Rome A great adventure and advantage of my work is getting to see parts of a city that even long time residents cannot imagine. I may not see all of the sites in the tourist guide books, but I see amazing things where people live and work behind the walls of most visitors.
On arriving in Rome Saturday afternoon, Senator Lucio D’Ubaldo gave me a ride into the city since he was landing at roughly the same time. He insisted before visiting over lunch that I see some of the massive fascist architectural projects around the EUR district that had been largely abandoned with the advent of WWII, but were still deeply planted as governmental facilities in this very upscale Roman neighborhood. Being largely ignorant of these Mussolini-era projects, it was both fascinating, education, and almost frightening in its symbolic scale and ideological power.
David Tozzo of ACORN Italy and I had a different reaction on Sunday afternoon as we spent several hours touring “Metropoliz,” a “squat” and cultural project in a massive, former pig slaughterhouse in the eastern part of Rome. We had been introduced to this project through connections made with some of the volunteers helping ACORN International who were part of the graduate design and architectural projects at University of the City of London, and had promised to check it out during my visit.
About 100 people, who had been evicted or were homeless, were living permanently in Metropoliz. Immediately I could recognize Peruvians from my many visits to ACORN Peru, and seeing one section painted Peru Piazza only confirmed what I already knew. Other permanent squatters had come from Senegal and other countries as they were evicted from place to place. In a adjoining building were another 100 Roma who were not part of Metropoliz, but in the same soup. Over the two years of this experience various artists, designers, and others had joined forces with the squatters in a way that was not clear to me, but had evolved into a documentary film called Space Metropoliz. There was a large, homemade telescope at the top of the plant tower. A friend explained that three “balls” from the plant were imagined as the base and that they were working with the squatters on a project of “imagination” to build a rocket to the moon on top of that construct. I had some trouble following all of this, but perhaps that was the point, since the designers and cultural workers were trying an experiment to see if diverse people at Metropoliz could come together on an “act of imagination.” The film would document that effort.
Asking what would happen after the film was finished, I was told that that was a good question, which didn’t comfort me much. It seems that the future is also “part of the experiment” to see what the squatters will make of it all later when the film is over. I suppose that once again the rocket may hit earth with a loud and resounding thud.
Who knows? The space was mammoth, and in Italy access to water and lights are allowed for humanitarian reasons by the public utilities (amen to that!), so people were fashioning reasonable living quarters in some of the areas. Others were jumbles of graffiti and mayhem. The former “classroom” was little more than rubble with books thrown on the floor. The most finished area was where the “rockets” were being painted by professional artists and some of the children.
As we were walked around on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon with a breeze in the air and the first hint of fall everywhere, we could tell by the steady stream of people who seemed to be going and coming that Metropoliz was something of a happening. The permanent squatters were sanguine about all of that and largely ignored the outsiders and their trooping around cameras in hand. This was not industrial tourism but a sort of “developmental tourism” almost similar to what we had seen in the recycling area of Cairo.
There seemed to be potential everywhere, but problems almost as large. According to our friends from UCL, this is one of a number of similar squats around Rome. It’s an interesting phenomena and worth a look. I’m skeptical about how all of this plays out, but was filled with good wishes and hope for all involved. Why not? Something good can happen here that wasn’t possible before hand.