mercoledì 7 novembre 2007


In the local newspaper today, it was reported that there are 800 premature deaths each year in Milan as a direct result of air pollution. The city council's latest idea to help combat the problem is the introduction of a congestion charge, along the lines of the system adopted by London, to discourage drivers from using their cars in the city centre. Whilst in principle, I like the idea and am totally in agreement that something needs to be done, in practice I ask myself how such a revolutionary plan will be executed and maintained in a city where even the most basic rules and regulations go ignored (and the ignoring goes unpunished) on a daily basis. If it takes the city administration anything up to 6 months to process a residency request, and even a year to provide a Permesso di Soggiorno, where the hell are they going to find the necessary resources to manage such a system? Plus, when the congestion charge was introduced in London, the city council spent months planning and implementing a whole new road system, adapted the traffic lights, and tripled the public transport links within the centre. It is not uncommon to wait half an hour for a bus to pass, even right in the centre of Milan, or to find that your route has been spontaneously cancelled for a reason known only to whoever did it.
Milan simply has too many cars. The city is densely populated, with the majority of its residents living vertically - in blocks of apartments whose inhabitants were never meant to have 1, 2 or even 3 cars per family. When much of modern-day Milan was constructed ( or rather re-built ) in the post-war years, who could ever have imagined that 50 years on the motorcar would have become a cultural necessity, rather than a luxury reserved for the special few? When I look at my street - cars parked on every available pavement space, the grass verge, the zebra crossing... - I wonder where it's all going to end. As a driver myself I am well aware that I am contributing to the problem - actually Luca and I both have our own cars - indispensable during the day when we both travel for work, but which I wish we could fold up and put in our pockets when we get home at night and begin the daily ritual of 5-times-round-the-block-to-find-a-damn-spot.
Perhaps the 'powers that be' could do a little more to get the worst polluters off the roads - I don't know how many times a day I find myself choking in the wake of some rusty old heap which lost its road-worthiness long ago.

Ultimately, whilst I think an initiative such as the congestion charge can work well in a city such as London, which is equipped both financially and culturally, I am not convinced that it will go down so well over here. Aside from the fact that saving the planet doesn't seem to be all that high on many people's agendas, the Italian and his car go together like horse and carriage. I can't imagine the very many young "fighetti" ("cool people") dumping their sports cars and getting the number 54 bus to the Armani Caffè on a Friday night. And when it comes to 'finding a way around the problem', Italians are world experts... We'll see.

3 commenti:

Michellanea ha detto...

I absolutely HATE all of the cars here and refuse to drive into the city center even though I live outside. I'll drive as far as the subway and that's bad enough for me. I've had chronic bronchitis consistently year after year since I've been here (not a smoker, never had chronic bronchitis before) and at one point had a hacking cough for about six months that wouldn't go away! I really think they should implement the tax to enter the city but the problem is that public transportation is pretty sucky compared to other world cities - especially at night. The Milanese are so obsessed with their cars though. I would NEVER have a nice car in this city (mention this on my blog today). In New York, if anyone has a car (which most people don't) it's a beater that they keep around for those times they need to get out of the city for something. The idea is that you want something ugly that nobody would ever steal and that you can abuse without feeling bad. But for the most part, driving in the city is seen as "not cool." Complete opposite here.

Emmina ha detto...

I completely agree. I think the real issue is not the congestion itself but people's attitudes to cars and transport. For example the fact that Italy - or rather Milan - is light years away from the idea that if it's less than a kilometer you can walk it!!

Kataroma ha detto...

We don't own a car and people think we are stark, raving mad. And we live right in the center of Rome near a metro station. We walk everywhere - even crazy distances like 1km or even (gasp!) 2 km. Or we take the metro or a bus. Boyfriend is from the Netherlands where he grew up biking 5-6 km every day to school often in awful, freezing, rainy weather - so a 1-2 km walk in (usually) nice weather is a joy for him.

Recently my workmate was complaining because "X asked me to drop this document off at point Y and I had to get my scooter, give up my parking spot and pay for the petrol." I was scratching my head as we work right next to a metro stop and Point Y was right next to another metro stop on the same line. Why did it not even occur to her to take the metro?