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Last Days of Sketching Tiber exhibit

January 11, 2019

I’ve decided to keep the exhibit of urban sketches and sketchbooks up at my studio on Via Banchi Vecchi for another couple of weeks so if you are in the neighborhood drop by.  Opening hours are not guaranteed because my teaching schedule keeps me away some days, but if the lights are on just come on in.

Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 39 Roma

American tragedy, Roman tragedy

October 7, 2018

Today I can’t stop thinking about two men in the news yesterday, both about my age, as white and privileged as myself. 

Yesterday I read that Brett Kavanaugh had been appointed to the highest position of my country’s justice system despite having demonstrated to an audience of millions his inappropriateness for this job.  

Like many of my fellow Americans I had been glued to the hearings, moved by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s account of her attempted rape by Brett Kavanaugh, and shocked by his creepy, immature and dishonest defense. It seemed implausible that a democratic government could ignore the many problems that such an appointment would bring: conflict of interest, political partisanship and implicit threats to his political opponents, clear evidence of the judge lying under oath and a well-documented history as a sexual predator. He is now a Supreme Court judge, with an absurd amount of power to abuse. 

Any faith I harbored in the idea of justice has been whittled away. 

Later, descending the staircase from San Pietro in Vincoli where I teach at Sapienza University, I encountered emergency vehicles where I normally risk my life crossing at the crosswalk on Via Cavour. The body of Giorgio De Francesco, 54, lay covered by a reflective mylar blanket like the ones marathon runners are given at the finish line. He had just been killed by a motor vehicle, a tour bus speeding down Via Cavour. It could have been one of my students, or a tourist, or me, or anyone. 

Living in Rome I have become as accustomed to this scene as I might be to gun violence were I still living in the States. In Rome we all witness motorists’ reckless disregard for human life constantly: excess velocity, running red lights, cell-phone use while driving, and all manners of parking to impair visibility.  Within the hour as I walked home I saw hundreds of examples of reckless driving, including vehicles speeding through the red light at Via della Greca, beneath the windows of the municipal police. Already this week two pedestrians had been killed and four seriously injured in what the newspapers inexplicably continue to call “accidents.”  Many Romans drive with criminal negligence but are rarely treated like criminals. 

What links these two seemingly unrelated tragedies other than their echoing in my mind as signs of the injustice of our times?

Two men in their mid-fifties, like myself. One who seemed to do everything possible to disqualify him for the position for which he was being interviewed, gets the job and goes on to prosper. Another, a civil servant in the Italian national government, has his life cut short while he is exercising his civic right to cross a street with his wife.

In both cases, the facts are evident. We know there is injustice and corruption in the Trump administration. We know that illegality and reckless driving reign in Rome. We can name the people responsible for fighting these afflictions. Our taxes pay their salaries. How can it be so hard to hold them accountable? 

Rome’s Tiber “Beach”

September 2, 2018

Rivers are amazing resources for cities, but they need ideas, projects and above all maintenance and regulation. With the localized exception of Piazza Tevere with site-specific art projects such as William Kentridge’s Triumphs and Laments,  Rome has had none of these for years.  So I was happy to hear word of the city’s plans to make a riverfront beach resort, Tiberus, in the abandoned Marconi area.

It opened late this summer (the delays already a sign that it wasn’t the best planned project) and the reviews were less than stellar.  A recent New York Times article sums them up well, including my own take on the idea ( I had yet to visit the beach itself).

My own scouting trip in mid August confirmed my suspicions that it is better than nothing, but pretty pathetic for a European capital city, especially after seeing the riverfronts of Paris, Madrid, Berlin, etc.

It is sad because the river has such potential and there are so many smart, creative people committed to bringing it back to life. If only they would be invited to the table to come up with innovative solutions and put them into effect!

Beaches need water. Ideally (and realistically given some time and money) the river should be clean enough for swimming. It was until at least the 1960s after all (as testified by Pasolini’s Accattone and other films). But if not, a swimming pool like the one that used to be installed near Ponte Sant’Angelo would be nice. Instead, Tiberus has only ugly plastic port-a-potties converted to showers.

The river is urban, and a key part of any design should be the point of arrival from urban neighborhoods  At Tiberus the walk from residential neighborhoods is still through a no-man’s land of traffic, dangerous cross-walks, shadeless and trash-filled space. And when you finally think you have arrived there is a parking lot(!) and a confusing, poorly-marked entry.

It’s all about the river, but the river’s edge is barely visible. Visitors to Tiberus are blocked from even approaching the river’s edge, as if it were a toxic site to be avoided and not Rome’s most important natural, green infrastructure.

On a positive note, a few people were using it when I visited and seemed happy to have beach chairs and umbrellas to call their own at no cost (and Rome’s real beach, Ostia Lido, you have to pay handsomely to private companies for the privilege).

As with any discussion of Rome’s Tiber river it quickly becomes clear that big issues are at stake. The river is polluted; cleaning it should be high-priority. In 2016 engineer Antonio Tamburrino presented the Mayor with a proposal which would achieve this at no cost to the city but to date there has been no response. Let’s look at cities like London and Berlin and try to do even better.

Public spaces in the city are dominated by automobiles and inhospitable to pedestrians (as the approach to Tiberis reminds us). A real program of public space design competitions would address this.

Tiberus gets us talking about the Tiber, which is a good thing. Now that we are talking, rather than just complaining about how lame it is it would be great to actually work on fulfilling the river’s potential.

New Underground Rome

May 14, 2018

I got a chance to check out the new metro station just before it opened to the public on Saturday. Absolutely spectacular! The finds on display tell the story of Rome through stratigraphy (graphically marked with a clear indication of level below modern ground), chronology (with key dates popping up as you descend) and themes (color coding of themes dear to Sustainable Rome readers: water, reuse, etc.). The lighting is good, the signage is graphically excellent.

Sure, in the name of simplicity not much information is provided (a display case filled with marble fragments has one little placard saying essentially “old stuff”) and labels are only in Italian(well, it’s not like foreign tourists come to Rome or anything!). But the well-produced informative videos are subtitled in English and much of the display is self-explanatory.

It will be years before this station connects to anything but the outlying eastern periphery so I am curious to know how travelers will experience the station. People coming to see San Giovanni may arrive on the A line, then take a walk through the new station (which requires going out the turnstyle and then in again at Metro C but the ticket should still be valid I was told). Or perhaps this station will bring greater attention to the up and coming outer neighborhoods like Centocelle where my foodie friends keep unearthing new gastronomic treasures, including Santo Palato a short walk from the new station itself.

My principal fear is that lack of maintenance and security issues will result in a rapid decline in the station. I saw it during the press opening but had to leave before the crowds arrived. Knowing what other new stations look like –Conca D’Oro on the B line is already covered in graffiti a couple of years after its inauguration –I can only imagine what this now immaculate museum station may become if we are not all vigilant.

A version of this article is now also published (in italian) at


Very Roman scene at the turnstyle.

press conference rush hour

descending into the station


displays include interesting metalwork and jewelry

irrigation pipes from an ancient orchard

organic finds such as peach pits encased in resin.

the use of glass for finds, photos and data is very successful

glass cases with finds and supergraphic titles

stratigraphic legend

chronological graphic display

the approach to street level

a view of the “museum” upon entry





























Jane’s Walk: from Tevere to Tevere

May 3, 2018

IMG_1636Each year (starting last year!) I join in to celebrate Jane Jacob’s birthday with a walk around Rome. Last year it was an architectural walk around Piazza Bologna, this year I want to take advantage of my new studio and an old interest: collage and reuse.

The walk, on Saturday 5 May from 10-12 am, will begin at Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 39 and explore Via Giulia, Vicolo Moretta and the banks of the Tiber. We’ll pose questions (in Italian?, in English? it depends who comes) about the city and its river. Participants will be aided in creating scrapbooks during the walk, collecting images, recollections, souvenirs.

Participation is free and open to anyone. Join us from the beginning or find us along the way, on Via Giulia, Ponte Sisto, or down along the Triumphs and Laments (William Kentridge) mural as we walk toward Castel Sant’Angelo.

Bring good walking shoes, something to write or draw with, and if you like your own sketchbook (if not, simple material will be provided).

Info at

Tevere Pulito 2018

April 23, 2018

Yesterday a small but energetic and dedicated group of volunteers transformed the Tiber riverfront in Piazza Tevere from a dump to a park. And they had a lot of fun, making new friends, while doing it. For those invited who didn’t participate, there are plenty of events like this you can join, or organize your own.


Roma Anno Nuovo: A New Year in Rome

January 1, 2018

I am out for a walk around Rome on the first day of the new year, and I am truly impressed.

Sure there is plenty to complain about and tomorrow I’ll be ready to do so, as constructively as possible.  But right now, I am in awe of the beauty of this city, thanks in part to the New Year’s festivities, La Festa di Roma, I have been enjoying around the Tiber and the Aventine.

Ponte Sublicio. Spotlights strike laser lines upstream through the misty winter sky, playing off the full moon and Tiber reflections. The Lungotevere is car-free from Piazza dell’Emporio all the way to Via Arenula–really car free, not limited traffic with the occasional police car or politico careening through. Bands playing here and there, with small groups of spectators. Walking along the riverside, music wafts toward me, lights illuminate spectacular vistas, but it doesn’t feel like a disco and it doesn’t distract from the spirit of place.

I climb the new path up the slopes of the Aventine for the first time since it was opened, again wondering why this new addition to Rome’s cityscape doesn’t get more attention. It’s usually hard to reach because it is impossible to cross the Lungotevere at this point without being run over, but tonight the route up to the Giardino degli Aranci was accessible to all (that is all who could climb the stairs). Above, overlooking Rome, other bands were playing under the pines and orange trees.

Finally I descended to Circus Maximus, admired the new lighting of the Palatine, and walked on to Bocca della Verità.  Here I ran into Rome’s cultural commissioner and vice-mayor, Luca Bergamo, and congratulated him on the great event (mostly his initiative I hear.)

Suspended above the piazza was “Day Hole” a video installation with a disk of daylight sky, playing nicely off the same-sized moon. The taranta pizzicata band Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino rocked, while nearby Opera Camion waxed lyric. Finally, returning to the Tiber, projections onto the Tiber Island, along with devastatingly beautiful illumination of Ponte Sisto, convinced me that this event is the best thing to come to Rome since Triumphs and Laments.

I realize this is only an “event”, and can’t be repeated frequently. But like any event, it can serve to shift citizens’ preconceptions about the city.  Don’t Rome’s urban treasures lend themselves to contemporary practices? Isn’t a distributed strategy for cultural, in different sites, scheduled across a span of time, aimed at diverse audiences, better than mass tourism? Isn’t public space better without cars?  Congratulations Rome. If you could pull this off, I’m hopeful you can pull off the daily challenges of making the city civil again in 2018.