Saturday, 25 July 2015

Rome: A City in 'Chronic Decline'?

Rubbish piling up in Trastevere (taken from The New York Times)

Rome has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks. The city is in 'chronic decline' according to The Telegraph and in need of 'urgent repair' due to a toxic combination of 'corruption, debt, poor administration and shabby infrastructure'. Similarly, American news website Reuters details the many problems besieging the city, stating that  'for generations, the Italian capital has rested on past glories rather than built on them.' Both articles cite the recent Mafia Capitale corruption scandal, the partial closure of Fiumincino airport due to a fire in May, and the continual plague of petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and litter piling up in the streets, to back-up their claims. Additionally The Independent recently featured an article about a rat infestation at the Trevi fountain, which is causing much embarrassment to local residents, one of whom described it as a 'shameful spectacle' visible not only to locals but 'to the eyes of the whole world.'

Rome's mayor Ignazio Marino is also not having a great week. Yesterday Wanted in Rome reported that he has been issued an 'ultimatum' by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who stated that he should concentrate on 'concrete issues' such as 'health and people’s problems' rather than 'political games'. If he is incapable of governing, Renzi added, he should 'go home.' This outburst comes among a surge in popular opinion that Marino is too 'honest' and 'naive' to deal with Rome's many problems. Carlo Bonini, an Italian journalist quoted in The New York Times summed up succinctly the conflict of feeling many Romans have about Marino, stating 'his virtue is also his main problem: he is not connected to all the rotten Roman relationships.'

However, a bit more research reveals that things are not all bad in the eternal city. Wanted in Rome points out that street art is continuing to be promoted as a way of rejuvenating neglected suburbs and that six more stations have opened up on Metro C. Additionally, the Pope has announced next year to be a special Holy Year dedicated to the 'mercy of God', and Rome has just launched a bid for the 2024 Olympics, which if successful hopes to award medals inside the Colosseum.

Every city has its problems, and some commentators have recommended an approach of 'zero tolerance' for Rome, similar to that which mayor Rudy Giuliani implemented in the 1990s in New York. This approach draws on the 'broken windows theory', that if minor violations are tolerated, much more serious crimes will flourish. It is hoped that a policy such as this, combined with rooting out corruption, and investing in infrastructure, will help Rome recover from its current bad fortune. Mr Tonielli, founder of the website Roma fa Schifo (Rome is disgusting) told The Telegraph: 'We need a complete change of mentality. New York in the nineties was very similar to how Rome is now – there was corruption, it was dirty, nobody paid when they travelled on the metro, there was graffiti.' However, even Mr Tonielli has not given up hope: 'It can be done. It is not irrecoverable.'

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