Bridging into the New Year
As 2017 begins a series of coincidences have me reflecting on the challenges and opportunities facing Rome in the coming months.
Last night travel writer/guru Rick Steves posted a piece about the importance of bridges (over the walls which our president-elect likes). He asked to use some of my drawings of Rome’s bridges, saying “To celebrate our commitment to tolerance, diversity, empathy, and the value of overcoming fear by understanding people whose life experiences give them different perspectives than you or I might have, I’d like to share Tom’s bridges with you.” Rick’s audience is huge (his Facebook page alone has half a million followers) so the eyes of many are on Rome’s bridges today.
Every year the city of Rome organizes end of year events, usually with big concerts and fireworks, and this year, in addition to a spectacular event held throughout the night at Circus Maximus, it hosted La Festa di Roma on and around the bridges over the Tiber. Despite an ongoing campaign to discredit and denigrate the administration of Rome’s Mayor Virginia Raggi, these events seem pretty well-conceived and well-organized. Instead of one big monster event there are many, dispersed throughout the city along its natural urban spine, the Tiber river. They appeal to a wide demographic: creative workshops for kids, dj sets for youth, classical concerts for all ages. One of the organizations I have worked with in recent years, TEVERETERNO, is participating with a walking tour of the William Kentridge public art project Triumphs and Laments and there are collaborations with major arts organizations, coordinated by the City’s Commissioner of Culture (and Vice-Mayor) Luca Bergamo.
These New Years’ events should be a sign of innovative, positive change, but as so often happens they have spurred more negative criticism than support, and I think I understand why. While the administrators have the right intentions, ambitions and attitudes, they are working with political machinery biased to protect old power structures. Piloting this machine doesn’t mean they can easily dismantle it and rebuild it; even steering it toward a target is hard when the opposition places obstacles in its path. Mayor Raggi is right that it will take a little time to achieve tangible results; the tools available to get there are broken and need to be replaced or repaired.
Talk of transparency and efficiency falls short of the reality: that it is hard to get a response from the administration whose staff is still living in a world of slow, hand-delivered stamped documents. It’s frustrating to want to help when even emails with subject headings like “Rome and American Investments” offering logistical support to reach global benefactors go unanswered!
My frenetic online activity promoting Rome’s bridges to a pretty decent social following received great responses globally. Locally, the offices of Luca Bergamo sent me an unsigned email “please find attached a letter from Mr. Luca Bergamo. We wish you a very happy new year.” with a scanned, stamped, “protocollato” letter saying essentially the same thing. I like to think that there is an ironic Duchampian intentionality in the conceptual Byzantine quality of this communication, but I fear it may really be the way the administration is forced to operate.
The bureaucracy that has perfected the ambiguous response, the refusal to give a straight answer or apply a simple rule has created an essentially impenetrable wall which any well-meaning citizen finds it impossible to penetrate (and which isolates the well-meaning administrators from the real city).
I hope that 2017 will see this ancient wall bridged, taking advantage of the 21st century distributed communications tools most of use so that we can help Rome become not just magnificent and eternal but perhaps even a little bit normal.