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The Least Green Campus

March 5, 2010

Last week I had to go to the University of Rome’s central campus to pick up my university degrees (the new one I recently earned from the Architecture school there plus my original Princeton and Harvard certificates which they had kept on file, folded and rubber-stamped in the dusty basements of bureaucracy!).  Having been privileged (yes, that’s definitely the right word) to study in some idyllic campuses, my point of reference is biased, but even so I can’t imagine a worse environment for university education than this “campus” (etymological note: from Latin campus ‘field’) .

The buildings are not all bad, despite the heavy fascist-era monumentality.  Planned in the 1930s to replace the Renaissance buildings near Piazza Navona, there are some great works by Gio’ Ponti and Giuseppe Pagano amongst others. The problem, as so often is the case, is the automobile, not anticipated by Mussolini’s architect Piacentini.

Aghast at the sea of cars pictured above, I asked a security guard who seemed to be directing traffic what the policy was on who was allowed to circulate and park beyond the imposing campus gates and he vaguely responded “faculty, employees, people with a temporary pass, …. pretty much anybody”.

There is practically no defended pedestrian space left within the campus.  Sidewalks are blocked by cars and scooters, just a patch of muddy grass here and there remain humane. My romantic memories of strolling across campus with friends, discussing Camus and the Clash, wouldn’t fly here where maintaining a conversation while dodging Vespas and hurdling bumpers would be difficult.

I’ll be the first to admit there’s some hypocrisy in the pastoral campus behind the gates of a post-industrial world–I spent much of my university career escaping the ivory towers to the gritty realism of the city–but in this case the university is mirroring the worst aspects of the 21st century city. There is no role for cars to play on a university campus, period.  Students, faculty and employees in a city served by widespread public transit should use it.  Housing should be made more abundant near the campus and those that live nearby can walk or bike. Parking should be available for those who truly need it at a reasonable price, which means a high price, subsidized for the disabled alone. Faculty who occasionally need to arrive by car to carry equipment or other heavy items could do so with a temporary pass for loading as we do on American campuses and if necessary pay to park at market rates (which in the center of a capital city should be no less than €5/hour).

The problem is that in Italy more than in any other country many car-owners consider unhindered use of the car as a privilege far greater than fresh air and a pleasant environment. The day they open their eyes to see it as more annoyance than convenience, more embarrassing than impressive, they may start to prefer a green, pedestrian campus to an ocean of sheet metal as a suitable field for study.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom Rankin permalink*
    June 18, 2011 04:49

    This just in: rough translation is the announcement of an order to remove cars from the Rome university campus (although it doesn’t say which cars) – Attivazione del servizio di rimozione autoveicoli all’interno della Città Universitaria

    Si comunica che è stata pubblicata nelle pagine web della Ripartizione II Personale la circolare prot. n. 40797 del 16/06/11 relativa all’attivazione del servizio di rimozione autoveicoli all’interno della Città Universitaria a partire dal 20.06.2011.

    da:
    Ripartizione II Personale
    Settore I Affari Generali

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