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If you don’t like it here…

May 10, 2011

It is early May and I am sitting at my terrace table, in the shade but appreciating the perfect temperature, the fragrant breeze mixing lemon buds and jasmine.  I complain a lot about Rome in this blog, but have to acknowledge that this place where I live is not so bad. Really.

I’ve frequently been asked “the question”, often by victims of my more tiresome rants. It usually takes the form “what the hell are you doing here? why don’t you go back to where you came from?” or something even less polite. These are not exactly questions to which there are rational answers, like “why did you choose Princeton?” I certainly am not in Rome for professional success or economic opportunity.   I have no doubt that, had I stayed in the US, I would have a busy, lucrative architectural practice and/or a tenure track academic post.  And while my family is now an Italian one, my marriage to a wonderful Italian woman was not the determining factor here. My move here has more to do with aura, with quality, with the poetics of urban life, with lots of un-namable phenomena which add up to something great.  So in this and upcoming posts I will attempt the impossible, to enumerate my answers to “the question”.  And in so doing, hopefully shed some light on why this “still sustainable city” could become again a model for ecological urbanism and not its antithesis.

Reason N. 1   There are no simple solutions in Rome.

Here the site for any project is already rich in context, not just history but presences, traces left by history.  Every problem requires a discussion, an openness to opinions, a recognition of values and diversity.  Often solutions seem irrational at first, a surrender to compromise, until over time they are shown to fit rather than dominate. The Theatre of Marcellus, begun by Caesar, completed under Augustus, transformed to a fortress, to a palazzo, to condominiums, but always enriched, never reduced to single idea or image. I am here for the Theatre of Marcellus and countless such places.

Cultural production, like biodiversity, has a tendency to get more sophisticated over time unless interfered with and in Rome this has been going on with peaks and valleys for almost 3,000 years. For Paolo Soleri “the complexification and miniaturization of the city enables radical conservation of land, energy and resources” and unlike “City-from-scratch” projects like Soleri’s own Arcosanti or Jacque Fresco’s Venus Project (both of which I actually appreciate), Rome has demonstrated its robustness. It is no longer in beta.

So the very complexity which for many is a negative trait, a hindrance to “progress”, is my reason n. 1 for loving this city.

(stay tuned for Reasons 2-7)  click here for Reasons 2-5
2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2011 21:39

    I agree with number 1, and many of the others. We often use the word palimpsest to characterize this layering of history in Rome. It’s most obvious architecturally and archaeologically, but I think you also see this comfort with the complex in other elements of Roman culture, such as language, art, and politics. Food and wine less so. There the quality seems to be simplicity and honesty.



  1. If you don’t like it…(part 2) « still sustainable city blog: ROME

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