I’ve been considering for a few weeks what to write to welcome Rome’s new city administration. It would be presumptuous to offer expert advice unless requested (never stopped me before), but every time I look at the city I think of problems, projects, and priorities.
To quote a university president with whom I met the other day, if you have twenty priorities you have no priorities. Now that the Mayor has defined her staff, ten motivated professionals ready to get to work, I’ve decided to humbly suggest one priority for each, hoping that my “immigrant” point of view with twenty-five years of experience working on civic design issues may be of interest and even of use.
Sindaco Virginia Raggi’s priority should be to mediate between the people and her staff, to assure that, on the one, hand the voice of the people reaches the right ears and, on the other, that the work of her staff is communicated to her constituency. This can be done quite easily (and the Movimento 5 Stelle has vast experience with this) with a range of social media tools, direct emails, and public assemblies, with no need for traditional media like newspapers or television. If a citizen has an idea or makes an observation, she should be able to communicate it in minutes to the city and receive a timely response.
Il vicesindaco Daniele Frongia con delega allo Sport (Assessorato alla Qualità della vita, Accessibilità, Sport e Politiche giovanili)
As Vice-Sindaco I image Mr. Frongia will have his hands full assisting the Mayor, but in terms of Quality of Life, Accessibility and Sport, I think the priority should be to make it safe and pleasant to walk or bike in Rome again. This city has fallen into the ironic trap of most American communities, where people drive their cars to the gym to work out, or simply drive because they are scared to walk.
In America in recent years younger people have been abandoning car ownership, saving money and living healthier lives. In my opinion, Mr. Frongia should launch a campaign to make daily life in the city a healthy activity for all citizens, not just an extreme survival sport for the brave few.
Marcello Minenna, assessore al Bilancio e Partecipate (Assessorato al Bilancio, Patrimonio e riorganizzazione delle Partecipate)
Money is key to any city’s administration, and Mr. Minenna’s job is to ensure “accountability”, a concept for which there isn’t even a word in the Italian language. This means collecting debts, leveraging assets and thinking creatively of new sources of revenue. The lost opportunities are heartbreaking: uncollected fines for millions of traffic violations, underutilized public property, mismanaged funds, and red tape which scares away foreign investment. I tried to facilitate a meeting between a foreign donor and Mr. Minenna’s predecessor a few years back and the office didn’t even return my calls. So, Mr. Minenna, please finish the job begun by the Marino administration, get the accounts in order, however many 16-hour days it takes, and then publish the results online where everyone can see the city’s books.
Paolo Berdini, assessore all’Urbanistica (Assessorato all’Urbanistica e infrastrutture)
I have read with great interest Mr. Berdini’s writings for years, and share his goal of quelling the rampant and often corrupt real-estate development that has marred Rome for decades. But his job now is to direct growth, not just block it. I don’t know what happened to the job title but when Giovanni Caudo, another respectable urbanist, held the role until last year it focused on “urban regeneration”. This should be Mr. Berdini’s number one priority, to continue Caudo’s mission to locate those underutilized or abandoned pockets of property which give Rome the quality of swiss cheese, to render it not just possible but convenient (using a combination of incentives and regulation) for private entrepreneurs to give these properties back to the city as innovative developments or green spaces.
Laura Baldassarre, assessore al Sociale (Assessorato alla Persona, Scuola e Comunità solidale) Ms. Baldassarre’s underlying priority must be integration; Rome has always been a multi-cultural capital and it has immense human resources going to waste or worse, under attack. The first job is a census of the marginalized, but an “operational census” where situations which are unacceptable are not just noted but resolved on the spot. A child found begging on the street or a family living in a trailer must be treated as emergencies to be solved within hours, not years.
Luca Bergamo, assessore alla Cultura (Assessorato alla Crescita culturale). I like the term “cultural growth” and like to think this doesn’t mean an increase in cultural venues and events (Rome already has plenty) but increased access to and benefit from the culture which already crowds the city. Culture must thrive, not just struggle to survive. The priority should be to manage it better; each museum or monument should have one clear Director held accountable for operations, for hiring and firing personnel, for fundraising and marketing. Once this is working, we can simplify procedures for new cultural proposals.
Linda Meleo, assessore ai Trasporti (Assessorato alla Città in movimento)
Here I’m going to break my own rule that limited me to a single priority; several priorities must be addressed simultaneously for mobility to break out of the dysfunctional loop it has been in for years.
- Eliminate free parking. Enforcing the rules on the books to penalize drivers who park illegally can start today (what are you waiting for?) would make the option of driving in Rome much less attractive. Then more gradually, eliminate the legal free parking zones and raise the fees on the paid parking, the only choice left for those who insist on using cars in the city center.
- Hold ATAC responsible for its schedules. If a bus or metro doesn’t leave the capolinea on schedule someone must pay a price, from the driver on up to the CEO. Once the existing schedule works, look at rationalizing it.
- By eliminating many cars from the city streets, the first two priorities already make Rome a much more bike and pedestrian friendly city. To complete the emergency job in the next month, get some good white paint and use it to create a. pedestrian zebra-stripe crossings, lots of them, especially where they have been eliminated in recent months, and b. bike lanes, narrowing too-wide streets, or inserting them where illegal cars have been removed, everywhere (the biking associations will help you).
These are pretty big jobs and require some investment, so starting to enforce the traffic laws seems a no-brainer. Making motorists pay for their dangerous and illegal behavior will bring in the cash needed short-term and eliminate the problem long term. I don’t know if Ms. Mileo has the authority to compel the police to do their job, but I assume Mayor Raggi does.
Adriano Meloni, assessore al Commercio (Assessorato allo Sviluppo economico, Turismo e Lavoro)
The question comes to mind, why is tourism severed from culture to be relegated with commerce, but as long as the team plays together it isn’t important. Rome needs to move in the direction of more civilized capitals, supporting activities which follow the rules, pay taxes and help preserve tradition of promote innovation. The priority should be to simultaneously break monopolies and enforce regulations. It should be easy to open a business within the law and impossible to run a business outside the law. To ensure this, the rules must be made clear and enforcement must be immediate and ruthless. It would be fantastic to see on the Assessore’s website a very clear regolamento and to never see a violation of these rules in the city. Like with mobility, existing (rampant) violations provide a much-needed temporary source of revenues to fund the department’s work.
Paola Muraro, assessore all’Ambiente (Assessorato alla Sostenibilità ambientale)
It’s very hard to pinpoint one priority, as Rome is losing many battles: waste management, air quality, water quality, all are suffering. But in the same way Marino chose one symbolic priority in Via dei Fori Imperiali, I’m going to suggest that Ms. Murano focus on Rome’s forgotten resource, the Tiber, which has been much in the news of late for good (Tevereterno’s Triumphs and Laments by William Kentridge) and bad (cheap commerce, homeless and homicides). There are pragmatic projects ready to be examined which could eliminate the flooding, clean the water and render the river again navigable to become a river park in the heart of Rome. The river would be a good start in the re-greening of Rome.
Flavia Marzano, Commissioner for Simplification (Assessorato Roma semplice). I’m not sure what to say about this somewhat Orwellian concept of “Simplification”. Like the Assessorato of “legality” (which seems to have disappeared) this should be the underlying goal for everyone in the administration. Should we have a commissioner of Honesty and a commissioner of Niceness or Punctuality? I’m in favor of granting Ms. Marzano or the Mayor herself one special delega, that of accountability, to ensure that this great staff get the job done or pay the price for failing.
Nothing compares to Rome. Each day in the Roman life brings experiences you would be lucky to encounter in a year elsewhere in the world, encounters with art, history, architecture, music, ideas. Extraordinary people, extraordinary places. In some places beauty is available only to the wealthy; in Rome so much is free to those willing to open their eyes and explore.
But every silver lining has a cloud around it, and framing those extraordinary jewels Rome presents some of the most outrageous afflictions, out of place in any capital city, especially in the “developed” world. It would be as tiresome to list them as it is annoying to have to report them to the authorities knowing that they will probably remain unresolved.
The situation has reached a turning point and Romans (including adopted ones like myself and many others) are rolling up their sleeves and working to fix what is broken. Some could examples were pointed out by Elisabetta Povoledo in this article in the New York Times last month.
There are many others, emerging from grassroots movements with focuses such as public space advocacy, transit equity, social justice, and environmental protection. From Urban Cyclists to Guerrilla Gardeners, Rome is teaming with smart organizations that know how to leverage digital media to obtain media visibility and get change done.
Miraculously, even the world of politics is catching up, launching programs for Rome which go beyond populist demagoguery to address tangible, simple challenges.
This weekend Romans voted for a successor to Mayor Ignazio Marino, who won by a landslide three years ago but was forced out of office after his work to fight corruption started to bear fruit. His own “democratic” party, (PD) met behind closed doors to force his resignation.
In the first round of elections this weekend a majority of voters chose to abandon the old political parties, especially the PD, and elect a young lawyer, Virginia Raggi, with no ties to traditional party politics. Raggi’s platform addresses the specific problems faced by Rome and offers simple solutions, not unlike those that were being implemented by Marino when he stepped down.
The reason a Raggi government would be different is that she is not a pawn of the political system; they can’t remove her the way they did Marino. She could enact change quickly and efficiently, starting with the simple application of existing laws, and removing public officials and employees of city controlled agencies (AMA and ATAC at the top) who neglect to carry out their obligations, a situation that has gone on far too long.
It’s too early to announce change; an old-style PD government might still be elected. If this happened, it would be a clear sign that most Romans are happy with the system as it is. And non-Romans will continue to see Rome as a cool place for a short visit, not to stay too long and certainly not a place in which to invest.
An article this week in the Europe section of the New York Times cites blogger Tom Rankin’s efforts to bring attention back to the Tiber through the work of the association he directs, Tevereterno Onlus.
“Our mission is about reactivating a public space that we think has been forgotten, taking an abandoned piece of infrastructure and using site-specific contemporary art to make that space a place once again,” said Tom Rankin, the director of Tevereterno, a nonprofit organization.
Tevereterno requisitioned this downtown section of the Tiber more than a decade ago to create a dedicated public space for contemporary art, called Piazza Tevere.
Today it wants arts projects — Mr. Kentridge’s mural has been the most ambitious so far — to change the way Romans think about the river, acting as a “catalyst for change along the river’s lengths,” Mr. Rankin added.
Most capital cities with rivers, he noted, “have cleaned up their act long since.”
Here’s the link to the complete article.
Two outings in two days have me thinking about authenticity and meaning. No answers, just observations.
Yesterday I accompanied a class I co-teach on a studio your to Cinecittà, Rome’s film studios. The five acres of backlots have twice been the center of a thriving film industry: once in the fascist era when Hollywood films were unwelcome in Italy, and again in the post-war, dolce vita years when the lots were bustling with everything from sword and sandal blockbusters to the masterpieces of Fellini. Today they are barely in business, but this actually makes it easier for the general public to visit without getting in the way.
Villa Borghese and the Modern City
Of the many public parks in Rome none is better known than the Villa Borghese which comprises nearly 200 acres to the north of the Spanish Steps. Long the property of the wealthy and noble Borghese family, the gardens were purchased by the Italian state after the unification of Italy and make public in 1903 and are today a destination for those seeking green space, but also culture.
Many foreign visitors, unaware that the word “Villa” in Italian refers not to a building but to the entire estate, confuse the vast park with the “Casino Nobile” the summer “cottage” created by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the early 17th century to the designs of Flaminio Ponzio e di Giovanni Vasanzio. This elegant building now hosts the Borghese Gallery, one of the most impressive collections of sculpture and paintings in Italy and, indeed, the world.
But the Borghese Gallery is just the first of many cocktails of nature and art I love to sample and a visit to the Borghese this weekend brought me for the first time in years into one of the least known artistic treasure chests, the Gallery Nazionale di Arte Moderna (or GNAM, which in Italian sounds comically like the word for “yummy” and leads to endless puns about culture and sustenance).
The grand white neoclassical building which hosts Rome’s largest collection of modern art was completed as part of the celebration, in 1911, of the 50th anniversary of Italy’s unification. I once caught a memorable concert by Patti Smith on the steps outside, and visited frequently when I taught a course on the Art of Modernity a few years, back but I haven’t been through its gates since then.
Inside you can spend hours admiring works from the 19th and 20th centuries (for the 21st century, apart from temporary installations of living artists, head over to the nearby MAXXI by Zaha Hadid). Nowhere in Rome is the shift from elegant bourgeois world of the 19th century to the turmoil and liberation of the 20th so compellingly visible. From Canova to Capogrossi, with a good showing of international stars of the likes of Monet, Miro, Mondrian but also Pollock, Twombly, and Kounellis.
Outside the museum, after stopping for a coffee at the wonderful if slightly overpriced Caffe’ delle Arti, take a stroll around the eleven foreign academies with their eclectic architecture and frequent cultural events and installations which will be the topic of another blog post.
Readers of this blog will notice what a change of tone this post brings, induced by my desire to focus on what makes Rome a sustainable city and not just on what holds it back. There will still be plenty of space for comments (leave your own below or on Facebook!) and critique.