It was time for another Cornell in Rome field trip!
As usual, our red double-decker SIMET bus departed across the street from Teatro Argentina early in the morning. The bus was filled with students from the entire Rome program, and our driver’s destination was set to Emilia-Romagna, a region located in the north featuring many of the upper-level prerogatives of Italy: the highest level of income, the best universities, and high degree of social welfare. The trip would lead us to a region that many describe as completely different from the regions of the south – the two or three hour pausa pranzo is almost unheard of in Emilia-Romagna, and the Mafia seems like a very far away problem to most who live there.
Although many of us were quite excited to be on this trip, many of simply fell asleep by the time the bus was on the autostrade outside of Rome (including myself). The bus would head in and out of tunnels and curves, on a stretch of highway over the Apennine mountain range between the capital city and Florence.
During one of my casual 2-second eye-opening moments in and out of a state of dormancy, though, I realized something was particularly bright outside my bus window.
The reason? Something unbelievable that I could not believe…
SNOW! All over the place! Falling from the sky like a scene straight out of a winter day in cold, cold Ithaca. Already, it was obvious that we were not in the part of Italy that we were used to seeing for the past couple of months.
The magical scenes of snow would continue on as we reached the flat plains of the Po River Valley. The valley is home to three of the cities we would visit over the next couple of days, all of which are linearly laid out in a diagonal line along the ancient Via Emilia (used by the Romans countless years ago).
Cornell planners would focus their attention on the city of Parma – known worldwide by all for its famous prosciutto, but well known by childcare experts as one of the best places to get high-quality childcare in Italy.
I could easily notice the high-quality difference of childcare in this region when I compared everything in Parma Infanzia to the images that I recall of my daycare center back home in California. The facility was extremely spacious, and was filled with toys and neatly-organized napping facilities that made my childcare center look like it was in need of serious attention.
Parma Infanzia certainly had its goals set on improving the quality of childcare, not just earning a profit on over-priced babysitting services. And the mayor of Parma agreed with this statement – according to him, Parma created a whole new vision of child-care services. Instead of directly controlling the facility, Parma allowed a private subject (a.k.a., Parma Infanzia) to deliver services directly to the general community under the guidance of city and national law (public-private partnerships!).
Public-private partnerships are becoming a very common trend for urban development projects – much of the advantage has to do with cost-savings. According to the City of Parma, the operating costs of Parma Infanzia are 30% less to maintain than a publicly-operated facility of the same quality! The reason seemed to do with bureaucratic inefficiency. By eliminating the political middleman in project development, and letting private developers concentrate on completing and operating the facility without partisan barriers, the City of Parma experienced a major cost savings by supporting the construction of Parma Infanzia.
Today, the facility is widely visited by childcare experts around the globe. Because of its success, Parma Infanzia now operates in far-away Brussels, Belgium! Outside Parma Infanzia, however, there was much more of Parma that needed to be explored.
Parma is a city of around 184,000 people and is home to the University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world. But more importantly, it was also home to an enormous snowfight, Cornell on Cornell, right in the heart of the historic center!
All in all, the first day of the trip went quite well. The snow was quite a surprise at first, but it later became an essential asset for evening fun. Dinner, of course, had to include none other than the essential culinary specialty of Parma…prosciutto! Parma, however, would only be a brief introduction to a diverse region full of mid-sized cities and a variety of specialty industries. Tomorrow we would once again be heading on the road to a brand new city!