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Rome’s Tiber “Beach”

September 2, 2018

Rivers are amazing resources for cities, but they need ideas, projects and above all maintenance and regulation. With the localized exception of Piazza Tevere with site-specific art projects such as William Kentridge’s Triumphs and Laments,  Rome has had none of these for years.  So I was happy to hear word of the city’s plans to make a riverfront beach resort, Tiberus, in the abandoned Marconi area.

It opened late this summer (the delays already a sign that it wasn’t the best planned project) and the reviews were less than stellar.  A recent New York Times article sums them up well, including my own take on the idea ( I had yet to visit the beach itself).

My own scouting trip in mid August confirmed my suspicions that it is better than nothing, but pretty pathetic for a European capital city, especially after seeing the riverfronts of Paris, Madrid, Berlin, etc.

It is sad because the river has such potential and there are so many smart, creative people committed to bringing it back to life. If only they would be invited to the table to come up with innovative solutions and put them into effect!

Beaches need water. Ideally (and realistically given some time and money) the river should be clean enough for swimming. It was until at least the 1960s after all (as testified by Pasolini’s Accattone and other films). But if not, a swimming pool like the one that used to be installed near Ponte Sant’Angelo would be nice. Instead, Tiberus has only ugly plastic port-a-potties converted to showers.

The river is urban, and a key part of any design should be the point of arrival from urban neighborhoods  At Tiberus the walk from residential neighborhoods is still through a no-man’s land of traffic, dangerous cross-walks, shadeless and trash-filled space. And when you finally think you have arrived there is a parking lot(!) and a confusing, poorly-marked entry.

It’s all about the river, but the river’s edge is barely visible. Visitors to Tiberus are blocked from even approaching the river’s edge, as if it were a toxic site to be avoided and not Rome’s most important natural, green infrastructure.

On a positive note, a few people were using it when I visited and seemed happy to have beach chairs and umbrellas to call their own at no cost (and Rome’s real beach, Ostia Lido, you have to pay handsomely to private companies for the privilege).

As with any discussion of Rome’s Tiber river it quickly becomes clear that big issues are at stake. The river is polluted; cleaning it should be high-priority. In 2016 engineer Antonio Tamburrino presented the Mayor with a proposal which would achieve this at no cost to the city but to date there has been no response. Let’s look at cities like London and Berlin and try to do even better.

Public spaces in the city are dominated by automobiles and inhospitable to pedestrians (as the approach to Tiberis reminds us). A real program of public space design competitions would address this.

Tiberus gets us talking about the Tiber, which is a good thing. Now that we are talking, rather than just complaining about how lame it is it would be great to actually work on fulfilling the river’s potential.

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