Commentary. We have disfigured or endangered our great agro-forestry heritage. We have done violence to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

Misplaced priorities, Italy’s infrastructure and heritage are crumbling

More than a century ago, more precisely in 1904, Giustino Fortunato, one of the most prestigious of the Italian “southernists,” called Calabria a “scrap of land teetering above the sea,” describing both the hydrogeological fragility of its territory and the neglect of the ruling class. Today, this image can be easily applied to the entire Italian territory, from Piedmont to Sicily: when traveling across our country, one encounters an endless succession of territories devastated by earthquakes, floods, landslides, abandonment and environmental degradation.

All this has been known for decades, and has been repeatedly denounced by urban planners, geologists, engineers, agronomists and landscape architects. But there has never been an adequate response from the governments that have ruled this country in recent decades. And today, the issue of our territorial disaster is further aggravated by climate change, which is producing “extreme events” with increasing frequency and intensity (a subject on which we have written many times in this newspaper). 

“Water bombs,” a neologism coined just a few years ago, are increasingly devastating, tornadoes are repeatedly hitting regions like Sicily where they used to be a rarity, and winds are increasingly violent and unsustainable, like the phenomenon that hit the Belluno region last year, with such destructiveness to trees as had never been seen before in Italy. And we could go on, but it seems to us that we are speaking to those who are unwilling to hear, to become aware and to act. 

Instead, we continue to invest billions of euros in useless projects such as the MOSE, or in studies amounting to science fiction, such as those that have been piled up in support of a fanciful idea: the bridge over the Strait of Messina. Meanwhile, the country’s territory continues to be cemented over. A piece of land as large as four soccer fields is cemented over every minute in Italy, despite the fact that experts have pointed out that our territory needs many other types of interventions instead, starting with the protection of our national heritage.

We have disfigured or endangered our great agro-forestry heritage: it’s enough to think of the devastating fires happening every summer, the abandonment of land in hilly and mountainous areas and the neglect of terraces that used to prevent floods. We have done violence to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world by allowing so much real estate speculation in a country with a growing number of unused housing units. 

For too long, we have let the mafias manage our great archaeological heritage as they saw fit, only to realize just recently that even the famous Riace Warriors were involved in the machinations of organized crime (see Dan Faton, Il cammino degli eroi, Ed. Dante Alighieri, Rome, 2018). 

We are tormented every day by worries about these ridiculous percentages of GDP growth—zero point something, if we are blessed by the good graces of the experts—while we don’t have any way to account for the state of our national heritage, with quantitative and qualitative parameters. 

But rather what we actually need is to judge the government on this latter basis. We should judge them by how they’ve acted with regard to our river heritage, on the basis of the quantity and quality of the activities for environmental cleanup and restoring the safety of our waterways. We should judge them by how they’ve protected our historical-architectural heritage, based on how many historical buildings have been renovated and how many public buildings have been put into proper condition, starting with schools. We should judge them by the state of our great archaeological heritage, especially in Magna Graecia, where we find valuable sites on which goats and sheep still grazed until a few years ago, and are still largely underestimated and mismanaged. 

In short, we are behaving just like the Palermo nobility, so well described by Tomasi Lampedusa and more recently by Stefania Auci in her great novel The Florios of Sicily, who abandoned prestigious ancient buildings and fertile lands to decay, devoting themselves to gambling, useless luxuries and vanity villas, while the population suffered and the lands dried up.

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