Reflections from Rome

We’re dealing with big problems, can we deal with the biggest of all?

I took a long walk through Rome this morning, did a little sketching, enjoyed the late spring weather, the clean air after days of rain, the beautiful light illuminating rich colors of faded stucco, bubbling fountains, flowering trees and gleaming stone. 

Descending into Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood

But walking I reflected on the state of the world, swept by storm after storm. The Covid-19 Pandemic has killed over 400,000 people worldwide to date. More than 1,000 people were killed by police in America in a year (with black people three times more likely to be slain than white people). Over 15,000 people were killed by firearms in America last year alone.

And if America is pummelled by gun violence and police violence, in Italy there is an epidemic of automobile violence. Rome sees an average of 82 accidents a day and over 600 pedestrians are killed each year by automobiles in Italy. 

It’s tempting to point out that despite the obvious horror of these tragedies, many Americans still gather in public areas without protection, police continue to shoot black citizens and Americans continue to buy guns. And Rome continues to subsidize lethal automotive culture, suspending enforcement of traffic regulations. 

But looking at the world from a different point of view, it is encouraging to see that injustices are finally making the headlines. The world shut down in response to the pandemic and has finally started to address what we knew years ago was a bona-fide risk but neglected to prevent. 

The spotlight is shining bright on racism. The murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, brought the world (including Rome) out to the streets in protest.

The spotlight is also on urban violence in Rome. The killing in Rome of 16-year-olds Gaia e Camilla and 14-year-old Mattia and dozens of others — victims of distracted, speeding drivers — are no longer met with resignation but with demands for justice and a rethinking of our street designs.  Many European cities have been giving streets back to people and Rome has made a few gestures in this direction as well, new bike lanes, cafe tables in place of parked cars, but more needs to be done.

Gun violence in America and car violence in Italy are no longer business as usual. 

All of these viruses are eclipsed by the overarching crisis of global warming. If only the global response to that emergency were as rapid and drastic as the coronavirus lockdowns.  But even there we see signs that the world has had enough. Humans are no longer willing to continue on the path to their own destruction and many have pointed out that if we could shut down global capitalism for weeks to save individuals from a virus we should be able to do even more to save humanity from destruction.  

The question is: can the power of media to amplify and expose injustices be sustained long enough to enact structural change, or will our limited attention be diverted to the next item. Will we scroll to another injustice and forget what enrages us now? 

Bikes and electric scooters are appearing in greater numbers in central Rome
Micromobility and Roman street furniture (spoils of unfinished building projects)
Via Giulia connects Vatican and historic Rome, seen here in a rare moment with few illegally parked cars!