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Commentary. The main problem of development and tourism in the South is not the absence of museums, or historical or archaeological parks towns to visit, but it is the disappearance of the landscape, the destruction of a collective knowledge represented by the cultural heritage.

Italy’s South needs a ‘New Deal’ to save its culture

Italy has a unique asset in its enormous cultural heritage built over more than 30 centuries ago, which harmoniously connects our ancient cities, museums, churches, archaeological sites and the buildings of our historical centers embedded in the landscape. The landscape is the image, or the mirror, of reason and as such, it entails — for those who work there, erect buildings, build squares, streets and schools therefore changing the outlook — an intimate participation in the right to enjoy it, to rejoice in it and appreciate its beauty.

The devastation of much of the landscape and the cities, especially in the South, is, unfortunately, proof that the recognition and production of beauty are activities that citizens, especially in the South, have not exercised, understood and internalized for too long. The citizens and leaders of the South have not understood yet (they have not wanted to understand) that with the disappearance of the landscape and the ancient cities, a fundamental psychological nexus of identity formation came unhinged. The stability of a place ensures for society a sense of perpetuity, able to maintain the individual and collective identity.

In a cultural climate in which aesthetic values ​​tend to be anti-functional and uneconomical because they cannot be measured in terms of efficiency and economics, the fact that one of the Southern cities, Matera, has been chosen as the European culture capital instills hope in us Southerners.

The agricultural landscape of the South that seemed motionless at the end of World War II, in the eyes of Silone and even Pasolini, has been devastated and consumed on a more and more impetuous rate since the 1950s. Since the 1980s, the commodification of the soil and the agricultural landscape underwent further and violent acceleration. In Italy, between 1990 and 2005, as many as 17 percent of the utilized agricultural area was built over or degraded.

Calabria is at the top of this negative ranking with over 26 percent of the soil consumed, led by Liguria, with 27 percent (according to Istat), with the inevitable hydrogeological disarray that follows. Another statistic (Ispra 2014) tells us that by 2001, as many as seven out of 10 rooms of Italian housing had been built in just the previous 55 years, and that the land consumption per capita in 1950 was 178 square meters. It went up to 286 square meters by 1989, and 369 square meters in 2012.

The huge loss of land was more dramatic in the southern regions, first of all in Calabria with 1,243,643 dwellings including 482,736 empty ones, for a little less than two million people, resulting in the highest percentage of empty dwellings, 38 percent (Istat). And if in Lombardy there are five inhabitants per building, in Tuscany just over four, about five in Lazio. In the southern regions, however, we have less than three inhabitants per building in Sardinia and Sicily, and only 2.5 inhabitants in Calabria.

The most noticeable increase in illegal housing is observed in Molise, Calabria and Basilicata, which record between 2002 and 2010 average rates of about 35 percent of new homes (25 percent in Basilicata). Calabria has 798 kilometers of coastline, of which 523 (65 percent of the total) are urbanized, transformed by legal and illegal human intervention. According to a research by the University of Reggio Calabria, there were 5,210 illegal buildings on the Calabrian coast: one every 153 meters.

These data highlight that the current inability of the South to distinguish, preserve and produce beauty is a pathological condition of the individual and collective psyche. Ugliness creates disharmony. It causes an inability to distinguish the good from the bad, the true from the false, the fair from the unfair. It causes an addiction to the absence of aesthetic and moral rules, it generates a widespread immorality, and thus the ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra and the Mafia.

The main problem of development and tourism in the South is not the absence of museums, or historical or archaeological parks towns to visit, but it is the disappearance of the landscape, the destruction of a collective knowledge represented by the cultural heritage. It’s a heritage that interacts systemically with a rich and living enological and gastronomic substrate, with the age-old tradition of our agricultural biodiversity, with a suitable hotel structures and an unpolluted sea.

In short, we need a new ruling class of the South to bear this collective intellectual knowledge, able to conceive and execute a gigantic and far-reaching rehabilitation plan of the territories, seas, forests, rivers and coastlines that can immediately put to work tens of thousands of young people.

One of the first acts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal was to design and finance a giant land restoration plan that in 1933 employed hundreds of thousands of young men between the ages of 18 and 25. In the following years, two million workers — dubbed as “Roosevelt’s Army of trees” — planted 200 million trees, rebuilt the banks of torrents, built artificial lakes for fishing, built dams and road bypasses, dug irrigation canals, built bridges, fought tree diseases, cleaned up beaches and vacant lots.

This is what we need for the South: a new deal based on the restoration of natural and historic landscapes, agrarian and urban landscapes. A new deal in which the “profitability” of our natural and historical heritage lies not only in its marketing, but in that deep sense of belonging, identification and citizenship that would create the material and immaterial recomposition of places and landscapes.

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