Living on the Edge: Re-thinking Landscape on the Periphery of Rome
Global economic networks are increasingly shaping the landscapes in which we live, the health of our environment and how we interact with each other. As cities and countries compete for big-business investment and economic growth, the by-products of subsequent urbanization are often disconnected developments on the periphery of urban areas, privatized public space and waste landscapes where long-term public health is ultimately compromised for short-term economic gain.
As part of my project, entitled, Living on the Edge: Re-thinking Landscape on the Periphery of Rome, I have been studying and mapping the impact of economic networks on Rome and how regulatory frameworks and public/private partnerships have shaped these forces on the periphery of the city. My project identifies the critical policy decisions of both the European Union and the Italian government, at the regional and municipal levels, that have shaped the edges of Rome in the last fifteen years and reveals the types of waste landscapes that have been the unintended consequences of their planning processes.

Map of Rome’s boundaries and contaminated sites, 2013

Cycles of growth have created unexpected and unplanned urbanization outside of the city walls and existing masterplans starting when Rome became capital of Italy (1871). A new wave of speculative real estate development has pushed this edge into farm land, responding to the movement of both people and business.

View of Rome’s new theme park, Rainbow Magicland, from an adjacent abandoned swath of land, 2013

Population, since 2006, has declined in the central neighborhoods and instead has grown more rapidly on the edges of the city due to cheaper housing options and better access to new commercial developments. While Rome’s historic core is still a major economic center, between 2006 and 2012 the rate of new business openings here declined while peripheral districts of the city have grown with new opportunities. 

City of Rome: Change in Population and Change in Business, 2013

Rome has been promoting economic growth through regional tourism. This has taken the form of large shopping malls, hypermarkets, shopping outlets, a conference center and amusement parks. These new developments are all located in the peripheral areas of the city where there are new residential communities and better transportation networks. Since the year 2000 (the year of the last Jubilee), Rome has lost close to 20,000 hectares of utilized agricultural land due to many of these types of developments and to the closing of many local farms due mainly to the indirect result of agricultural policies. 

Map of new regional tourist developments in Rome, 2013

While some of these projects strive to create “sustainable” communities that integrate residential, commercial, and office with public amenities, most are not fully realized as intended and end up as only commercial developments with very few public resources. In the process, wasted and marginalized landscapes have become the by-products of this economic growth as these places are not integrated successfully into existing neighborhoods and the recreational spaces that are intertwined with these developments ultimately are dominated by shopping.

Porta di Roma case study: Consolidation in type of industry and ownership, 2013

Instead of depleting the agricultural heritage of Rome by encouraging top-down investment strategies that have not proven to be successful in fostering quality public space, my project seeks to find ways to encourage incremental social, ecological and economic growth that comes from the local people and environment.
Rome is ripe with public landscape opportunities, many of them being in the abandoned and marginalized peripheral landscapes of the city. These areas are perceived as more of a problem than an opportunity. Taking a closer look, the subtle ways in which wildlife and people have colonized these sites have made these landscapes quite beautiful.

Butterflies feeding of a Senecio jacobea plant on an abandoned site off of Via Casilina, Rome, 2013

Small-scale agriculture, archeological ruins and speculative real estate development meeting each other in Tor Tre Teste, 2014

People have been spontaneously taking over some of these spaces, many of which are being turned into areas with small-scale agriculture. Since the economic crisis started, there has been a proliferation of community-run urban gardens in the city and many people in Rome, such as the Zappata Romana project, founded by StudioUAP, are already working to support these local community gardens.

Parco Garbatella, 2013

Building upon the local, “grass-roots” community garden movement, the City of Rome has the opportunity to create new public landscapes around these places and help re-generate under-utilized areas in the process.
In an environment of economic uncertainty and a complex bureaucracy, Rome can find certain investment and execution in the future projects of the next Jubilee in 2025.
Capitalizing on the existing conditions of many underutilized peripheral spaces in Rome, my project strategizes on how and where to invest resources for the next Jubilee as a way to incrementally grow a network of new public landscapes that integrate community and educational centers, local agriculture and significant ecological habitat. This framework might not only serve the purpose of the Jubilee but could also help guide Rome’s future urban growth.
Part of this process has been determining where interventions are most critical. This has involved examining the entire province of Rome and how larger systems have affected the shifts in the consumption of land in Rome in the last fifteen years.

Public vs. Arable Agricultural Land by Altimetric Zone and Municipality, Province of Rome, 2014

Throughout Europe and many areas within Italy there has been an increase in the concentration of land ownership in the private sector which has accelerated since the year 2000. This has been facilitated by EU agricultural policies and public funds ultimately have been channeled to large, often foreign business instead of towards creating new opportunities for the growth of small-scale businesses and farms.
In Rome, the land that is being bought up and developed is often in the most fertile landscapes where there is the least amount of public land. These areas have also had the largest increase in population.

Population Changes and Public Park Space, Province and Municipality of Rome, 2014

Within the province of Rome, the city of Rome has had the largest overall increase in population. This is because of foreign immigration. Between 2001 and 2011 there was an increase of 126,000 foreign residents in the commune of Rome and a decrease of 55,000 Italian residents. The district with the largest population growth, Delle Torri, is also the district with the least amount of public park space per person at only 5 square meters per person.
The areas with the least amount of public park space per person are also areas with the largest amount of underutilized agricultural land. These abandoned areas are opportunities for new public landscapes.

Underutilized Agricultural Landscapes and Population Change, by Altimetric Zone and Municipality, Province of Rome, 2014

Proposed locally-driven public landscape framework for the next Jubilee, Social and Cultural Catalysts, 2014

This project aims to be very specific to Rome in its approach in how it identifies a realistic implementation strategy and in having an incremental approach to creating an overall locally-driven public landscape framework, but it is also universal in its goals for all cities: generating economic growth, environmental quality and creating culturally significant and socially functioning spaces.
In the global context of an uncertain future of climate change, mass migrations, the shrinking and growing of different urban environments, the privatization of land and growing economic inequality, having a solid and functioning public landscape framework is a critical part of how we prepare our cities and environment in the face of the unexpected.
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