projects to really improve the city (bike-sharing, new transit projects, cultural initiatives, smart-city infrastructure, etc.) be discussed.
This weekend Romans will be going to the polls to elect a mayor to replace Gianni Alemanno, the far right-wing politician who has been in power for five years and been mired in scandals from nepotism to budget overruns. They may not succeed and Alemanno may be re-elected. Although I confess I haven’t had the time or patience to wade through the bureaucracy to register to vote, although as a foreign resident I am technically entitled to (if I go to some office on the edge of town and wait in the right line with the right certificates) I am not disinterested in the outcome. So who are the candidates opposing him and what are their programs?
I currently count 19 candidates who support (or are supported by?) 40 different “lists” which include candidates for other offices. Lists with names like “let’s cut politician’s salaries in half” or “Christian militia” or “Italia Reale” (I think I still own a website with that name, an idea for a spinoff of my company Scala Reale). Or Casapound, the neo-fascist club housed in a palazzo given them by the current administration who paper the Esquiline with illegal posters announcing strong measures to restore respect for the law.
I will only mention a handful of specific candidates who haven’t already demonstrated their disrespect for the city by littering it with flyers and posters, clogging the streets with advertising trucks, or contributing to the mafia of illegal billboards.
In truth, I was optimistic months ago that change was coming to Rome. I was excited to see what candidates would emerge, what their programs would promise. But then I started to realize how it works, or doesn’t work. No one knew the date for the election, there is not process to limit the number of candidates, no pre-selection, no enforcement of election spending and advertising laws. Some candidates spend millions and are always on tv while others are never invited, some make blatant lies and get away with it. Politics, in short.
In a post several months ago on roma sostenibile I invited the mayoral candidates to propose 7 policies or points to transform Rome into a more environmentally sustainable capital. Of the two responses, one (Umberto Croppi) has stepped out of the running. Most of the candidates running didn’t reply which could mean several things. a. they didn’t get the message, indicating lack of promotion on my blog’s part but also a less than attentive campaign staff. b. they didn’t want to take the time to submit their answers.
Other than the current Mayor, there are 5 candidates worth considering. Here’s what I know and think about them.
Sandro Medici. A quick look at the program of Repubblica Romana, Medici’s list, confirms that we see eye to eye. And Medici was the only candidate still running who responded to the request of Roma Sostenibile, with some good ideas. His background is very “old left” meaning ex-communist, counter-culture, bottom-up, but his website is up-to-date and uses social media pretty well. In his camp there are people like Lorenzo Romito of stalker and urbanist Paolo Berdini. Not a bad choice, if there were a chance of him winning.
Alessandro Bianchi. Another accomplished urbanist, founder of ProgettoRoma, he appears about the same generation as Medici, not exactly young, and his program also says the right things. Although ProgettoRoma didn’t respond to the Roma Sostenibile appeal, it also hasn’t offended the city through illegal advertising that I have seen. Which unfortunately means its chances of winning are slim.
Marcello De Vito. The candidate of the Movimento 5 Stelle, Beppe Grillo’s party, is younger and more aggressive, and far more present in the press than the previous two, but it took me a while to find the actual program. But now that I have read it, I’m hooked. I couldn’t agree more with its aims, and appreciate the specific reference to “transition towns”, to the green economy, and even a proposal for local currency. We’ve been reading the same books. Now I’m really excited, three great candidates competing against each other and not only.
Ignazio Marino. Seems to be the front runner, the preferred moderate left candidate. Respectable, likeable, professional. He’s a top surgeon, although this leads me to ask the obvious question, why and how is he planning on running Rome in addition to saving lives. The program, while respectable, is a bit disappointing in its reliance on spending. For every problem the solution seems to be a new competition, a new position, a new budget item. To make the buses run on time and safely, he calls for new video cameras rather than just enforcing a schedule and firing drivers who don’t perform. It’s a try-to-please-everyone kind of program. And when I see the first item on the mobility page “la cura del ferro” (rail as a solution) I realize how antiquated this thinking is. But, I can’t say I disagree with most of the ideas, so if Marino wins I’ll celebrate.
Alfio Marchini. Incredible, here again the program is great, hitting all the right points and presenting them with graphic clarity and conviction. I’m hooked. Even if I see his flashy slogans and grinning Mel Gibson face everywhere, and hear that he is rich because of his ruthless developer father, and well-connected in banking, big business (where many of the projects failed but he made out alright) and counts some pretty seedy political leaders such as Berlusconi, Cossiga and D’alema among his friends, I still would like to see this man in office.
It’s scary, but they’re all pretty good.
But I’m curious, what is Gianni Alemanno, the current mayor saying? The web site is not so sexy, and showcases far more the political aspect of consensus, photos of events, links to supporters, etc. but once I dig through to find the program, there it is: just about the same rhetoric as all the others. Sustainability, Participation, Solidarity, etc. etc. Great, I’ll support this program, too!
But wait, everyone is saying such great stuff, even the current mayor who has been in power for five years. But then I look at the current state Rome, which I have not seen in such a state of decay in twenty years. In a strange way it recalls the Rome I first visited in the 80s but then the lawlessness and corruption was endearing, partly because everything was dirt cheap and still pretty provincial. It would be easy to say that Alemanno has failed; the city is dirtier, more dangerous, less green, more corrupt and just downright more dysfunctional and absurd than it was five years ago, and because this is a blog based on personal observation, I will just say that without feeling the need to back it up with numbers. (I could if I took the time, and many others have). And then it would be easy to say we should replace him with someone who will do the job.
But that’s the problem with politics, no one is ever accountable for very long. Our memories are short, we see the state of the city but forget how it got that way, we read today’s promises but forget about the unfulfilled ones of times past. It’s like all the people I know who say this place sucks, I’m going to live somewhere else (I left the US to find the good life in Italy and now spend a lot of time complaining about it). Maybe it’s time somebody finished the job and was held accountable.
I like all the candidates running against Alemanno, and I tend to dislike Alemanno based on his violent distant past and incongruent administration (I’ve seen lots of law-breaking on the part of his pro-law and order government). But I’m almost ready to say that this blog endorses Alemanno. All these smart opposition candidates are so divided and divisive with people they really should get along with, they can’t even get organized to run an effective campaign to beat the one right-wing leader (ok, when it gets down to it there will be a runoff between Alemanno and one opposition candidate, but what an inefficient system!). If they succeed in doing so, it will be out with the old, in with the new, huge learning curve, realignments, spinning wheels while promises are postponed, blame is cast (probably rightly) on the former government, and excuses are made. But if Alemanno gets re-elected, Rome can keep him in the spotlight and demand that he do the job he was paid for. And of course, since he won’t be running again, he may not be so inclined to distribute jobs and favors and other prizes to his constituents. He may actually prove that he cares about Rome as he says he does, and start standing up to the “mafia” (his words) that controls advertising, or the other mafia that controls vending trucks, or the corruption within the police force or his friends and relatives in ATAC and AMA who have contributed to the complete failure of the public transit system and the stagnation of Rome’s waste management.
If I hire someone to paint my house and he spends all the money I advance him on favors for friends, holds drunken parties in the living room, orgies in the bedroom and, instead of painting, pastes old sports posters on the walls, I can either fire him and bring in someone new hoping they’ll do a better job, or I lock the door and say hey, you’re not leaving until you fix this, and even after you do there’s no promise I won’t press charges. I personally would insist on the second solution.
I never understood how Romans are so willing to let their elected officials, or in fact all public servants, perform so poorly with no consequences. Prior to this campaign, I don’t recall any of the opposition candidates doing much to demand that the city perform up to standards, but this is the right of any citizen. I have no patience for the “if you don’t like it go somewhere else” answer when it comes from someone I’m paying to get the job done. So if Alemanno should win and stay in office, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve done for years, insisting that Rome function like the fantastic city it could be, and not stand for anything less. Is that too much to ask?
This winter has dragged on long enough. I’ve seen the mimosa in bloom and if I weren’t still stuffed up from the winter flu I would have smelled it. The rain isn’t quite as cold as it was a week ago. The banks of the Tiber are slimy with mud but no longer under water. Today big gusts of wind did their best to clean up the city, knocking down dead branches and illegal billboards.
Italians have voted for change at the national level and maybe even the Vatican will embark on some spring cleaning. Finally, in a month or so, Rome will choose a new mayor and, one hopes, set about putting its own house in order.
It has been a long winter and Rome is at a low point, at least from my personal observations. Today, while biking (slowly) through a “car-free” street in Trastevere which was full of parked cars a woman backed into me in a Fiat and then yelled at me for not watching where I was going. I called the police but got a recording saying no one could answer and to call later. So I went to the police station around the corner on Viale Trastevere and they told me to telephone, that they didn’t deal with traffic crime. When I gave up and returned to the same pedestrian area on my way to work a motorcycle zipped straight at me, honked and swore and barely missed me. I swear I must have a target on me.
Springtime is coming and I sense Romans are about to wake up and say a big collective “basta!”, that’s enough. If something doesn’t work (and there are many things that don’t) it’s about to get fixed. Spring cleaning will mean getting rid of all the trash that has been piling up for years: abandoned cars and scooters–right, if it’s parked on the sidewalk it’s abandoned–illegal billboards, and miscellaneous rubbish all have to go. There’s a lot of greatness left in Rome but it’s harder to appreciate when you can’t cross the street without climbing over some jerks’ idea of a status symbol. Change is coming, spring is in the air.
The last step always seems the hardest in this city. New pavement is laid, at great expense, in pedestrian areas, but we can’t keep cars from driving over it. Great buildings are constructed, or restored, but we can’t keep the walls free from illegal posters or the sidewalk in front of them free for people to walk. Fuksas’ Nuvola is nearing completion, at a cost of well over 300 million euros, but the walk to it from the metro still takes you along the frightening edge of a high-speed road with no sidewalk, right through a roadside gas station! Interested new didactic signs have been exhibited in the well-constructed viewing area overlooking the Circus Maximus, but they are too far away to read through the gate, which has yet to be unlocked, although the project was completed years ago. A drinking fountain placed a decade ago in front of the Arch of Janus runs continuously, but no one has ever been able to drink from it because a fence keeps the public out.
It has been over a year since the inauguration of the impressive pedestrian bridge dubbed Ponte della Musica, design by London-based firm Buro Happold in collaboration with Powell-Williams Architects which I have written about previously. The parking garage at the end of Via Guido Reni seems open, although cars are still piled up on the sidewalk and pedestrian crossing all around. The expensive work has been done; now it’s time for the easy stuff. Like a safe way to cross the street.
Yesterday evening, at the end of a long day with architecture students which began at St. Peter’s, took us through EUR and Ostia Lido, and ended at Zaha Hadid’s Maxxi, we experienced the current state of the pedestrian route, and it was pretty disappointing. The sidewalk alongside MAXXI, in fact all the way from Piano’s Auditorium to the river, is in poor shape, and the intersections were blocked by cars as usual. Nothing indicates the “cultural axis” that is potentially so compelling. Simple street furniture or distinctive paving or signage would be a plus.
Once you arrive at the river, the redesigned Piazza above the parking garage looks ok but doesn’t lend itself to continuity; to get across the street requires elaborate zigzagging, a 20 meter detour off axis to a cross-walk with a light which is green for pedestrians and turning cars at the same time, a formula for disaster. Safely on the bridge, the views are great but there is still no connection down to the river banks, which are still a construction site.
The worst of it is at the other end of the bridge, though, where the axis continues to Luigi Moretti’s Fencing Hall and the other sports facilities of the Foro Italico. Street illumination is dim and four lanes of cars speed at upwards of 80 km/hour (despite the city-wide 50 kph limit). There is a faded crosswalk, and no light, between you and the bus stop. Needless to say, getting across is terrifying. I was not surprised to read that a pedestrian was killed by a car on this road late last night, adding to the already huge number of pedestrian and cyclist victims of killer cars in this city.
I can imagine a number of traffic calming solutions for this site, a traffic light being the most obvious, but not the most interesting or effective. The goal is to slow down cars, and discourage drivers from even using them in the city where they already wreak havoc. Narrowing the road to one lane in each direction, with lots of obstacles like trees, bollards, benches, etc. around which cars have to navigate, would have the effect of giving the street back to people. The only vehicles that should be allowed straight through are public buses, which brings me to the final part of the story.
Of course this location, where thousands of cars hurtle themselves toward the historical center on a Saturday night, is part of a larger problem. They go knowing they can park for free just about anywhere, or for a negligible 1 euro an hour. And they know the alternative is a transit system that fails o perform to standards.
A city like Rome cannot continue to accept a bus system which has vehicles, drivers, and even some sophisticated software but absolutely no dependability. We were trying to get a 271, an important bus, which connects Prati and the Centro Storico, in the early evening on a Saturday. You can make out the bus stop in the Google Street View image above on the left. When there are games at the nearby stadium the sidewalk is taken over by cars so you have to walk in the street to get near the bus stop. The electronic readout showed no trace of the 271, and when I connected my iphone to the ATAC real-time server the results were, well, disconcerting. No 271, and very few other buses. As we attempted to use the few buses running to get to our destination, I captured this listing for a busy stop in the heart of the bustling neighborhood of Prati. This is a sad state of affairs which Rome has to rectify.
I wanted to encourage my colleagues to react to the prevalent professional and cultural tendencies of our time that place such emphasis on individual and isolated actions. I encouraged them instead to demonstrate the importance of influence and of the continuity of cultural endeavour, to illustrate common and shared ideas that form the basis of an architectural culture.
-David Chipperfield, Director
Every two years, almost always in early November when the weather is chilly and the crowds have died down, I take my design students up to Venice to see the Architecture Biennale. I’ve seen its evolution over the years, less physical and more digital, less formal and more social. It’s always a thrill and almost always provides inspiration for my own work, and (I hope) that of my students.
This year’s theme, Common Ground, is well-chosen. We can no longer afford the luxury of individualism, squandering resources and marring public space for the short-lived glory of creative individuals. Unfortunately, the theme is also generic enough to be stretched and molded around any content the exhibitor chooses to display, content which occasionally seemed to be pulled from back rooms of studios in haste. Bernard Tschumi’s posters, Zaha Hadid’s resin(?) casts, Hans Hollein’s students’ models, Ateliers Jean Nouvel’s Slussen Masterplan competition for Stockholm. There were a plethora of collections which were cool to see: Cino Zucchi’s like-minded objects Billie Tsien/Todd William’s Joseph Cornell like compositions from their friends, and the 40,000 hours of student models. FAT’s investigation of copies. Anything and everything can be “common ground”. Another interesting exhibit was that of the team led by Norman Foster which projected images, words and sound to create a compelling experience of globalization in which Architecture paled by comparison to socio-political and ecological phenomena. I also liked the work of Zurich’s Günther Vogt which focused on Venice and its public assets, such as water, a good choice to open the exhibit.
Amongst the national pavilions, the theme was often more coherent. The Swiss “ensemble”, the German “reuse” and the Japanese “Home-for-all” showed the effects of humility and collaboration, for too long missing in architecture. The Italian Pavilion, curated by Luca Zevi, touched on the right areas of interest, from this generations fascination with green space to a former generation’s (that of Adriano Olivetti) progressive design thinking. Some of the other work included seemed to lack “common grounding” but I may have missed something in my haste. Two days is not enough to do justice to all this work, and I’m still pouring over some of the catalogs to understand better some of the projects.
Perhaps it was because the week began with the re-election of President Barrack Obama, the candidate who at least stands a chance at fixing our country and our planet, it was one of those rare moments when I felt a bit of national pride as I entered the US Pavilion. I absolutely loved this installation, which interprets the Common Ground theme very wisely with a focus on Spontaneous Interventions. I liked it for its layout (thanks mostly to M-A-D studio, whose director Erik Adigard had spoken to our students back in Rome). Outside, a collection of orange red cubes (soft but precisely molded) could be scattered, stacked and assembled in a variety of combinations to create useful spatial formations. The floors in the four rooms are printed with quotations and timelines related to urban history, worth the time to read and follow. Above your heads hang panels printed on one side with colorful bar codes which indicate thematic focuses of the projects described on the other side, projects which have in common an American pragmatism and the courage to act without waiting for orders from on high. Guerrilla gardening, urban agriculture, creative squatting, participatory urbanism, barter markets, and more fill the 124 panels. It is easy to scan them, walking through the aisles laid like grapevines above you. But when something looks interesting you reach up and pull down the panel to eye level, an action that activates a counterweight on the wall where the key “solution” is written, revealing the key “problem”. Brilliant. The content, too, was an inspiration. Art in Odd Places, NY Street Advertising Takeover, Rebuild Foundation’s 1415, Islands of LA, and dozens of others all make you think. It’s a bit derivative of Design Like you Give a Damn or WorldChanging, but so positive nevertheless. Check out the full catalogue of “interventions” at
The Biennale is also a good excuse to spend time in Venice, which amazes me every time. But for that, my post from a couple years back already tells my point of view.
Last week I was thrilled to participate in the Ecoweek events organized in Rome by Elias Messinas and the Ecoweek team, including Francesco Bedeschi of GBC Italia and Maria Luisa Palumbo of InArch. This was the second Italian Ecoweek and the first in Rome. It opened with a full schedule of talks and presentations at the Casa dell’Architettura. My opening talk was on “Re-use of Space, Spaces of Re-use” in which I proposed productive activities based on material resources to replace the pure consumption pushed by the neo-liberal city. I was followed by Ulf Meyer of Invenhoven Architects and Elena Barthel of Rural Studio who both gave fascinating presentations about their organization’s work. A long series of Italian architects, from Orizzontale to Modostudio to 2TR and others then presented their ideas and their work. Many of them would lead student workshops over the following days, addressing urgent problems from urban ecology to social sustainability. Later in the week the Goethe Institute hosted a roundtable discussion on Sustainability and Education where Ulf, Elena and I were joined by Camilla Bevilacqua of ARUP and Aylin Ayna of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma gave the keynote address on Thursday at Roma Tre University, where on Friday the outcome of the workshops was presented. The results are all online at
I was particularly involved in the work of the first team who proposed a serious bike-sharing system, much needed by Rome, and built a prototype in the piazza in front of our office off of Circus Maximus (in the photo above). Israeli Architect Dan Price, with Elena Barthel from Rural Studio and Paolo Cascone of COdesignLab led the international team who managed to coordinate a real design-build effort to success. Thanks to the various stakeholders of the space, Father Alberto of the church, Cinzia Abbate and various other architects with whom Studio Rome shares space, and the Campagna Amica Farmer’s Market across the street, a real experiment in productive use of public space was carried out. More projects like this and Rome will be once again a place for people, ideas, and urban vitality.
I happened to have time today to both turn on the tv and to browse national news and, perhaps because I had been out of touch for a while, I was very aware of how all the bad news sounded good to me. Auto sales are down, gas prices are up, traffic is clogged, stock prices are down. Great, so why are all the adjectives negative? Tragic, Disastrous, Crisis, Negative, Troubling, etc.? The only “positive” (sic) news I heard on FOX was that bad weather in the southeast had brought electricity and natural gas prices up which benefited the market. So human suffering is good news when it leads to stock increases?
I want to hear this kind of news report:
In other good news, Italian car sales are down and bicycle sales are up…Meanwhile, underemployed auto-workers have found more profitable employment in green technology businesses which have benefited from reduced red tape.
High gas prices and heightened enforcement of traffic laws in Rome have led many drivers to simply leave their cars at home.
Traffic in Rome today forced motorists to abandon their cars and walk to their destination, leading to a dramatic improvement in air quality and a reduction in the rate of traffic mortalities which is normally one of the highest in Europe.
Markets are celebrating a positive downsizing today as uncertainties have prompted a massive liquidation of investments. Money is instead being invested directly in local community projects such as schools, libraries and green technology startups.
Weather emergencies have helped shut down off-shore drilling this weekend, although this may only be a temporary respite.
Now back to you, Jack.