Rome close to collapse: The Italian Eternal City is facing crisis

July 21, 2015 4:30 am

 

Tourists walk by a billboard covered with graffiti in front of the ancient Colosseum in Rome. Photo / Getty Images

It may boast the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the glories
that were ancient Rome, but the city is now in chronic decline, its
business leaders and inhabitants have warned.
The Eternal City is
facing crisis, with its administration engulfed in corruption scandals
and debt, its roads scarred by pot-holes, the main airport partially
closed and a growing immigration crisis.

Graffiti on a bronze statue by the Roman forums. Photo / Getty Images
Graffiti on a bronze statue by the Roman forums. Photo / Getty Images
For generations, the Italian capital has rested on past
glories rather than built on them but now its multiple problems have
come to a head.
Everybody moans but nobody offers any solutions. The quality of life has really gone down
Drivers
on the metro system are on a go-slow in a protest over pay and
conditions, hundreds of flights into Fiumicino, the main airport, have
been cancelled due to a fire that broke out in a terminal back in May,
and temperatures have soared this week to over 100F (37.7C), making
daily life even more hellish than normal.

“Rome is on the verge of collapse,” Giancarlo Cremonesi, the president of the Rome Chamber of Commerce, told Reuters.
“It is unacceptable that a major city which calls itself developed can find itself in such a state of decay.”
A
survey by the European Commission two years ago placed Rome last out of
28 EU capitals in a ranking for the efficiency of city services.

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Despite
great food, superb coffee and an enviable climate, on an index of
quality of life, the capital came second to last, with Athens at the
bottom.
Its Renaissance churches, cobbled streets and vibrant
piazzas still wow tourists from around the world, but beyond the
historic centre, the city is a mess and life is a struggle for locals.
Everything
has been exacerbated by the effects of ’s longest recession since
the Second World War, with homeless people on the street and youth
unemployment over 40 per cent.

A street vendor stands under a vandalised billboard. Photo / Getty Images
A street vendor stands under a vandalised billboard. Photo / Getty Images
Broken-down motor scooters and bicycles are dumped on
pavements, kerbs are overgrown with grass and shrubs, and there is
litter everywhere.
Along the Tiber River, Romany gipsies have set up shanty villages, their shacks hidden from view by tall thickets of cane grass.
A
lack of bins mean that locals and visitors alike drop their rubbish on
the ground, while a much-hyped bike sharing scheme which was launched a
few years ago has broken down entirely, the bicycles either damaged or
stolen.

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Several sites and Facebook pages, such as Roma Fa Schifo (Rome Sucks), have emerged where locals voice their anger over the state of the city and post pictures and videos as evidence.
“It has got a lot worse in the last few years,” said Costanza Cagni, who has lived in the city since 2000.
“Everybody
moans but nobody offers any solutions. The quality of life has really
gone down. I’m sorry to say it, but I just want to leave Rome and move
somewhere else.”
The city was hit by a major corruption scandal earlier this year which explained, in part, why public services are so shoddy.
An
investigation found that corrupt local politicians had colluded with
criminal gangs to cream off money from a range of services, from rubbish
collection to the management of refugee facilities.
The scandal
has been dubbed “Mafia Capitale”, and comes amid growing evidence that
the city is being infiltrated by organised crime groups.

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This
month police raided a restaurant close to the Pantheon, the ancient
Roman temple that was later converted into a church, on suspicion that
it was controlled by the Calabrian mafia, the feared ‘Ndrangheta.
The
crime syndicate is believed to be laundering more and more of its money
through legitimate businesses in Rome, as well as Milan.
Exploitation by criminal gangs has exacerbated years of incompetent administration by the city council.
Ignazio
Marino, a former surgeon who is now mayor of Rome, acknowledged that
much of the city’s public administration was “substantially rotten”.

Graffiti on a column in Rome's Trajan forums. Photo / Getty Images
Graffiti on a column in Rome’s Trajan forums. Photo / Getty Images
In an open letter this week to Corriere della Sera, a
leading daily, he said that like Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, who
is trying to push through difficult reforms at the national level, he
too was trying to implement “profound and radical reforms” in the
capital.
He said he had come up against a “cancer” of favouritism
and deep resistance to change. But as he wages that fight, historic
buildings remain daubed with ugly graffiti, with the culprits hardly
ever caught.
On main roads out of the city, teenage prostitutes
from eastern and west Africa tout for business in miniskirts and
high heels – a brutal departure from the romantic image of the capital
portrayed by sentimental films such as Eat, Pray, Love or Three Coins in
the Fountain.
“Rome is a very long way from normal Western
standards of civility and decorum,” said Massimiliano Tonelli, the
founder of a website called Roma Fa Schifo, or Rome is Disgusting, which
logs the city’s problems.
“It’s a combination of bad
administration, corruption, and bureaucracy. The metro hasn’t worked
properly for the last 15 days. If that was the case in London, you would
have a public revolt on your hands.”
Rome needed a leader such
as Rudi Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who in the 1990s cleaned
up the metropolis with a regime of zero tolerance, drawing on the
“broken windows theory”, which held that if minor violations were
tolerated, much more serious crimes would flourish.
“If someone
parks illegally or urinates in the street, they need to be fined. We
need to tackle egoism and individualism, the idea that it is
every-man-for himself,” said Mr Tonelli.
Rubbish, bad transport
and graffiti harm tourism – each year the city attracts around 10
million visitors but the rate of repeat visits is among the lowest in
Europe.
“We need a complete change of mentality. New York in the
nineties was very similar to how Rome is now – there was corruption, it
was dirty, nobody paid when they travelled on the metro, there was
graffiti. It can be done. It is not irrecoverable,” Mr Tonelli said.

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