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Reasons 5 through 7

June 11, 2011

the magical coastal town of Sperlonga, just a train ride away

Here’s the next and final installation in my answers to the big question that people like my friend Fulvio Abbate always ask, “perche’ non torni a Boston?” (why don’t you go back to where you come from)?  For parts 1-4 see previous posts.

Reason # 5.  In Rome, frugality has yet to be completely replaced by waste.  I come from a culture of abundance which has bred an economy based on scarcity. The more you have and the more you consume and discard, the higher your status. In Rome, by contrast, conspicuous waste earns little respect, and excess is often not of consumption but of less tangible things with less direct material impact. A bureaucratic procedure might take an excessively long time, but the outcome won’t be any lasting damage, just like an excruciatingly (for me) long Italian meal doesn’t mean eating more than at a fast-paced American one. Romans are famous for talking, a lot, before taking action but while action often has negative consequences (consumption of resources, emissions, toxicity, etc.) talk rarely does.  This ties back into the discussion of quality in Reason 4: one great pair of shoes is often better than a dozen mediocre ones (which leave only a desire for me, further spurring a cycle of waste).

Reason  # 6.  Variety and difference can never be overrated. I live in a place where in this season I can leave home and be skiing in snow-peaked mountains or swimming at a sun-drenched beach or hiking in a forested national park or exploring the backstreets of small medieval hill-towns, all within a couple of hours. Without even leaving Rome I can bicycle through dnese historical alleys, through wide open parks to grand modern neighborhoods, the normal contrasts one sees in most cities amplified by design.  In moments I can pass from the bustling asian markets of the Esquiline to the chic little streets of Monti, after weaving through the nuns and the prostitutes around Santa Maria Maggiore. romans are a minority, if not nearing extinctions, in one of Europe’s most multi-ethnic cities, and in my book this kind of diversity is fantastic. Cultural diversity, like bio-diversity, only makes the species more resilient.

Reason  # 7. The public sphere has yet to be entirely swallowed by privatization.  I can live a rich and varied life in Rome, only rarely turning to private services for my needs. My children go to good public schools, one of the great attractions of Italy currently under attack.  When we need health care, it is well-provided publicly.  I can get around the city and the country (really the entire European continent) on public buses, trams and trains.  Even without paying for entry into Rome’s countless museums I never lack aesthetic and cultural stimulus in a city where every square, every church, every garden is rich in treasures.

In conclusion, I think Rome (and Italy in general) is at a tipping point, having started to copy some of the worst aspects of American culture, from our bad commercial television to our huge big box stores, from our obsession with money to our blind addiction to cars, from the shopping mall to urban sprawl.  But luckily it’s still not too late for Romans to recognize what a good thing they stand to loose and change course. In fact, what is disappearing is the very quality that other developed nations are trying to achieve.  It would be ironic indeed if Rome were to make the mistakes American cities made twenty years ago right at the time we are trying to learn smart urbanism from traditional Italian examples.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2011 14:42

    Wonderful, keep it up thanks.


  2. June 15, 2011 08:31

    Great post and I completely agree with your conclusion. I hope Rome’s taste with the “dark side” is enough and that it doesn’t spread any further, but with huge commercial centers popping up at an incredibly rate – it doesn’t bode well.


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