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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

The Ideal and the Real

The beginning of August marked the end of the peak tourist season and the beginning of my more-or-less “real” Roman experience. Car traffic has noticeably increased, and snippets of English on the street have (slightly) decreased. From the outside, public transportation has begun to resemble canned sardines like never before. It is much less common to see families with matching maps, obviously lost and searching for street signs. Romans seem to be excited for these changes as much as I am. After I ordered and drank my daily espresso this morning, I thanked the barista as usual. He replied, “Prego! Buon fine di agosto!” which translates to “You’re welcome! Happy end of August!”

A recent theme of my thoughts as I walk around Rome has been the city’s use of public space. As I mentioned earlier, my apartment is next to the river, and walking along it is a good way to see the city while staying in the relative shade of the trees growing on the bank. For the newly arrived in Rome, it is also a good way to explore without getting lost in the city fabric. I usually walk on the street level of the bank, but there are also stairs that lead down to the water. This lower bank was covered with festive tents when I got to Rome in August, consisting of small bars and restaurants, as well as amusement-park-style games. This set up is called Lungo il Tevere Roma – a sort of festival which happens every summer. It was a beautiful sight which lit up the river at night and made wonderful use of the lower river bank.

The tents came down on September 2nd, and a few homeless people took up some of the open space. Interestingly, Rome has always placed the utmost importance on its public spaces, historically even forcing its growing population to live in a very dense environment instead of sacrificing public space. The city plan was shaped by its piazze, and this is as obvious today as it was when the Nolli Plan of Rome was drawn.

Wanting to make use of Rome’s public spaces, my friends and I bought some street food and naively went down to the Tiber water, only to be met with a terrible stench. From the street level, the garbage and stench was hidden, but it made the water level unusable. It is interesting that the Tiber is such an important aspect of Rome, and yet the potential public space on both sides of it is formally unused. As an architecture student, the thought of a double level street on two sides of a river is very exciting in its potential! If the city began to clean it up, it would encourage more pride and respect from residents and tourists, and perhaps the Lungo il Tevere festival is a first attempt. However, having grown up in Vancouver, which has a large homeless population in its city centre, I am keenly aware that the problem needs more than to be swept under the proverbial rug. If displaced, the squatter community will simply move elsewhere. As much as I understand that, it is sad to see such an exciting space being looked at with aversion.

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