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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Rome: Italy's Capital...of Evictions

Pigneto mural.  The flag says "STOP Sfratti"
"Rome is Italy's capital of evictions," announces professor of Urban Studies Pierpaolo Mudu in a recent essay on housing.  According to Mudu, about 6700 eviction orders were issued in 2011, and since 1983 actual evictions have average 2850 every year.  About 60% of evictions occur because tenants can't or wouldn't pay the rent, most of the rest because a rental contract had expired.

The Italian word for evictions is "sfratti."

Ar bottom: "Together we block evictions."  

The odd thing about evictions is one seldom sees them happening.  No heap of furniture outside, no
tearful tenants being dragged from their doorways. That's because today, most evictions take place on Rome's periphery, where the city's working class and poor reside, rather than in the tourist-heavy Centro.

That wasn't always the case.  In the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of ordinary Romans were evicted from their center-city homes and apartments to make way for the broad avenues and vehicles favored by the Fascist regime.  They were moved to borgate (villages, hamlets), including Acilia, built from scratch in 1923, about 15 km outside the city.  Later, those evicted--both from legal and illegal housing (borgetti) were moved to Magliana (built at the end of the 1960s), and to public housing built at Laurentino 38, Tor Bella Monaca, and Corviale.

Typical post-war public housing.  Centocelle area.  
For much of the early twentieth century, Rome governments, whether Fascist or democratic, built  a lot of public housing.  Some of it, as in close-in Garbatella, was well-designed and produced workable communities. And some of it--Corviale is a famous example--was poorly designed, alienating from the start.

Beginning in about 1980 (coinciding with Reagan's election in the United States), city governments showed little interest in public housing, even as housing absorbed a larger and larger percentage of household income, and evictions continued apace.

Squatters in EUR, c. 1940
Thousands of  people found accommodations as squatters, living in unoccupied quarters in housing projects, or in shanty towns without public services.  In the 1970s there were forced relocations from Valle Aurelia, Mandrione, Prenestino and Casilino to "dormitories" in Corviale, Laurentino 38, and Spinaceto.

Idroscalo, once again threatened with demolition.
Today there is apparently only one borgetto (an illegally constructed neighborhood) left in Rome: Idroscalo, on the coast. About 100 of the homes in Idroscalo were bulldozed in 2011, and it seems clear that the authorities would like to level the remaining buildings to make way for a large marina, a resort hotel, and other amenities they think will attract tourists with money.

Vicolo Savini, after evictions of Rom (Roma) in 2011
It's tempting to blame the evictions on insensitive right-wing mayors, like Gianni Alemanno, and indeed he was responsible for the 2011 evictions from 4 unauthorized encampments, in Tiburtina and vicolo Savini (across the river from the Marconi neighborhood), most of whose residents were Roma (sometimes called "Rom," sometimes "gypsies").  But the center-left hasn't been much better.  In 2005, Walter Veltroni (who wrote an introduction to our first book, Rome the Second Time) authorized the eviction of hundreds of Senegalese and Italians from Residence Roma, a building near Forte Bravetta on Rome's north end.

Communist Party poster opposing
evictions.  Posted by a Quadraro committee,
but this one was in Torpignattara.  
Resistance to evictions, and more generally to inadequate housing, was in the post-war years led by the Communist Party, which sought to help residents of the borgate by working to legalize illegal housing.  Although not the force it was years ago, the party remains active in opposing evictions.

Graffiti in San Basilio, commemorating the 30th anniversary
 of the 1974 deadly clash with police over evictions
 (reading "San Basilio: Same Dignity, Same Anger, 1974-2014")

After 1970, the main form of resistance was squatting--that is, the illegal occupation of empty apartments and buildings, including public housing projects--along with demands for lower rents.  At one protest in San Basilio in September 1974, a young left-wing activist was killed in a clash with police.

Today, some of San Basilio's "projects" are decorated with handsome multi-story murals, including a group of 6 by Hitnes.  Even so, if the posters and graffiti in San Basilio and similar neighborhoods are any indication, evictions continue, and with them, new efforts at resistance.


"Rent is Robbery. Occupy"     Pigneto.  

1 comment:

Shannon Walsh said...

Great insight, thanks Bill.