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Formula One Races and EUR

January 10, 2011
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The Third Rome Rises out of a sea of cars
One of the more controversial proposals in Rome this year is to the hosting of a Formula 1 car race around and through the metaphysical 20th century urban quarter of EUR.  You know the red Ferraris,  revving engines and screeching tires. Now picture this against the backdrop of monumental but melancholic white travertine facades.  Despite being perhaps Rome’s most adamant proponent of car-free urbanism,  I’m the first to admit that the image is compelling.  After all, that is the way cars should be used, as an occasional, exceptional thrill, not an intrusive, invasive presence in our neighborhoods. Like snow-boarding—it’s great once in a while, but it would be a pain to have that thing attached to your feet when you go about your daily life.
The only reason I don’t just bless the proposal and leave it at that is that like so many other “temporary” or “ephemeral” or more and more frequently “emergency” events, the EUR Formula 1 race is being used as an excuse to bypass laws that protect green space and ensure appropriate urban growth, allowing real estate speculators to build where normally the city’s Master Plan prohibits building.  We’ve seen this happen in Rome with the World Cup, the Jubilee, the world Swimming Championships, and even this year’s anniversary of Italian Unification, in Sardinia and l’Aquila for the G8, and in countless other examples. Even Milan’s Expo 2015 has been declared an emergency, ushering in planning variances. In all of these cases the results are temporary benefits and inconveniences for the local community, windfall profits for a few businesses that are often personally or politically tied to the decision making process, and long-term, irrevocable damage to the urban and natural environment.
I am not well-enough informed about the EUR F1 proposal to state that this is another such case but, given the tradition, the risk is great. Before endorsing it I would want to see a failsafe guarantee that the benefits would be long-lasting.  The best way to do this, especially in terms of its cultural message, would be to tie the revenue from the F1 directly to projects to eliminate cars from EUR. Improvements to public transit, pedestrian areas and bicycle paths could all be funded directly or indirectly by the race. The image of EUR might return to that of a surreal, poetic city with a few cool fast cars and not the dysfunctional traffic jam it has become.  For more images of EUR see my flickR stream or my Rome Photo Blog.
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