Reportage. A historic pharmacy is getting kicked out to make way for wealthy tourists. The building codes are being rewritten. There’s more and more pressure on the urban core. “Certain spaces, when they are still functioning, should be protected,” the Uffizi Gallery director, “because they represent an intangible heritage and are part of the fabric of this city.”

‘Consumer’ urbanism is consuming Florence

The imminent eviction of the historical pharmacy in Piazza San Felice in the Oltrarno neighborhood, opened in 1810, from a building that is set to become yet another residence for wealthy tourists, is bringing under the spotlight, in these final days of the election campaign, the theme of “consumeristic” urban planning.

In response to the eviction, a group of residents from the neighborhood of San Frediano, Florence’s own “rive gauche,” have launched a petition addressed to Mayor Nardella. But the owners of the building have already filed for the cancellation of the pharmacy’s lease, and have petitioned for the removal of the constraints set by the Superintendence for Architectural, Landscape, Historical, Artistic and Ethno-anthropological Heritage for the Provinces of Florence, Pistoia and Prato on the uses of the building, classed as a historical monument.

Among the signatories of the petition we find the director of the Uffizi Gallery, Eike Schmidt, who lives in the Oltrarno. “If the pharmacy were to close, I would be shocked. It would be a very bad signal,” she said. “Certain spaces, when they are still functioning, should be protected, because they represent an intangible heritage and are part of the fabric of this city. As someone who lives in this neighborhood, I say this: we will not sell off the Oltrarno.”

But everything seems to be moving in precisely that direction. The city administration has already announced that in March it will launch the procedure for approving a new building code.

The proposed changes would allow renovations—including changes in destination and changes in the distribution of the rooms—even for buildings with protected status as heritage objects, which in the UNESCO area of the old town represent 42 percent of all buildings, and even for those under the protection of the Superintendence.

To justify the change, which has been greeted with great enthusiasm by the local Confindustria business association and the ANCE association of real estate developers, the officials in the Palazzo Vecchio are invoking, as usual, the fight against urban decay and unsafe conditions: “The need to give new functions to existing assets is not only a necessity for urban planning,“ says local councilman Giovanni Bettarini, “but also a social need, tied to the necessity of reconditioning the ‘black holes’ in the city, and avoiding the phenomena of physical and social degradation which are often collateral effects of the existence of abandoned buildings.”

But in actual fact, as the many critics of this proposal point out, in a Florence which is becoming more and more of an artistic theme park for tourists, the so-called “black holes” are rare and found only on the outskirts.

There is nothing like that in the glittering and overcrowded city center, where each living space is under incessant pressure, in which the various enterprises such as Airbnb, and similar are complicit.

It is no coincidence that Florence was chosen as the site for the event organized by Potere al Popolo with the theme “Overcoming neo-capitalist policies regarding territories and cities,” which brought together many of the signatories of the appeal entitled “The right to change: a healthy and livable habitat,” published by il manifesto and signed by well-known names such as Edoardo Salzano, Vezio De Lucia, Enzo Scandurra, Sergio Brenna, Ilaria Agostini, Ilaria Boniburini, Guido Viale and Maria Pia Guermandi.

“It is an opportunity to have those at the forefront of Italian urban planning around the same discussion table,” said Ornella De Zordo about the event, “including two who are candidates for Potere al Popolo, Sergio Brenna and Ilaria Boniburini.”

It was also an opportunity to denounce, as Enzo Scandurra did, the transformations of cities made exclusively in the name of market forces, and which have produced urban environments that are less and less livable, while legislative and regulatory developments have been geared only towards facilitating the requirements of those same forces, with no attention paid to the public interest and the people themselves.

For instance, as Sergio Brenna explains, “the issues of land, the cities and the environment are now in the hands of financial speculators, who only need to go to Milan and say ‘I want to do this’, while the public administration settles for a very small say. Exactly how it used to happen in the ‘50s and ‘60s.”

“The tools available for urban planning are adapting,” Ilaria Agostini concluded, “taking up concepts, methods and vocabulary borrowed from the realm of finance and economics: builder loans, the securitization of public real estate, financial evaluation, premiums, negotiations, contracts. Cities have become ‘smart,’ reduced to brands vying with each other as part of the global competition. And living space is changing from a right to an object of investment, on the same level as merchandise and financial instruments.”


Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!