Those of you who have followed this blog for a while might recognize some of this post, an updating of one entitled Extraordinary Rome from a year back. Having been selected by Guardian Cities as the #1 City Blog in Italy, I’m seeing a huge boom in readers and decided to bring to the top some writing that didn’t get read as much as it could have.
Between the posts I write on the bilingual Forum Roma Sostenibile, my tweets @tgrankin, or posts on Facebook as tgrankin or romasostenibile I am reaching a growing readership. I figure sustainability and the city are themes that should interest the administration of Rome. Occasionally I get indirect word of projects, conventions, press conferences, etc. on related themes so I thought I should get on the press list. Having met Marco Girella, Capo Ufficio Stampa, and having his business card handy, I recently sent an email but have not yet received as much as an automated response. Perhaps the “press office” is understaffed (though from the figures posted here not underpaid). It’s really surprising that I get answers from various government offices, including the White House, but not from the City of Rome press office, one that I would expect to be most savvy when it comes to communications. Today I got a nice phone call from a staff member at the press office apologizing for any confusion and explaining that she had inserted our contact into the city press list; in fact, she was surprised that nothing had arrived. But she didn’t understand that it is normal, when receiving an email with a request, to answer directly. I don’t know, something like “thanks for your query, we have inserted your name into the mailing list. Please let us know if you have other questions.”
I also got a confused phone call from another government office, that of the President of the First Municipio, apologising for having accidentally cancelled an appointment that the President herself had made. The “weather emergency” (it has been raining a lot as it does here in winter) was invoked as a justification for the impossibility of nailing down a 10 minute appointment. How hard is it to answer emails and schedule appointments, something that seems so “normal” in other cultures?
Rome is not a “normal” city but an extraordinary (straordinaria) one. In seeking to make it more “sustainable” I like to think we are making it more like itself and less like normal, standard, global cities. We don’t want Rome to be Tokyo or Vancouver or even Paris. Sustainability means providing the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to provide for their needs, and Rome has been doing that pretty well for dozens of centuries—thus the “still” in this blog’s title.
A sustainable Rome doesn’t need to be less passionate, less chaotic, less magical, less comically astounding, less Roman. There are centuries of accumulated experiences, materials, traces, memories and more to be shared and only a fool would try to clean that up and replace it with a sanitized “green city.” A sustainable Rome would be filled with sounds, smells, tastes, chance encounters, vistas, poetry and contrasts. Minus certain blight that we have come to associate with the city: motor-vehicles, globalized advertising, disorganized waste, privatized common space and resources, and a handful of other common injustices. Fighting these doesn’t necessarily mean fighting Rome any more than curing a disease necessarily means killing the patient.
It’s not an easy task to get Rome back on course, but neither is it “idealism” as I so often hear. Italians adapt pretty well to change when it has clear advantages (the internet is pretty much ubiquitous now but I remember in the late nineties working for an internet company and hearing that Italians would never get on board!). This weekend we will see the streets of Rome filled with bicycles, as it has more and more of late, and those willing to make the switch will realize that cycling is another win-win for Rome. The same can be said of a return to more frugal lifestyles which consume less energy, water and other resources and produce less trash.
We’re talking about improving the quality of life for everyone, launching sustainable economic growth, and if you want to wave the sustainability flag as well, yes, ensuring that future generations can also provide for their needs. What’s not to like?