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Analysis. Two small public beaches will now require reservations 24 hours in advance and older teenagers will not be allowed unaccompanied.

Naples restricts access to public beaches for securitarian reasons

To use a public beach here, there’s a reservation which has to be made through the online portal, and it doesn’t matter if you’re 80 years old and don’t know what a password or the internet is. Then there’s a ban on minors unaccompanied by an adult, even if they can already get a driver’s license. And you also need to plan your time at the beach at least 24 hours in advance, because last-minute reservations are not allowed.

Welcome to Naples, a seaside city where swimming and sunbathing have become a complicated affair. It all started with COVID, when the need for distancing and prevention convinced the City Council and Port Authority to impose a limit on the number of visitors to two of the city’s very few non-concession beaches: Palazzo Donn’Anna and Lido delle Monache in Posillipo. Similarly, there was a cap on admissions to Cala San Basilio and Zone B of the Gaiola underwater park. The coronavirus is now a memory, but the Manfredi administration and, in particular, Councillor Edoardo Cosenza (an engineer and university professor who holds the portfolio for Transport and Infrastructure and also for the sea area) hasn’t backtracked at all.

In summer 2023, the administration signed memorandums of understanding with the Port Authority, the operators of the Bagno Elena and Ideal private bathing establishments (adjacent to the Donn’Anna municipal beach) and the operator of Bagno Sirena (bordering the Monache municipal beach). The drafts of identical documents for summer 2024 have already been published on the Port Authority’s notice board. They stipulate that no more than 25 people will be allowed at once on the sandy shore overlooking the Palazzo Donn’Anna – a small non-concession strip of a beach that is otherwise almost entirely assigned to private operators. The only access is from the entrance of the Ideal or Bagno Elena private beaches, with the onus on the concession holders to verify that would-be bathers have a reservation by scanning the code on their smartphones.

Those who want to go through the Bagno Elena entrance have to jump through extra hoops: the agreements say that they must not go through the main gate on Via Posillipo, but through the secondary gate on Via Sermoneta.

That’s more than a little unusual: to reach the destination (the free beach, which is about 100 meters from the entrance) you have to crouch down like you’re entering enemy territory, under a pier about a meter and a half high that juts a few meters into the sea. If you’re willing to get your feet wet, that would still be tolerable; the problem is you’ll keep banging your head against the wooden planks of the structure of the bathing establishment.

The protocol for the Lido delle Monache beach sets a limit of 450 simultaneous attendees. The document that will limit access to Cala San Basilio has not yet been published, but is expected within days.

The reason invoked by the municipality and the Port Authority for these continued restrictions is safety: “Although the health emergency has ended,” the draft agreement for the summer of 2024 reads, “there remains the need to guarantee conditions of safe use for the public beach, with has free and unrestricted access, due to the overcrowding arising as a result of the small size of the beach.”

The possibility of revising the concessions instead, shrinking the areas assigned to private operators, is not even contemplated. In the coming summer, we will again have to witness the disheartening scenes of bouncers manning the beach entrances and the need to show a reservation code on one’s smartphone.

Those who don’t want to submit to all of that will have to make their way to Mappatella Beach, on the Caracciolo seafront, where there is no limit to the number of bathers, but where (in spite of the obsession with safety that seems to emerge from the memorandums of understanding with the managers of the private bathing establishments) there is also no concern for their safety. No lifeguards at all, on a beach frequented by many hundreds of people on a daily basis, Neapolitans, immigrants and tourists.

“The reintroduction of the admissions cap on free beaches is the offspring of a securitarian model to which people resort because they have been unable or unwilling to develop models of usability,” says Prof. Alberto Lucarelli, who teaches Constitutional Law at the Federico II University of Naples. “Closing down is easy. What is more difficult is employing staff and resources to ensure services while keeping them open to all. These choices by the municipality and the Port Authority are a burden on the less well-off and accentuate the differences between the haves and have-nots. They are the result of an inability to manage public affairs.”

The memorandums of understanding that limit the number of bathers come after activists from the Free Sea Committee have been pressing the city administration and the Port Authority for several months on the issue of access to the city’s beaches. They had to file two appeals before the Administrative Tribunal to ensure that there would still be access to the Donn’Anna beach during the months when the Bagno Elena private establishment was closed. The Committee are now preparing for new protest initiatives, similar to those they organized last summer, when the restricted beaches were cheerfully landed on via sea and land. The renewed restrictions have been published just days after the regional council approved the state-owned land use plan (PUAD), which reserves only 30 percent of Campania’s coastline for free beaches.

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