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Green living

Complaints against the concrete cities, the overcrowded coastlines, and the landscapes ruined by encroaching construction are well known. The list of complaints filed by the association Italia Nostra now covers virtually all Italian parklands, which once possessed unsurpassed levels of beauty.

But to face a modern reconstruction project nowadays, the complaint itself must be expressed in modern terms. Parklands are no longer defensible merely as green spaces in which to preserve the primitive, pristine environment (seen as a sort of botanical garden such as were so dear to British culture in the 1600s, to the Enlightenment movement, and to Positivism), nor are they defensible as singular, unrepeatable landscapes so dear to romantics. In modern terms, parklands should be seen as a fundamental need of humanity at the same level as roads, schools, homes, workplaces, and so on. Although an awareness of the importance of giving adequate space to the latter needs has made inroads, if slowly, here in Italy we are still far from a willingness to accept a certain quota of green space as an actual need.

 

Green space indices in Italy are among the lowest in the world. Milan has roughly two square metres of green space per inhabitant; Turin, two and half; Rome, two; whereas Vienna has 50; Helsinki, 80; Hamburg, 30; Berlin, 50; Munich, 160; Madrid, 90; Zurich, 55; Los Angeles, 30. Even the most crowded cities, such as Paris, have at least eight square metres; London, more than 10; Chicago, 20; Bonn, 14, and so on. But the saddest, most worrying thing is that, while other countries, as they become aware of the lack of greenery, seek to increase their indices, in Italy, all we have seen are very tentative steps in this direction. […]

The same could be said of national parks. The United States has 28 national parks covering 87,500 square kilometres (33,780 sq. mi), plus a whole series of reserves and other particularly protected areas for another 19,000 square kilometres (7,300 sq. mi). In the Soviet Union, there are some 200,000 square kilometres (77,200 sq. mi) of national parks and reserves as well as 40 other areas that have been declared nature reserves. In the United Kingdom, roughly 4% of the territory is in national parks and reserves, followed by Denmark, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, and so on. In Italy, at present only four national parks have been established, covering 1,770 square kilometres (680 sq. mi), or just 0.58% of the nation’s territory.

[…] The latest studies have shown that, in the coming years, society will tend to evolve rapidly into “urban sprawls” interrupted by green space. A decreasing portion of the population will be willing to accept “rural lifestyles”, and the need for an “urban lifestyle” will become the norm. But it would be a mistake to think that urban sprawls must necessarily be overcrowded. Green space will need to have two functions:

  • greenery as an integrative, complementary element in an urban space;
  • greenery as the dominant element in non-urban areas. […]

However, these two issues are not to be treated separately, neither economically nor urbanistically. These two dimensions of greenery must be distributed as a unit, in a balanced manner and in proportion to specific needs. But what is certain is that, in this redistribution/ reconstruction of greenery, we must consider the fact that three outdated concepts have definitively fallen away:

  • it is no longer possible to consider occupied (i.e. urbanised) spaces as being of lesser importance than empty spaces, […] since with the vertiginous increase in demographics (with the global population expected to double by the year 2000), space is now to be seen as an increasingly scarce resource, of a limited and limiting nature, because it cannot be reproduced or extended in any way. What was, until the 19th century, considered a practically infinite resource must, today, be seen as a rare resource, to be allocated with extreme care;
  • nor is it possible to see empty space as a resource of only minimal economic value. Indeed, even in the most secondary of areas, greenery is not just a social asset; it is an asset that will increasingly be of significant economic value. No economist today can consider school, healthcare, or similar services to be just a social commodity. These things are reflected in benefits to the global economy in the form of career training, job skills, consistency in attendance, and more. In the same way, green spaces cannot be seen solely as spaces for rest and relaxation, but rather as an essential condition for the enjoyment of lengthy free time (e.g. yearly holidays), for domestic and international tourism (dynamic holidays), and for shorter free time (weekends, sports activities, etc.). Creating spaces for tourism and free time also means creating spaces for the actual enjoyment of that free time. Of course, these spaces must not be seen solely as something outside of and far from the urban sprawls, but also within and close to them, rather than something requiring an “escape from the city”, which entails pointless social costs and a colossal waste of infrastructures with levels of traffic congestion the likes of which we have never before seen. What we would like to achieve, and what we can achieve, is a balanced, civil enjoyment of free time and a useful series of activities within that free time, actually enjoyed, without waste;
  • finally, it is no longer possible to continue with this propensity to own two homes, one in the city and one in some untamed, primitive location. There simply isn’t enough space. Continuing down this path, all we would achieve is having one residence in an overcrowded metropolis and another residence in a place that is anything but isolated and pristine and that is, conversely, dotted with countless small residences packed in one next to the other. Therefore, we must find another solution, that of creating urban spaces with balanced greenery and landscapes and other natural areas equipped predominantly for revolving use at various times and in all seasons.

But before we look at how to solve this problem in detail, we must first determine what spaces we actually have at our disposal.

Although there is cause for concern in this ongoing race to occupy space, an optimistic note can be found in the gradual depopulation of the mountains and of the countryside, by which one could foresee, so long as we actively intervene in the process, the potential to win back vast, interesting landscapes beyond those that have traditionally been seen as touristic and enjoyable. But this winning back of green spaces requires precise intervention: reforestation; water regulation; road construction; the reclamation of natural environments; and so on. In order to achieve this, to broaden the areas deemed to be suited to being used for tourism and free time, significant spending will be required. This cost can only be supported to the extent to which the green spaces are seen as being more than “green for green’s sake”, but rather as one element of an organised system in which the costs can be amortised over the course of an organic plan that calls for shared tools and infrastructures for agriculture, industry, tourism, and other services. A vast fabric of tools and infrastructure will be able to serve them all as an economically positive unit without placing these diverse realms in conflict with one another.

Based on this standard, it will then be possible to win back green space. Although 4,000 kilometres of the total of 8,000 kilometres of Italian coastline are already occupied or compromised, it may be possible to make the other 4,000 functional, even if in hard-to-reach areas, by dealing with the issues of both agricultural and industrial development of the underdeveloped areas. […]

The use of motor vehicles can help to largely overcome the system of “fixed” points, whether they be on the coast or inland, and to replace it with a system of major circuits of penetration that take advantage of entire segments of coastline, mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, and so on throughout the country. With this system of circuits, we would be able to establish programmes of great interest: coastlines, inland areas, historical city centres, modern city centres of interest, theatre districts, permanent exhibits, film festivals, and more. […] This broader concept of green space goes well beyond the outdated concept of “tourism hub” that has been derived, improperly, from the concept of “industrial hub”. Whereas an industrial hub is a justifiable economic model, a tourism hub is not justifiable even from this economic viewpoint. […] The “tertiary model” must have its own, unique characteristics, which may be summarised as follows:

  • implement as little as possible distributed forms of parcels that occupy a greater space, generate greater service costs, destroy the landscape in the severest of manners, and do not allow for the adoption of new solutions. […]
  • concentrate, instead, both on single-family homes and on collective housing in certain specific points. […]
  • create systems of residence time sharing by way of hotels, residence houses, and rental properties;
  • design housing in a manner that can be used both on a revolving basis and on a multi-seasonal basis in order to serve local residents in their ongoing use of their free time, the Italian public for their holidays long and short, and the international public that may enjoy their holidays in times of the year that differ from Italian customs;
  • include all initiatives for tourism and free time within the framework of regional solutions of urban planning, to include economic activities in agriculture and industry, so that the overall costs of tools and infrastructures can be distributed and not weigh solely on the tertiary sector.

[…] Therefore, all of this calls for both efforts of informed, responsible conservation and the informed, active creation of beautiful landscapes in increasingly vast areas. Under this concept, we are far from the (justifiably) limiting museum projects or the archaeological conservation of nature in small areas reserved for original flora and fauna. […]

Once the public realises that green spaces are a social and economic asset essential to development, it will be possible for us all to take part in caring for and preserving them, as is already happening in countries like Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and others. And only when we are able to extend awareness of this need throughout all of Italy will organisations and individuals far and wide be able to act in concert to preserve and extend one of the most important resources of society both now and, even more so, into the future. […]

Once again, in today’s world, the greater challenges solve the lesser ones. A green policy on a national scale can also provide Italy with solutions to the individual challenges that hold us back every day and from which there may appear to be no way out.

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