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Green Tour of Italy: Is the Eternal City Eternally Sustainable?
My current location: on the train from Roma to Firenze following the first leg of my Green Tour of Italy. My purpose: to examine sustainability in ancient and contemporary Italian architecture. Later this week and next, I'll post details and images of the buildings. For today, some random ramblings.
Rome is a chaotic, noisy, crowded, and utterly irresistible city. I can not possibly describe it any better than Bill Bryson in his wonderful book, "Neither Here Nor There."
"I love the way Italians park. You turn any street corner in Rome and it looks as though you've just missed a parking competition for blind people...Italians will park anywhere. All over the city you will see them bullying their cars into spaces about the size of a sofa cushion, If the opening is too small for a car, Italians will decorate it with litter.
Italians are entirely without any commitment to order. They live their lives in a kind of pandemonium, which I find very attractive. They don't queue, they don't pay their taxes, they don't turn up for appointments on time, they don't undertake any sort of labour without a small bribe, they don't believe in rules at all.
At the time of my visit, the Italians were working their way through their forty-eighth government in forty-five years. The country has the social structure of a banana republic, yet the amazing thing is that it thrives."
Given its chaos, how does Rome survive and thrive? I asked my travel mates to explain Rome's improbable character. Without hesitation each cited the Italian's love of place and their strong national identity that has sustained their culture. The Roman or Italian model is not the quicker, faster, better pace we seem to be mired in but rather a life style centered on preservation achieved through adaptation and innovation. It's astonishing really that a city that was buried for centuries has dug itself out to so consistently sustain its culture and tradition.
The concept of sustainability is tricky. Granted, change is inevitable but is status quo momentarily enough or must we be incrementally and constantly improving? Clearly we must do both simultaneously in order to sustain and progress. We toured Tassulo, a company developing materials compatible with ancient materials and technologies for modern restoration by quarrying limestone and clay from the earth without defacing the land to use in the historic restoration of Italy.
This represents an ideal solution for this place, a method to restore human habitat with minimal site disturbance. In place of surface mining Tassulo extracts clay and limestone through an ingenious tunneling system that creates no waste and uses only hydro electric power. When complete the tunnels will end as cisterns to supply water to the apple orchards above.
Through the lens of this trip, comparing the ancient--oh, the brilliance of the Pantheon--and modern Italy, I'm convinced that sustainability's essence lies in love and preservation of place. That which we love we will sustain--home, work, and most of all community. Something to ponder...