Stadio della Roma: Crumbling hippodrome represents Rome’s decline

Il Foglio (Fabio Sabatini) At this historic moment, the council can’t spend public money given the disastrous state of the city’s finances. Only private investors have the capital that Rome needs to maintain, develop and redevelop itself. Those who lead the city council, as well as the wider country, have a crucial job to do: to encourage investment and to guide people towards investing in the best interests of the city. To benefit from private individuals’ resources in order to improve infrastructure and local development projects for nothing. That is exactly what was done by the previous administration, who granted permission for the stadium to be built in exchange for some very favourable conditions.

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The stadium isn’t a “€1.5 billion gift”, as various representatives of Raggi’s council have said. The €1.5 billion figure is the cumulative total that stems from the investment, which comes exclusively from the private sector. As we’ve explained in Il Foglio before, the total investment includes €450m for public works and, according to estimates, this will generate an increase of 1.5% in local GDP every year for 9 years following commencement of the works, a reduction of 0.8% in unemployment, and an increase in tax revenue of €1.4 billion. At least €30m of this will go straight into the council’s empty coffers (and can then be used for other projects).

It would be a decisive precedent for the city, the first sign that significant changes might, hopefully, be made, in partnership with new investors and targeting other run-down areas of the city. It could establish the principle that, if people want to invest in the city, then they will also have to compensate the community through public works and urban renewal. Asserting such a system of cooperation between public and private sectors would allow Rome to – finally – compete with the other great capitals of Europe in innovation, efficiency and attraction.

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However, the prospects of progress, of a collective interest in the city’s future, are at risk of running aground amongst the rubble of a derelict stand. As is already known, Rome’s archaeological and fine arts superintendency has put an environmental protection restriction on the hippodrome’s rickety old stand, partly covered by asbestos, which was built for the 1960 Olympics. At the time, the design of the stand’s roof was very innovative. It isn’t good enough to move, restore and preserve the roof, as the stadium project’s proponents suggest. The Superintendency, instead, want nothing to obstruct the view of the ruined stand as now – incredibly – they say it’s part of the landscape.

But no one can even ‘enjoy’ the landscape right now: the area is abandoned, access to the site is prohibited because the structure is dangerous, and sooner or later will collapse, and all you can find around the site are weeds, improvised landfills (including toxic waste), prostitutes and their customers.

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This dilapidated stand risks becoming the symbol of a city where nothing is ever created, nothing is destroyed and everything deteriorates, a city obedient to objections made on principle by various political parties from across the spectrum, from the far right (traditionally hostile to any sort of progress) to the far left (always intent on criminalising private capital) via the so-called liberal centre. In this case, the Superintendency’s intervention was requested by Italia Nostra, a small association for the protection of cultural heritage known in Rome for a fierce, relentless opposition to contemporary architecture and, more generally, for obstructing any form of urban innovation and development.

The fact that an unknown, crumbling stand could prevent the rebirth of a currently abandoned part of the city, and the recovery of both the entire city’s economy and its hopes for the future, is a perfect representation of the current choice facing Rome. It can remain a museum-city, its suburbs being left to rot as the world around it changes, or it can begin a modern and dynamic transformation, which would really make it the Eternal City.

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