Foro Italico, Palermo
Photo: ISTOCK, MICHAEL LUHRENBERG
Deposits of resilience in PalermoA renaissance opening Europe’s arms to the Mediterranean
We listened to the account and reflection of Piero Pelizzaro, a researcher at the IUAV, Venice, in the Planning Climate Change research team, a consultant of the Ministry of the Environment, Acclimatise UK, AzzeroCO2 and the European Commission, a Project Manager for the Municipality of Milan and member of the Italian Society for Climate Science (SISC) on the resilience of Palermo, a city he is very familiar with and about which there is an interesting case study in his latest book, written with Pietro Mezzi, “La città resiliente. Strategie e azioni di resilienza urbana in Italia e nel mondo”.
I remember a visit to my grandparents on the Altopiano d’Asiago on a hot summer’s day which became my first true memory, the first deep wound that comes out of my memories with constancy. A bomb exploded in Palermo, the second in just a few months, and killed Paolo Borsellino. I clearly recall how everything around stopped – Mum and Dad, my grandparents and the other guests immobile as they watched the pictures of a television that broadcast the pain of a people, a land, Sicily, and a city, Palermo, wounded by a villainous mafia attack. Some months passed and my cousin-fan with whom I go to see Vicenza football team, left for military service in Sicily and Calabria in the largest military operation of the post-war period. Two events that marked my life – but I would only realise this years later.
Almost 20 years later, I was sent to Fai la Cosa Giusta in Palermo on business. I was told, “Go and talk about climate change and renewable energy.” On the way, I struggled to think of how to describe resilience in Sicily, the resources – water, energy, land-agriculture, infrastructure and waste – that should be valorised for economic and social sustainability, are among the mafia’s main interests. Controlling the primary services of the city is the simplest way to control not only people but also their needs and daily life. At the same time, it’s here that the community can free itself of the mafia’s bite because it’s here that Sicilian civilisation and culture has its greatest resilient capacity – Arabian construction, the love for the sun, the need for water and its conservation in tanks on the roofs but also that desire to change the sense of history, re-acquiring the freedom to move with shared mobility (bike- and car-sharing) and lightness without large-scale works.
That day, arriving at the Cantieri Culturali of Zisa, I realised that deposits of resilience of a community not thirsty for revenge but longing to network and activate its most splendid ability – solidarity, are hidden in the spaces of a city lacerated by pain and the violence of corruption. Hubs that have to be activated and are looking for an author, authors like the ones I met during the discussion – a class in a High School in Palermo who, speaking before me, explained the resilience to the ‘sustainable’ mafia of the fake wind farms and refuse thrown into dumps instead of being recycled through the simplicity of prime numbers. Melody, pure love, simply resilience.
A special relationship with Palermo, a city that, through its people and its natural ability to adapt, activates unexpected links and moves intrinsic resources in the community naturally, started that day. That Palermo which, with Sicily region, has been committed on two essential fronts for some time; on one side there is the recovery of the cultural heritage and, on the other, the reduction of the infrastructure gap, especially in relation to the public transport system, refuse management and the completion of the sewer system.
The new tram and future transport lines, like the new railway, are projects planned and financed many years ago which will have to be built rapidly so that the public co-financing resources are not lost. In this, the Administration will have to show a resilience far from secondary in the face of possible problems linked to the scarce knowledge of the subsurface such as, for example, the archaeological and hydrologic risks, or the technical and financial ability necessary for the construction of the works. Further, as the projects are old, communication between citizens and administrators should not be undervalued so that forms of social protest are avoided.
In the meantime, after recognition by UNESCO of the artistic value of the cultural heritage of Palermo, the Administration is ready to make an effort to protect these assets creating pedestrian areas and adopting other urban solutions like the regeneration of abandoned areas to give back cultural and historical identity to forgotten parts of the city or reduce the serious risk of flooding. If these aims are not met, it will be very difficult for the city to complete the path started in recent years.
The work of Maurizio Carta and the University of Palermo on the metropolitan coastal area of the city should be added to this. This is a resource of absolute value made available to the regional administrations so the south-eastern coast and, more generally, the whole coast of the Gulf of Palermo, can be recovered. The coastline that, in the past, was the favourite destination of painters and intellectuals, a quiet place to admire and enjoy the beauty of the city, its infinite gardens, crystalline water, beaches and temperate weather.
However, the greatest resource that Palermo will have to valorise is the community that is still tempted to put its head in the sand in front of the holes in the system in which it is a player, a community that has started along its path of cultural renaissance not looking at Copenhagen, Milan or London but the Mediterranean it is the natural capital of, given its centrality with respect to the European, North African and Middle Eastern coasts, a community which, above all, has Mediterranean and Middle Eastern identity in its style.
Today, Palermo is carrying forward a project that doesn’t turn its back on Continental Europe but opens Europe’s arms to those arriving on the Mediterranean coasts. A project which benefits from the beauty and work of men and women who serve their city without ifs and buts, working with young people longing to know the world and introduce Palermo to the world. For me, Palermo has a great opportunity today, to start again from memory and the centuries-old wounds, opening them to release that life blood of those who, in the face of adversity, grit their teeth and more and field the best of their creativity and the culture of those who have spoken to everyone over the centuries.