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Creare disagi agli automobilisti

April 17, 2015

Tom Rankin:

Here’s a great post (in Italian) which I share 100%

Originally posted on Mammifero Bipede:

Questo post nasce per evidenziare l’enorme fatica necessaria ad uscire fuori dalle gabbie mentali che la società incessantemente provvede a costruire, la perenne difficoltà nel vedere le cose come realmente sono e non come ci vengono confezionate.

Prendiamo un concetto banale come può essere quello di “creare disagi agli automobilisti”. Beh, disagi è una brutta parola, che rimanda ad una sensazione di fastidio. Non sembra bello, o se vogliamo eticamente corretto, imporre disagi ai propri simili. Il vangelo stesso, col quale tutti, volenti o nolenti, siamo stati cresciuti, recita in estrema sintesi: “non fare ad altri quello che non vorresti fosse fatto a te”.

Quindi nel momento in cui si vanno a richiedere sistemazioni in sicurezza per gli spostamenti in bicicletta, nel momento in cui viene sollevata l’obiezione che si creerebbero “disagi agli automobilisti”, immediatamente scatta una reazione istintiva: il senso di colpa derivante dall’essere causa di…

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Eyes on Rome

April 1, 2015

Words don’t work so well to express Rome in the springtime when the weather gets warm and things start to bloom. They end up betraying me, leading me to whine when I should be extolling. I like to show this city to people so as to see it with fresh eyes myself.


The lemon tree under which I am writing

I had the opportunity to do this over the past few days, exploring Rome with an architect and an antiquities dealer, designing and improvising an itinerary between sacred sites of all eras and all denominations, from the Jubilee Church at Tor Tre Teste to Rome’s Mosque to the Synagogue and the Sistine Chapel,  from the MAAM to Bramante’s Tempietto to Sant Ivo to the Pantheon. I’ve also been heavily into EUR and the churches of the Celio. And of course the Tiber where I’m concentrating efforts as Director of TEVERETERNO Onlus. Rome never ceases to amaze.

Richard Meier's Church at Tor Tre Teste "Dives Padre Misericordia"

Richard Meier’s Church at Tor Tre Teste “Dives Padre Misericordia”


Rome’s Mosque by Paola Portoghesi. Echos of Kahn and Yamasaki.


Santi Quattro Coronati Cloister: recently restored and so peaceful


Unification fighters and tourists looking down from the Janiculum


Double Helix in Vatican City




Of course it also surprises, and not always pleasantly. My street was closed to traffic for three days this week after trees fell in a windstorm. For three days it was an “open street” safe for people;  children were playing in the streets, you could hear the birds and breath the air. Now it’s back to normal, clogged with speeding cars and everyone seems happy, saying it has been “re-opened” when it seems just the opposite.

In the Monti neighborhood Via Urbana is struggling to maintain the civilized state that it achieved when it too was pedestrianized and became an oasis of urban vitality. Some people actually want to go back to the way it was.

And despite the international attention being received by this grassroots movement for civic space, the Mayor hasn’t answered the call.  I’m not surprised really.  Despite having told me explicitly that his office would answer all queries and suggestions, it’s hard to even get an auto response from Rome’s administration.


My favorite transportation and temples

Dear Mr. Mayor,

When we spoke last in December you were very clear in your commitment to respond to emails from your constituents.  You also spoke of a program you are launching to promote some sort of cultural crowdfunding for the city of Rome.  Having worked for 20 years in the cultural heritage management business in Rome, and being in touch on a daily basis with donors and investors interested in contributing to urban transformation projects (such as TEVERETERNO), perhaps I can make a suggestion.  Why don’t we launch a program directly on the Roma Capitale cultural portal through which donations can be made to support public projects?  I know for a fact millions of people would be thrilled to take part in this, and I know the language needed to make it happen.  Sure it must be innovative and ambitious, but it requires one quality for which Italian administrations are not always known: accountability.  Why don’t we talk about how to change this?
Best regards,
Tom Rankin
P.S. I have yet to receive a formal, substantive answer to any of my emails to date, with the exception of occasional chats with Roberto Tricarico.

Filming at EUR #eclisse revisited


Watching lunar eclipse with my Engineering students in Sangallo’s courtyard next to Julius II tomb (San Pietro in Vincoli)

Rome cannot be better, but it can do better.

Kicking around Rome

February 22, 2015

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Sometimes a series of events take place in the same place and time and, although they are unrelated, it’s hard not to make connections and comparisons.  The beauty of Rome, we know, comes with strings attached. It attracts all, and like a beautiful woman it sometimes falls victim to abuse.

Everyone is talking about the damage done to Pietro Bernini’s Barcaccia fountain below the Spanish Steps by Dutch football hooligans.  I’ve commented on this elsewhere in the blogosphere: the world has some uncivilized people and we need to prevent them from doing harm and hold them accountable when they break laws. It’s really that easy, but as the broken window theory proves, when seemingly small acts of vandalism are left unchecked, others are quick to follow. Foreigners who know they could never get away with crimes at home, see criminal acts everywhere in Rome, shrug, and say “when in Rome…”  I’m not justifying them, just explaining why I think it happens.
What really angers me and many Romans is that the rowdy fans were accompanied to the stadium for the match in public buses, at our expense, and they proceeded to destroy those as well.
So today, Sunday, because of high pollution levels city officials have banned most automotive circulation throughout most of the day. There is also another match at the Stadio Olimpico. (I have no idea who is playing and don’t really care.) The “grace period” during which cars could circulate was extended so that people could drive to the stadium. Instead of insisting that fans use public transportation, they sent the message that it was better for them to drive. And once there, they are allowed to park on the sidewalk, on the bike path, on the crosswalks, and just about any where else because somehow soccer fans are immune from the law. I guess the Dutch fans saw it that way too.
None of this really riled me;  I have lived here long enough to be used to worse.  And besides, I had a great day walking around the city, shooting video with my son.  I even joined a Retake cleanup outside my building, seeing the street looking better than it has in years.
I should have let the day end on this positive note but curiosity took me out again, by bike, down the the Tiber banks.  After strutting through the filming of Spectre, the latest Bond film, at the Colosseum the other day — they closed the whole area moments after I got through — and hearing that they were shooting on the river I wanted to see exactly what impact this would have.  After all, the organization I direct, TEVERETERNO, has been working for several years to get permits to selectively clean the river walls to create a free public art work by William Kentridge, and I had heard that the 007 crew was doing some pretty invasive things. I have huge respect for film crews, and love that Rome is honored to be the set for so many great productions.  The concrete ramps they built for the car chase along the bike path above Ponte Regina Margherita have permits from the same officials which gave the green light to the Stones concert in Circus Maximus and will certainly grant permission for the site-specific art works we are proposing for Piazza Tevere.
No, what really riled me was the following:
Despite the “blocco del traffico” traffic was nearly as bad as usual, maybe worse because slightly few cars meant that those on the road were speeding faster than usual. Of the many exceptions the most offensive one was for “Euro 5” cars, a gift for rich people who always buy the latest auto available.
The buses, on the other hand, were absent. Literally, the App that tracks the buses reported “no buses” anywhere on the line.  (While I waited for a bus that never came I counted thousands of cars)
Here’s my free and simple advice to the administration. Schedule a REAL car-free day, on a weekday. The only exceptions: public transportation and emergency vehicles responding to emergencies. Increase and enforce the frequency of all public transit — buses, trams, metros. The normal excuse for late buses due to traffic can’t play today, so drivers must be held accountable for punctuality.  And set up traffic cams to film violators throughout the city
Guaranteed results: People who normally shun public transit will experience its comfort and efficiency and think about using it regularly.
People will walk or bike and, finding the city free of cars, realize how safe, fun and efficient it can be.
People who violate the ordinance will pay big fines, providing needed revenues and re-enforcing the message that cars are costly.
Do this and you can expect more film crews and other foreign investments,  and fewer hooligans.
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Guardian chooses Sustainable Rome Italy’s Top City Blog

February 7, 2015

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Learning from Bilbao

January 2, 2015

Tom Rankin:

Starting 2015 with the optimism which inspired this post last summer.

Originally posted on still sustainable city blog: ROME:

Nervión riverside promenade with Calatrave bridge Nervión riverside promenade with Calatrava bridge

A three day trip to Bilbao, Spain reminds me of some simple solutions to apply to Rome.  Of course, these are two different cities.  Rome has multi-millenial cultural heritage, Bilbao much less. Rome has three times the population, and a much larger tax burden. Oh, and Bilbao is cold and rainy compared to Rome. So, potentially, Rome has more resources and greater attraction, and yet Bilbao is without doubt more livable.

Much has been written about the Bilbao effect, the result of choosing a “starchitect” like Frank Gehry to design a new Guggenheim Museum where a great landmark building and a good international marketing machine make up for a not-so-impressive collection.  (Except for Richard Serra that is).

But the Bilbao effect I saw these days was more about public space, sustainable mobility and the rehabilitation of the urban riverfront.  All lessons that could be…

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White Christmas, Green City

December 27, 2014
February 2012 Snow in the Roman Forum

February 2012 Snow in the Roman Forum

Inspired by my friend Elizabeth Minchilli‘s white christmas holiday post, here’s a historic view of Rome from a few years ago. Happy Holidays to all!

100 Resilient Cities: Roma

December 2, 2014
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The language we use to talk about cities charts a map of our urban world-views. Defensive cities became Mercantile cities which then became Industrial cities, described by Dickens and depicted by Dore’ as smoggy and blight-ridden, invoking thinkers like Ebenezar Howard to envision Garden cities.  In the late 20th century, as heavy industry left cities people began to rediscover the joys of urban living, new terms emerged: Jane Jacobs’ Open City, Richard Sennet’s Democratic City, Saskia Sassen’s Global City described concentrations of capital and power, World City described cities with strong global identity,  and Mega City was used to describe growing global metropoles.
In the early 1980s I began to write about “Ecological Cities” inspired by the writings of Paolo Soleri and Buckminster Fuller. My research on urban models in the American Southwest looked at how different world views expressed themselves in different periods—the Anasazi/Pueblo settlements, late-industrial sprawl of Phoenix, and Soleri’s Arcosanti experiment.  Some were clearly more sensitive to the harsh natural environment than others.
Thirty years later adjectives like Green, Sustainable, Ecological, Regenerative, Performative, are frequently paired with the noun “Cities”.  I’ve written elsewhere about “Smart Cities.”
Over the past two days I have been participating in workshops organized around a relatively new urban expression:  “Resilient Cities”.   Resilience is clearly understood as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”  Bryna Lipper of the Rockefeller Foundation, in her introductory talk, called Rome the “Quintessential resilient city” given that it has been bouncing back from decline for over two thousand years. Rome has known when to shrink (decrescita’ was a medieval concept) and when to retool.  For this reason Peter Madonia, Chief Operating Officer of the Rockefeller Foundation told me they consider New York and Rome the two key cities in the project, inspirations to the rest of the world.
Rome the “Quintessential resilient city”
Put differently, if Rome (with nearly 3 millennia of experience) can’t meet the resiliency challenge how can we expect emerging cities in the developing world to do so?
The second reason Rome was chosen as one of the 100RC was for the particular challenges the city faces (the reason I stay in Rome despite all the frustrations). The third was a perceived openness to collaboration on the part of the city administration, especially in the person of the Commissioner of Urban Transformation Giovanni Caudo. Mayor Marino surprisingly wasn’t present at all during the events, although his name was in the program and he attended, with Caudo, a private dinner hosted by American Ambassador John Phillips and Linda Douglass for the Rockefeller Foundation.
In two days of well-organized workshops the 100 invited experts were divided into teams to brainstorm about Rome’s key “acute shocks” and “chronic stresses” and later to discuss Rome’s performance in various categories from Leadership to Well-being to Infrastructure to Security. (the results were predictably negative, although some attempt was made to recognize that,  despite the miserable conditions, the climate is good and the food is great and we live well in Rome!).  Emerging from the first discussion was an overwhelming concern that city processes be participatory, empowering stakeholders to resolve problems directly. And that access to data, and the public administration’s accountability (esigibilità) are both key.
The major shocks, apart from the frequent huge EVENTS which strike the city with regularity (strikes, Papal celebrations, cultural happenings, etc.) were related to climate change (rising waters, flash floods, heat waves, etc.).  The chronic stresses we summed up with the term “systemic fatigue”, the day-to-day difficulty we all face in Rome in carrying out the most based functions such as taking a child to school or paying a bill.
On day two specific groups were formed, I joined on discussing cultural heritage and one discussing big data. In both cases, it became clear that there is is plethora of “actors”  and projects but a dearth of coordination and communication. There is so much energy and knowledge striving to emerge in this city, but so often buried in arcane communications protocols and obstructed by arcane bureaucratic procedures which no one likes but no one takes the initiative to remove.
The next steps for the Resilient Cities project should be clear: the city will draft (has drafted?) a job description for the Chief Resiliency Officer to be chosen (by when?) by the Mayor. The participants invited to the Agenda Setting Workshop will continue (in what form?) as the working group and communicate ongoing ideas and observations (using what platform?).  Giovanni Caudo confessed that the city’s website doesn’t lend itself well to participation, but perhaps a Facebook group or simply a hashtag on Twitter would work to keep the conversation going.  #100RSRoma ? Or just comment here.

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