Idroscalo Ostia

For Workshop “Successful and Contested Self-Managed Spaces” at New Metropolitain Mainstream INURA Conference, Zürich, june 2010

by Susanna Perin

As representatives of a transdisciplinary working group, Antonella, as an architect and urban planner, and I, as an artist, are trying to bring in different approaches to the framework of this conference and workshop. I’d like to speak about the situation and self organisation in Idroscalo, and at the end, from my perspective as an artist, to focus on image politics.

As we already explained at the Rome Poster ans Map yesterday, Idroscalo is an important part of the city where memory has been erased. Besides being the place where Pier Paolo Pasolini was killed, it was the launching pad for the first transatlantic flight. When the working group visited Idroscalo in March, some of us were very astonished to find a big pneumatic drill in the garden of our guide Anna, a middle-aged woman. She explained that gardening is her hobby. She had been using the pneumatic drill to break the concrete on the ground in order to make a garden out of it. Part of the settlement was built directly over the former launching pad.

The connection between Idroscalo and the issues of NMM are the future interest in this area. The municipality and powerful construction lobbies and enterprises share common plans for this area. The territory between Ostia and Fiumicino, on the coast in the communality of Rome, was underestimated until a few years ago, when the outskirts of Ostia toward the mouth of the river Tiber were renovated and a huge hotel complex, a closed and private area, was built in the proximity of the new private harbour. This area of the new harbour is in strong contrast to the Idroscalo settlement, which is situated just on the other side of the road. The contrast is so amazing that we had some problems, taking photos in order to document what we saw.

I found these photos on YouTube that reflect the character of Idroscalo with all its contradictions included the new building activity.

Currently there are three projects in the whole area, on the coast, and on both Tiber banks. One project is to expand this already existing, private harbour neighbouring the settlement; the second is to build one of the largest Mediterranean Marina with 1,400 mooring spaces. The third project is to build a trade harbour. These last two projects are planned in the northern part, just on the other bank of the Tiber, in the municipality of Fiumicino.

At the end of March when we visited Idroscalo, our visit in the settlement was not a sort of black tourism, but rather to take up contact with inhabitants. Ferro Trabalzi, one member of SMU Research, already worked there in 2008 with a group of students from IOWA State University in Rome. The goal of the training course was to redesign the public spaces in the settlement. The redesign was conceived as a no budget intervention to be carried out by the inhabitants themselves. A possible eviction of the settlers was not taken in consideration at that time.

Idroscalo is a fifty-year-old informal settlement with about 2,000 inhabitants located at the mouth of Tiber. The settlement developed in the 1960’s on state-owned land, as riverbanks and coasts are in Italy. Like in other areas of Rome, illegal building activity on state property or on public property was generally tolerated by the authorities, as the illegal expansion and consolidation of Idroscalo was tolerated too. This is a consequence of the inability of governments to provide inexpensive housing for the most vulnerable population groups. In fact, public housing projects in Rome stopped in the 1980’s. On the other hand, keeping dwellers in this semi-legal status means controlling a reservoir of voters during the municipal election. As the conditions of dwellers are precarious, it is easy to influence their votes.

Since 1978, the dwellers of Idroscalo have set up a number of consortiums in order to obtain regulation of the area, as well as to ensure a decent quality of life. Up until now, the requests of the residents were rejected.

In February 2010, a contingent of riot police, fire brigades and cops appeared at dawn to dismantle the whole settlement and move the dwellers into communal residences spread out in different parts of the city. Fortunately the worst could be avoided. Only a part of the settlement, nearly 30 houses built directly on the coast were dismantled.

From a legal viewpoint, the case Idroscalo is not easy at all. Dwellers have built their resistance on this complexity. During our visit in Idroscalo we met Don Fabio, a priest and one of the organizers of community life. We spoke with him about the strategies they are currently pursuing. He told us: “Whenever authorities think they have a solution, we open another door and make them aware of the next problem they will have to get involved in.” Quite a clever strategy.

When the police corps came to dismantle the houses on the beach, the first step was to call a meeting with the major. It was obvious that Alemanno signed a permit to destroy the settlement without knowing the real situation. He expected fewer inhabitants and lots of shacks and huts. Instead, he found quite a lot of real houses in the settlement, mostly inhabited by families. So you could imagine the complexity of evicting 2,000 inhabitants.

The second step taken by the inhabitants was to appeal against the municipality. As we already know, the area is not the property of the municipality, but belongs to the state. So it was in fact unclear whether the municipality and its authorities had the right to dismantle the settlement. The third step was to make aware of the situation and to involve more and more authorities and institutions in order to slow down the processes.

Dwellers formed a group of 15 people in order to discuss directly with the authorities and to work out solutions in the framework of different round tables reporting the results to the whole community.

Currently, there is a round table working with national health care and with social workers on the identity and needs of the community.

Another group is working on alternative locations for a new settlement and on new building projects respecting the needs of the community to stay together.

Another round table is working on environmental risk. As the area is below sea level, it is prone to flooding. Actually dwellers have retained external consultants to estimate the environmental risk and to plan security measures for the settlement.

Unfortunately the situation is not at all positive. Since few days, we know that the risk of flooding is really high and that security measures, for example dams, are nearly impossible to build. The settlement is situated in an area where dams should be built. Furthermore, building dams would also affect the inland areas upstream where other settlements are situated.

My intention in writing this presentation was to present a winning case on self-organisation. But in reality, the outlook is very negative at the moment. Not only do the inhabitants have to leave. Due to the relationship between the economic status of inhabitants and the illegal status of their houses, a large portion of them will lose everything. Few inhabitants are eligible for social housing. At the same time, those who are not eligible will not be able to rent a flat at market prices. The owners of do-it-yourself illegal houses have no rights to an indemnity in the case of dismantling. So what should have been a manual on clever methods of collective resistance has failed due to environmental risk and exclusive policies.

Not being able to present a successful model, I’ll conclude with two examples on the topic of image discourses and image politics.

The first are images from the news on TG Roma1 sent the day before the demolition of Idroscalo: (the day before deportation). The images were not taken on the same day, but probably in January 2010 when the sea was stormy. This give the impression that this is like everyday life in the settlement is. And as a consequence eviction is a duty.

The next is a promotion video, a rendering of the planned harbour in Fiumicino (the biggest private Mediterranean Marina) by the building enterprise. As usual, important development proposals find their justification in history. I’ll not further comment this. Just look at it.