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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.

Thanksgiving Break

November 29, 2014

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Waterlogged Cities

November 6, 2014

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

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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.


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