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Waterlogged Cities

April 27, 2015

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Reposting this post from last year: the rain, and an upcoming trip to Venice made it relevant again.


 

What can Venice teach the world about preparing for climate catastrophe?
Venice vs. Rome.

Italy is battling hydrological emergencies on various fronts.  It seems like half the country is witnessing flood damage and erosion while the other half suffers droughts.  Liguria and Tuscany have seen huge water damage in recent weeks.

Last night in Venice I had dinner with a friend at a fantastic little trattoria called L’anice stellato and as we dined on risotto and granchio we watched the Fondamento (sidewalk) disappear under rising water.  We had boots, so the walk back to the hotel was not impossible.  Wading through 40 centimeters of water, though, I couldn’t help think that this is the future of waterfront cities.  Venice has lived with this for generations and adapts with typical seafaring courage and conviction. The high water is a simple fact of life, like the cold temperatures of a Boston winter.  But for many cities, this is a glimpse of the now inevitable results of climate change.

In Rome schools were called off today because of predictions of rain, a preventive measure to protect the administration from any accusations of lack of preparation.  Better to declare and emergency rather than try to prepare for one.

The closure of Rome today under medium heavy rains is strangely reminiscent of the crowds of protesters (mostly peaceful) that shut down Rome frequently during political demonstrations. Signs of the times in which ecological and economic disasters start to have an impact on our everyday lives. Am I the only one that sees a connection between these events?  Violent weather events like this are on the rise as temperatures rise, results of climate change which are irrefutably connected to emissions from human activity, the same human activity which has concentrated money (and thus power) in the hands of the 1%, a situation which has become intolerable to the masses and resulted in uprisings worldwide.

Of course there is no linear causality but rather a web of connectivity.  Likewise, the unplanned urbanization of our cities has resulted in impervious surfaces which translate heavy rains into flash flooding. If we incorporated green space into our city-building, rains like this would be absorbed and enrich the aquifers, rather than overflowing into rivers.

Wisely the Mayor sent out a call to citizens to avoid driving during the weather emergency.  (Strangely, he also suspended the restrictions on traffic in the historic center, increasing the likelihood of auto related incidents.)

Part of the reason Venice doesn’t shut down in time of flood is that people are far more flexible and resilient without cars (and in Venice, of course, there are no cars.) Our dependence on automobiles traps us in rising floodwaters, blocking emergency vehicles and public transit, effectively shutting down the city in situations where were we on foot, living close enough to our daily needs to walk, we might get wet but still function.  On days of rain emergency in Rome,  I bike to work as usual (actually better than usual because the clogged traffic means that for once I’m not a target of homicidal drivers).  I just bring dry clothes and change when I get to work.

Io Segnalo, and Then?

April 24, 2015

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A revolution is about to take place in the way citizens of Rome interact with the public administration and it is called “Io Segnalo” (I report). The mind behind the project is Commandante Raffaele Clemente, head of the capital’s Municipal Police (the ones who enforce traffic laws as well as various administrative policies, building codes, public space use, etc. while the Polizia and Carabinieri concentrate on felonies).  The goal is to make it easy for any citizen, including foreign visitors, to register complaints and insert valuable data directly into the city’s crime prevention system.

The list of violations ranges from illegal parking to potholes, from illegal dumping to abandoned vehicles, from public disturbances to tax evasion by vendors. Some complaints will result in immediate interventions, while others will go into a database which will aid the administration in pinpointing problems.

Great, Sustainable Rome fully supports this.

Under one condition. That Commandante Clemente take steps to ensure that the Polizia Municipale do two things:

1.  set a positive example by respecting the law, disciplining any members of the force that commit violations, a rare occurrence of course but still unacceptable.

2.  by acting to apply the laws being violated under their own noses, sotto i propri occhi, every day!

There should be no opposition between “vigili” and “citizens” but rather a mutual respect for those who behave civilly and a common intolerance for uncivil behavior.

Today, per assurdo, a citizen can send hundreds of segnalazioni a day of violations taking place outside the windows of Municipal Police headquarters.  A new system to denounce violations will work better when the violations are the exception to the rule, not the rule.  Right now, it would be like hiring someone to wash dishes in a busy restaurant and then asking the diners to provide a list and description of their dirty plates.

We’re happy to help out to do our part.  All we ask is accountability. Accountability. To be “accountable.”  It’s in the dictionary.

accountable |əˈkountəbəladjective(of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible: government must be accountable to its citizens | parents could be held accountable for their children‘s actions.

Around the Anagrafe

 

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.

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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”

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

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Santi Quattro Coronati Cloister: recently restored and so peaceful

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Unification fighters and tourists looking down from the Janiculum

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Double Helix in Vatican City

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#viaurbanapedonale

#viaurbanapedonale

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.

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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.
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Filming at EUR #eclisse revisited

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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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