Friday, December 09, 2011

Lessons of via Faentina, part 3

The street where I live becomes my miscreant muse:
the third installment in a series about quality-of-life issues
in the cradle of the Renaissance.

Dear Readers,

If you've travelled much in Europe, you know that those charming old cities--with their twisting, Medieval streets and historic centers--have had to come to terms with modern life in the form of population density, traffic congestion, and pollution. Many of these European cities (think Munich) have used ingenious methods to provide cutting-edge solutions to these problems, and have demonstrated a commitment to making their cities more livable places. Their priorities are clear: rather than privilege the automobile, they instead give precedence to public transportation, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

This past January, Legambiente (an environmental/cultural watchdog group) named Florence the most polluted city in Italy among those in its survey. The picture is grim, and thus far, not much is being done to alleviate the situation. The Mayor has closed off many streets to traffic in the historic downtown, but this has only served to funnel that erstwhile congestion in other directions--creating some really dangerous traffic "corridors" out of previously peaceful cobblestone byways--and making the viali which circumnavigate the city practically boil with the overflow. The Mayor has introduced bike-sharing--but this is like putting the cart before the horse: there aren't enough bike lanes in the city to make this yet a viable option. Those bike lanes that do exist are disjointed and sporadic, often poorly marked, and typically hampered by illegally parked cars, delivery trucks and other obstacles. And because of the very real traffic problems and the speeds with which it is allowed to travel, most people view biking around Florence as a fool's undertaking.

True, there is the new Tramvia which heads out to Scandicci from the city center, and there are plans for a second line--but this is too little, too late. Florence needs more. Now.

This video, presented by La Nazione, discusses Florence's rating as the most polluted city in the country. It's in Italian, but the images are worth watching if you don't understand the language. In it, city residents talk of poor air quality, the unreliability of public transportation, and the difficulty in getting around after the Mayor's recent traffic hocus pocus. It highlights the futility of things like bike-sharing when other problems have not yet been addressed. As one man puts it, "Everyone wants to get around by car and so to me it seems absurd to then talk of pollution--it's like a dog chasing its tail, no? Let's make a decision." *

I've lived here long enough to see that via Faentina's problems are Florence's problems. Traffic issues are endemic and citywide, affecting all residents, all the time

Let's make a decision, indeed.

Yours as always,


* Anecdote: an Italian mum in the neighborhood told me that--rather than walk six minutes to the elementary school--she prefers to always drive because "there's so much pollution on via Faentina," and she doesn't want her son breathing the foul air. On behalf of the rest of us, who do walk, I was tempted to thank her.

For more Lessons of via Faentina, click on the label below.

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