The metropolitan city of Milan, Italy is suffocating, coughing, and suffering a full-blown asthmatic crisis. The data is certifiable. Particulate Matter 10 (PM10) levels have surpassed the limit for more than 30 days straight. Air pollution is responsible for thousands of deaths each year in Italy. This data is available on the Italian Health Ministry’s website (not on extremist Green Ecologist blogs). Naturally, simply banning traffic is no longer enough. The city needs an overall change in strategy; a radical ecological conversion that will involve the city of Milan and all the other municipalities in its metropolitan area.
“What pill of ecological conversion could we synthesize and administer to our sick patient, Milan?”
First of all, we need resources to change transportation methods, resources that are currently being reserved for large, extravagant public works that are at once useless and damaging, destined for private, tire-born transportation. The alternative projects already exist. In some places it would be enough simply to copy ideas that have been developed and applied in other cities. Unfortunately, however, what’s missing is the political will to abandon an existing model based on asphalt, oil, speed and consumption in order to embrace a new political and administrative paradigm; a new lifestyle based on an awareness of just how precious and limited resources really are, how important the earth and nature’s beauty actually are, and how closely connected these things are to people’s health and wellbeing.
Ecological conversion would improve the psycho-physical wellbeing and quality of life of the city’s citizens. That’s why it’s a goal worth pursuing. The question is how. First of all, we need to identify public projects that are damaging, wasteful of public resources and harmful to natural resources. Then, we need to decide how to use economic resources to achieve the most useful results.
A man rides his bike near the Duomo in Milan on December 28, 2015. (Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)
Here’s a concrete, achievable example: for a number of years now, ANAS (National Autonomous Roads Corporation) has proposed a project to build a major highway through Ticino Park and the south Milan Agricultural Park, cutting through the last major green “lungs” in the Milanese metropolitan area, through the fertile half-moon where the Naviglio Grande has nurtured thousands of hectares of cultivated farmland for almost a millennium. This swathe of asphalt and reinforced cement would cost 220 million euros ($240 million) to build. The money is available, but currently blocked by the CIPE, and has been for more than 10 years. The funding is blocked because this devastation in the middle of a UNESCO Biosphere reserve (which Ticino Park has been since 2002) is strongly opposed by environmentalists.
So what else could be done with these 220 million euros? What pill of ecological conversion could we synthesize and administer to our sick patient, Milan? Obviously, any reasonable cure would have to face problems of transportation, starting right with the territory where the foolish authorities wish to build a massive highway, realizing the dream of Roberto Maroni (who would like to see an additional 320 kilometers of highway built through the Lombardy Region).
We could use 80 million euros ($88 million) to purchase 10 regional trains with 550 seats each to use along the Milan-Mortara and Milan-Novara commuter lines, which currently suffer from chronic delays on a daily basis.
A woman covers her face with her scarf to protect herself from the air pollution near the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on December 28, 2015. (Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)
We could use an additional 10 million euros ($11 million) to complete the extra railway lines intended to extend at least as far as Abbiategrasso, thereby easing the pressure on those “forced” to use their own cars in order to travel into Milan. An additional 50 million ($55 million) would be enough to purchase at least 150 electric buses, strengthening — or better yet, creating — an efficient public transportation network in medium- and small-sized towns in the entire southwest segment of the metropolitan area and the city of Milan.
Last but not least, we could use the remaining 80 million euros ($88 million) to bring to life a true dream: the longest, most extensive network of bike paths in all of Europe, extending for a total of more than 500 km. This would be a strategic public project that would serve the entire Padana plains area, allowing people to move around with zero impact on the environment, both for work and for pleasure. It would be a gentle connection between the city, its parks and beautiful villages in one of the most densely populated areas of Italy.
“Imagine for a moment what Milan would be if public officials set aside for ecological conversion the same funds they earmarked for Expo 2015.”
Those 500 kilometers would also include the Grande Gronda, the dream of a Milanese bicyclist, Giovanni Gronda. For years, Gronda has (unsuccessfully) proposed uniting Lago di Como with Lago Maggiore, passing through Milan, along the navigli and waterways of the entire province, setting up a system that connects a number of various bicycle routes that currently exist in isolation.
This is just one small pill’s worth of ecological conversion that would be possible with the 220 million euros currently reserved for one of the largest public projects born of the “Legge Obiettivo” (the “Objective Law”). This pill could be reproduced and adapted to every territory around Italy. Imagine for a moment what Milan would be if public officials set aside for ecological conversion the same funds they earmarked for Expo 2015. Imagine the great benefit that would bring to the entire Padana plains area, with billions of euros spent on the Bre-Be-Mi, the Teem and the Pedemontana. One thing’s for sure: we’d all breathe a lot easier.
This piece was originally published on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.
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