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Profits from Planning

June 18, 2011

This is the first in what I hope to be a frequent feature in this blog; the translation into English of important critical commentary from the Italian planning, architecture and ecological sectors.  Thanks to Web 2.0, social media and the like, words of wisdom travel quickly and travel far.  It is my hope that through dissemination in the English-speaking world these observations will have a more far-reaching impact.

Article by Giovanni Caudo published in Italian  16.06.2011 at http://www.eddyburg.it/article/articleview/17143/0/39/.

To pay for its nepotism scandal Rome’s Public Transit Authority profits from urbanism

Deliberation on Rome’s Capitol Hill addresses the “value” of ATAC’s real estate holdings, to be sold to raise cash: the more the better. The city does not exist, planning serves only to leverage a better deal.

It has been for several years now that the planning practice is carried out no longer thinking of the city, of its needs and real problems. The mechanisms of “financialization” that have transformed the city into a commodity exchange in financial transactions are now well known by the public. We are all still living under the full the effects of a crisis that originated right there in those mechanisms. Perhaps it makes sense not to speak of urbanism at all. What we see are degraded practices which have lost any reference to urbs, to civitas and the like: they are just technically assisted real estate operations.

In Rome, the divorce between urbanism and the city is evident, in fact obvious. In recent years we have witnessed a number of ways of talking about the condition of the housing crisis and how the mechanisms of enhancement of existing residential fabric, which are subject to financial mechanisms, have led to the impoverishment of the former middle class.  Perhaps the most serious consequence has been to deny to a growing population group the right to the city. In 2008 almost 30,000 residents left Romans to live in the municipalities of the province: from Orte out in all directions, with a growth of 14% over the previous year.

Urbanism “degraded” to economic and financial leverage has been carried out mainly by private interests with the need to leverage debt-based investment, so that huge gains can be made to be reinvested in the restructuring of enterprises, retraining, or mechanisms of capitalization (just think of Pirelli’s adventure with the Telecom Italia).

Today the City of Rome is behaving the same way, urban planning is to make money and “gambled” to save ATAC. The public transport company, overrun by the parentopoli  scandal a few months ago, has a deficit of 319.1 million euros, rising debts and risks failure. So the administration decided to put in “sell” orders for the tram and bus deposits and all those properties which complement the public transport but are no longer required to perform the service. Significant assets, the volume and surface, which in many cases is located in central areas of the city. This enhancement was a thought that had already started under the Veltroni administration, the liquidation of the ATAC deposit at Via della Lega Lombards (an area just a few steps from Tiburtina station). A thought which is reflected in a specific provision of the existing plan, as approved in 2008, and paragraph 4 of Article 84 provides that in case of liquidation of these properties it is necessary to draw up a general program that identifies “the maximum usable surface area, regardless of the existing volume (m3) and subject to the limitations and conditions resulting from the application of discipline in article 94, paragraphs 9 and 10”. These limits set the maximum building area index “equal to 0.5 m2/m2, of which at least half is to be allocated to services of general interest or public spaces or local.”

The rule states three essential principles: no increase in volume, built-up area (SUL)equivalent to not more than 0.5 square meters / square meter of land and identification of functions to be inserted, taking care to look at the compatibility with the surroundings. Three principles which Mayor Alemanno’s council plans are not putting into practice. Thus, in the resolution to be approved in the General Plan for the liquidation of real estate it states that for ATAC the limits imposed by the planning code, the existing volume, the maximum area, the obligation to reserve at least half of new construction to public services “limits the potential revenues from the sale of the areas.” In short, in this way you can’t make money and you can’t save ATAC!

Does the mayor not wonder that in some areas the provision of services is not only necessary, but perhaps is not even enough to be able to make the existing city livable? In short, it’s money above all else! So with this premise, the “General Plan for the functional conversion of buildings not essential to local public transport” under discussion, and perhaps in approval by the City Council meeting in Rome June 16 (today) proposes a sequence of forced interpretations of the rules of the plan for the sole purpose of having the maximum possible volume in each area subject to exploitation. The end result (calculated by default) is that on about 130,500 square meters of land area covered by the enhancement, where, under the plan, you could construct approximately 65,000 square meters, half of which is to be given to services for the district, they want to build 141,500 m2 (more than twice) without any constraint for the services. For example, in the former San Paolo garage you can make 18,500 m2 net area (according to the plan there should be 5,000 m2), and a portion will also be residences for 240 inhabitants. The former Vittoria garage in the Prati district, will have a net built area of 18,500 m2, instead of about 8,000 m2 allowed by the regulating plan, and the examples could continue.

You could agree that the existing rules of the plan must be revised because they involve an excess of mechanical algorithms there where problems are complex and each area has a story in itself. You want to change the regulations? Do it, it is certainly not an uncritical defense of the existing rule that we want to support. But you can not change it in this manner, declaring for others, compliance with the plan (sic). This is a procedure that makes it weak and sets the plan up for subsequent disputes. If there is a difference with the earlier administration, it is perhaps precisely here, in the means. You probably would have arrived at the same results, but it would have been done with a little less of superficiality of approximation and inconsistency of technique.

A capital city can not address in this way conversion processes that are so important and decisive for the future fate of the city. It can not rely on such a low level of thought dominated by the single criterion of the commodification of the city. It must draw up a serious plan, detailed for each area, undergo a careful analysis of each area and its context being able to define not only the quantity but also the sustainability of the functions, quality of transformations that it hopes to achieve. In this way it gives rise to a high-level task that could be an example for all other initiatives, which in the coming years will be more and more, regarding the conversion and the transformation of the existing city.

Mr. Mayor, stop.  If you want to restore ATAC this is the worst path to take: it will bury the company, squander its real estate and open the floodgates to years of litigation that will be paid at a huge price by the agency. Not to mention the negative impact on the city, but then this is no longer of relevance to the urban planning of the Capitol.

Giovanni  Caudo
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