The decline of Rome

Beyond the rhetoric on decay, the story of how urban development without planning has fractured the center and the suburbs.Porta di Roma is a “metropolitan centrality”, one of the modern neighborhoods built on the outskirts of the capital in recent years. Opened in 2007, at the confluence of the A1 motorway and the Grande Raccordo Anulare, today it is not yet served by the subway. The inhabitants almost all use the car because the large extension of the district makes it difficult to walk. Shops and businesses are struggling to develop, devoured by the presence of the Galleria Porta di Roma, one of the largest shopping centers in Europe: 220 shops, 150,000 square meters, 7,000 parking spaces. In the neighborhood buildings, many of the apartments are still empty, as are most of the offices. The hope is that the community of residents will contribute to making the neighborhood livable and hospitable, but today Porta di Roma appears as a long sequence of parking lots and vacant houses. The green spaces are not cared for, there are no squares or places of sociality other than the corridors of the shopping arcade.

Unfortunately, Porta di Roma is far from an isolated case. In the last twenty years, but the discussion could extend to the entire history of Rome as the capital, dozens of similar neighborhoods have been built on the far outskirts of the city. These are urban policy choices that have directly affected hundreds of thousands of citizens, and indirectly influenced the functioning of the city.

Today the public discussion on Rome, however, these relatively recent political choices seem to ignore them completely, remaining instead based on empty and only apparently apolitical concepts such as those of “decorum” and “degradation”. The story of the city, in newspapers, on blogs or among citizens, is flattened on the mechanical sharing of the most iconic effects of the crisis. The disservices of the ATAC (the Roman public transport company), the photos of the waste, the videos of animals walking in the suburbs (as if they were not the norm in a city that has invaded the countryside) have become the protagonists of the speech on the state of health of the city. A rhetoric that has contributed to bringing the Five Star junta to the government and which has now also been adopted by other political forces, as well as by almost all commentators.

In the Porta di Roma area , given its strategic position, the 1965 master plan foresaw the construction of a car port: a large space for unloading, sorting and redistributing the load of goods coming from trucks from northern Italy. In the 1990s, however, some private operators acquired the land and asked the municipality to change its intended use to residential and commercial. The proposal was accepted in exchange for the construction, at the expense of the builders, of some urbanization works for the neighborhood, and in the following years the project was integrated into the new general master plan, transforming the area, in fact, into a “metropolitan centrality”.

Over the last twenty years, urban policy choices on the suburbs have affected hundreds of thousands of citizens, and indirectly influenced the functioning of the entire city.

The shopping center was built, closely followed by buildings with apartments, a hotel (later converted to residential use) and only at the end the various public services were launched, such as schools (inaugurated in 2011), the park (not yet delivered), and the other urbanization works (connecting roads, water connections, lighting, still not finished today). In return, the administration has abdicated its planning role, facilitated the private operation, and moreover built at its own expense the motorway junction, which is essential for the opening of the shopping center.

The anti-degradation rhetoric, however, takes it out on the double-row parking lots, the potholes, the rubbish, accusing the Romans of incivility and the mayor on duty. But is this the right way to approach the problem? The questions to ask would perhaps be of another type.

The Rome that everyone is complaining about today is, at least in part, the daughter of the policies of the last twenty years and of the General Town Plan approved in 2008.  A necessary plan, given that the previous plan dated back to 1965, was based on growth forecasts demographic wrong (and from time to time) and had been neglected in its main objective: the decentralization of functions, public and private, in the suburbs.

The 2008 Plan was then to represent the culmination of the so-called Rome Model: the set of administrative practices of the center-left councils that succeeded the city government – two Rutelli councils and two Veltroni. A political project with the ambition of combining economic growth and social justice through constant consultation between the city’s political and economic actors, and characterized by a strong investment in urban marketing .

The balance of the Rutelli councils (1993 – 2001) is positive in many aspects and its main success undoubtedly concerns the cultural sphere. The municipal museum system is strengthened, new exhibition spaces are opened and the library system is relaunched. Great attention is also paid to mobility: under the pressure of the deputy mayor Tocci, a great impetus is given to the so-called “iron care”, with the establishment of new tram lines and three new railways of metropolitan scale. The meritorious idea is to rethink mobility based on rail transport, given the saturation of the bus system and the underground complexities in building new metro systems.

In parallel, however, the urban planning that the city had been waiting for for years is being managed in a controversial way. The scope is declined according to the principles of planning, an approach aimed at simplification by increasing the synergy between public and private. We are witnessing a decisive policy of safeguarding some areas of environmental value that the previous land use plan had intended for construction through the use of two new and controversial legislative instruments: urban compensation and the program agreement. Urban compensation establishes the existence of a perennial building right in the hands of the landowner and allows a transfer of the building cubic meters from areas subject to (occurred) environmental constraints to other free ones. The program agreement makes it possible to operate outside the ordinary planning, that is the master plan, through agreements with the constructor proposing an urban variation.

Whatever the initial intentions were, the combination of these two tools ends up reducing the importance of public control over planning and with it the maintenance of collective interest. In the name of “building rights”, the municipality thus renounces control of individual expansion operations and the builders find themselves in charge of the decisions on the relocation of the cubic volumes to other areas of their preference.

To avoid resorting to expropriation, the owners of the land affected by this “safeguard variant” are allowed to build in more peripheral areas with increased cubic volumes, to compensate for the values ​​of the central areas now subject to environmental constraints. In order to protect the economic rights of those who own land that can be built in areas subject to restriction, one ends up once again acting on the vacant lands of the countryside, cementing it, even though Rome was no longer growing at the demographic level and was settling just under 3 million of inhabitants (the forecasts of the 1965 plan were close to 5 million). An operation that is also unjustified from a residential point of view, given that the new houses are not at popular prices, if not in a minimal way.

After eight years of Rutelli administration, Veltroni completes the Rome Model by multiplying the synergy between the administration and the economic actors of the capital. The popularity of the city is at its peak, investments are constantly increasing, the best architects in the world, such as Zaha Adid, Renzo Piano and Richard Meier, give prestige to the city. The cultural offer is further strengthened but almost only in the center, while in the suburbs a different urban phenomenon takes shape: in open contrast to the “iron care”, which aimed to reduce dependence on cars, dozens of reachable shopping centers are born only on rubber. Between 2001 and 2008, both for previous decisions and for new program agreements, the so-called “consumption poles” increased from 2 to 28.

The pianificar doingfinds its natural outlet in the 2008 master plan, which together with the innovative theoretical principles represents the ratification of the urban projects begun in previous years. Following the same policy applied previously, the Municipality of Rome renounces disputes against those who hold building rights and, through urban compensation, takes on a further expansive building policy by providing for other cubic meters of construction. During the Veltroni administration, Rome’s GDP grew much more than the national average and was driven by the construction sector. But at what price? About 70 million cubic meters of new buildings and 15,000 hectares of Agro to be urbanized. After years of lack of planning in which the construction market decided on its own the expansion of the city,

In a short time, the suburbs of “metropolitan centralities” have become residential districts around large shopping centers and not realities capable of mending fragmented urban fabrics

According to the basic principles, the main objective of the master plan was the redevelopment of the suburbs through a polycentric model. In other words, a city was envisaged made up of small decentralized realities capable of creating a network of high-level services and infrastructures capable of generating and multiplying flows. In this model, the key point in the future development of Rome was represented by the system of “centralities”, in particular the so-called “metropolitan” ones.

“The metropolitan and urban centralities are aimed at the new multipolar organization of the metropolitan territory, through a strong functional and morpho-typological characterization”, reads the guidelines of the plan. “University centers, public business centers, exhibition spaces, centers with tourist, hospitality and recreational functions. In the urban and metropolitan centralities – all far from the center, all served by public transport on rail, all qualified by valuable functions – lives the polycentric organization of the city. A system that lays the foundations for the autonomous development of future metropolitan municipalities and for the enhancement of existing local resources “.

Porta di Roma, Ponte di Nona, Eur Castellaccio, La Storta, Tecnopolo Tiburtino and the other centralities (18 in all, some of which still to be designed), had to represent the connecting poles between all the other interventions carried out in the suburbs with the program agreements (area plans, recovery plans, subdivisions). However, many observers immediately pointed out that the logic behind their location was not clear and, above all, that the number was excessive for an efficient decentralization strategy. In short, the criterion used in the choice of the areas and their number did not seem to reflect an intention of rational redistribution of functions but the desire to satisfy as many municipalities and land owners as possible.

How did it turn out? Before, during and after the approval of the plan, the program agreements multiplied and modified the already not very solid foundations. Between 2003 and 2013, the metropolitan central areas were affected by continuous changes in the quantity and type of cubic space, again in agreement with the builders. Land consumption has further increased and the planned functions have been reduced to the benefit of additional homes which guaranteed the builders greater profits. In a short time the centralities have become residential districts around large shopping centers and not, as was explicit in the intent of the plan, realities capable of mending fragmented urban fabrics.

The rift between the center and the suburbs has increased, new neighborhoods have been created without any relationship with the rest of the city. All this without affecting the housing emergency issue, which has not shown any decrease: the new houses have contributed to the general increase in rents and the expulsion of residents from the consolidated city. The cheaper houses have simply moved more to the suburbs into what are effectively dormitory neighborhoods.

Although the intent of the plan was written that “the implementation of metropolitan and urban centralities is subject to the preventive or contextual construction of the planned railway infrastructures”, the constructors were allowed to open the construction sites even before they were planned. Even today the connections have been made only in a minimal part, leaving many centralities with little or no service at all by rail transport. What was already a problem in Rome, namely being suitable for private cars, was aggravated by the plan. And the traffic has increased.

At Ponte di Nona, outside the ring road, in the countryside east of Rome, the landscape is not very different from that of Porta di Roma. Lots of cars, lots of parking lots and few shops. Huge green areas where maintenance is lacking. Ponte di Nona is also a centrality (but born from the union of different urban projects) today reduced to a dormitory area. The train station (which connects every half hour with the Tiburtina station) only opened in 2016, more than ten years after the delivery of the houses, all this more than twenty kilometers away from the center and for a number of inhabitants that when fully operational it should exceed 50,000 units.

All the tertiary functions, with the exception of the shopping center, were not born and the neighborhood appears as a huge expanse of houses interspersed with urban voids. The viability is illogical and due to the orography of the area, full of ditches, the connections between the different parts of the neighborhood are complicated. The main street is named after Francesco Caltagirone, father of the land owner.

None of the other centralities already built is served by the metropolitan railway system. EUR-castellaccio is not, Tor vergata is not, nor is the Tecnopolo Tiburtino. The centrality of La Storta, still under construction, will be served by the regional train to Viterbo (one every half hour), but it will be so large that only part of it will be really close to the station, while the other will remain more half an hour on foot.

And there are not only centralities. In the last twenty years, dozens of other smaller settlements have sprung up, but with the same characteristics – some names: Poggio Belvedere, Infernetto, Selva Candida, Ponte Galeria, Vallerano, Fonte Laurentina. And even a neighborhood destined for higher income brackets, like Mezzocammino, on the southern outskirts of the city, has followed a similar development: a splendid park and many well-made buildings, but everything is dominated by cars, the only way to get in and out from the neighborhood, and, if the green zone is excluded, the square included in the shopping center remains the only place where citizens can find themselves.

The development of Rome was almost exclusively guided by a logic aimed at speculating on the territory and putting every possible centimeter into value.

Parco Leonardo (near Leonardo Da Vinci airport, but the name owes it to the builder Leonardo Caltagirone), which is part of the Municipality of Fiumicino and does not depend on the 2008 plan, deserves a separate discussion. , from a smaller surface extension, from an almost total pedestrianization (many car parks are underground) and from the choice of an area already served by public rail transport (the Rome – Fiumicino line), this district also responds to the same paradigm, because the presence of that single railway line is not able to cope with the isolation given by the distance from the center of Rome and commuting is still in the form of a car. Here, too, traditional businesses do not open, or close shortly after, crushed by the mall’s domain; here too the tertiary functions do not take root and many of the buildings intended to house offices are already in total abandonment.

The problem of these new neighborhoods, mind you, does not only concern the quality of life of those who live there. Some of the people who bought apartments here say they are satisfied with the price (for many the only sustainable in Rome), the size of the apartments and the amount of green spaces. Certainly the quality of life has to do with subjective aspects and the distance from the congested and polluted center can be a value. However, we cannot forget that not all types of cities are sustainable: the widespread city, not very dense, is now recognized everywhere as impossible to manage, even in the face of a developed infrastructure system.

The reality is that the development of Rome has been almost exclusively guided by a logic aimed at speculating on the territory and putting every possible centimeter into value. All this while the alternative social spaces to this logic and the collective housing occupations of buildings left abandoned for years awaiting economic conditions more favorable to speculation were coming and being cleared. The private culture has prevailed in the development processes of Rome and this has played a central role in the current decline.

Thousands of people can no longer afford rent and have been expelled to the suburbs outside the GRA or to the municipalities of the metropolitan crown. The so-called redevelopment of neighborhoods defined as “degraded” has often been implemented through the construction of private spaces, such as shopping centers, which have reduced the quantity and usability of public ones. And we cannot say that the social aggregation that is created in a square is the same even in the enclosed space of a commercial gallery, in which you cannot take pictures, you cannot play football and in which the spaces to sit for those who do not consumes are non-existent. Again in the name of the fight against degradation, gentrification phenomena multiplied which had the sole effect of making certain neighborhoods more attractive to certain groups of the population,

In short, dozens of neighborhoods were built away from the city already built only because the owners of those lands had a high degree of political influence. Today the undeniable mismanagement of ATAC and AMA (the waste company) is underlined, but few speak of unsustainability for a service that is obliged to serve areas at sidereal distances from the center. Neighborhoods where the majority of the population is forced to use private vehicles because the offices and other workplaces are located in areas not served directly.

With the same funds, bringing services further and further away from the center has higher costs. Bus lines are overloaded, are more likely to encounter traffic, and above all they have to travel many more kilometers to transport a few dozen people to isolated neighborhoods: this cannot fail to have an effect on the overall service. The same goes for waste collection, while the residential emptying of the center does the rest: the tourists of a bed and breakfast consume more than one resident, and the result is that AMA has to collect more waste in the center and even more in the suburbs. .

This dynamic, which was put into a system during the Rutelli and Veltroni junctions, then continued also during the five years of Alemanno government, which came to speak explicitly of urban money: in exchange for increased cubic volumes or the buildability of an area owned by them, private individuals undertook to finance an urbanization work. The territory has been definitively rendered neutral and valued, as if it were the same to build in one place or another. The end of the public interest.

Over the past decade, residents outside the GRA have grown by 26%, while those inside have decreased. Mezzocammino and Ponte di Nona have seen an increase in inhabitants of over 120% since 2006. Rome is facing an overall change in the way of life of its citizens and in the organization of daily life. The resulting social problems are much more serious than mere “degradation”.

On the one hand, the historic center is emptied of residents and filled with tourist accommodation facilities, large chains, representative offices, on the other hand the condition of the peripheral spaces worsens, dispersing them, moving them away from basic services, ghettoizing them or inserting them into contexts already precarious further sources of social hardship (refugee reception centers, or so-called Roma camps).

Thus, in the void of answers, the anger and indignation of residents take shape, conveyed by anti-degradation blogs. Neighborhood committees and associations between citizens are activated, bearers of a renewed attention to practices of respect for common spaces but also of many undervalued collateral effects in the management of marginalization and the relationship between State and citizen . The majority of those who participate in neighborhood committees obviously do so with the best of intentions, but unfortunately this type of action never calls into question the private and income-oriented model that underlies the growing urban discomfort. The discomfort is only depoliticized and there is the risk of not acting on the real causes, and even the best voluntary actions risk increasing the problem: replacing the public service contributes to lowering the bar of responsibilities of the ruling class that those services manage. LOVES is to all intents and purposes poorly managed and underpowered from the point of view of operational employees (not in the managerial part), and should be pushed to better management through public disputes, protests, demonstrations, and not instead compensating for its shortcomings, leading citizens to cleaning the streets and thus making its workers even weaker.

The problem is an urban model that no longer considers the city in its social and public role but only and exclusively for its economic and financial value.

Many of the campaigns against degradation end up legitimizing opaque forms of surveillance and consequent waves of discrimination. In this way, perhaps a minimal community identity is created but the price is to establish a difference between those who protect the economic value of a territory from those who do not have access to its resources. Why are we surprised at intolerance?

We are witnessing the multiplication of waves of protest in the suburbs where the extreme right is blowing on the social unrest of the population by directing discontent not towards the authorities or the ruling class but against anyone identified as a stranger and for this reason responsible for the degradation or impoverishment of the middle class. A few months later, in Casal Bruciato, Casalotti and Torre Maura, some Roma families who had the right to access the house assigned to them were rejected through demonstrations and threats of barricades. In Tor Sapienza and then in Rocca di Papa a similar fate was instead touched by migrants just destined for reception facilities.

Those who do not fall within the “decent” vision of the city, Roma, migrants, poor people (fined if they rummage through the bins), writers , struggling movements for housing and social centers, are rejected or criminalized. Il Messagero and Il Tempo , the main Roman newspapers (whose ownership is historically in the hands of builders: Caltagirone and Angelucci, who bought in 2016 from Bonifaci, another entrepreneur in the construction sector) speak in their titles of ” racket of the house ”, Of requests for lace , constantly relatingthe crime that makes money on the houses (through real sale of social housing) with the struggle movements that, by posing social and political questions, collectively occupy the buildings left empty for decades: a relationship that does not actually exist. The blog , standard-bearer of the media campaign on decay, which even ended up on the pages of the New York Times , defines the movements ” Nazis “, ” pro mafia-capital “, ” criminals “, ” damage to the city ” and responsible ” of the decline of Rome “. But was it the movements that built the neighborhoods in the open countryside ?

Hammered by this out-of-focus debate, we are witnessing a progressive withdrawal of the state from its prerogatives: the right to housing, housing, mobility social problems, cleanliness, security, are progressively de-politicized, privatized and tied in a knot that seems to be dissolved only by public order. The result is a city that, regardless of the political color of those who govern it, exploits poverty and represses the consequences of this exploitation, which evacuates people from their makeshift haunts (as constantly happens to refugees aided by the Baobab association), which makes poverty a crime and the latter something to hide, che has as its only horizon the removal from view of the worst consequences of capitalist development, while maintaining the paradigm unchanged. As long as this is the case, the problem will never be this or that administration. The problem will remain an urban model that no longer considers the city in its social and public role but only and exclusively for its economic and financial value.


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