Covid recovery funding pits dying Italian cities against each other | Italy

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Pperched on a rock surrounded by a vast nature reserve, the hilltop hamlet of Trevinano sent jolts across the Lazio region when it was announced this month that it and its 142 residents were in line for 20 million euros (£16.73m) from a Covid recovery fund to save small villages on the brink of extinction – the equivalent of €140,845 per head.

“There is a lot of envy and unease about this initiative,” said Alessandra Terrosi, the mayor of Trevinano, who is responsible for spending the millions before 2026, when the funding program will end. Hamlet’s good fortune has fueled resentment from neighbors who missed out, raised questions about how effectively Italy will invest some of the 191 billion euros from the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund and had critics asking if €20m is just too much money for a small village.

Trevinano was pitted against 14 other candidates from Lazio, including the region’s best-known gem, the Civita di Bagnoregio fortress, for a slice of the €420million fund.

Alessandra Terrosi: “We weren’t asking for the moon. Photography: Angela Giuffrida/The Guardian

“We followed exactly the same procedures as everyone else and our project was deemed the best,” said Terrosi, who alongside his team of two advisers worked around the clock to come up with the winning project for Hamlet. , called Re-Wind. . “I think we won because of its feasibility – we weren’t asking for the moon, we just came up with a series of practical things.”

Trevinano was settled by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago and had around 1,000 inhabitants in the 1960s before population decline set in. Today it is home to two restaurants, including a Michelin-starred one, but there is no supermarket, school or ATM, and the post office is only open one day a week.

Five years from now, Terrosi envisions it as a bustling place filled with students, teleworkers, artisans and visitors enjoying concerts in the gardens of his chateau. The hoped-for revival will be inaugurated by a project that includes the creation of a training center for students, offering programs such as reforestation, as well as the renovation of dozens of empty houses and making them available to tourists and retirees. Terrosi plans to revive agricultural initiatives, citing the example of a couple who moved to the area and bought a vineyard that now produces local wine. It can also generate its own electricity.

It is a vision supported by its inhabitants. “People from other towns are jealous but the mayor has done something really good, we’ve never had anything before,” says Elide Marelli, who moved to Trevinano after marrying a local.

Among those from other towns is her gardener, Elio, who lives in the nearby Acquapendente. “I have a lot of friends here…I just hope they don’t all become snobs.”

City of Bagnoregio

A child runs towards the entrance to the town of Civita di Bagnoregio, accessible only by a bridge.
A child runs towards the entrance to the town of Civita di Bagnoregio, accessible only by a bridge. Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

An hour’s drive away is Civita di Bagnoregio, where Luca Profili, the mayor of the hamlet perched on a plateau of volcanic rock with a permanent population one-tenth that of Trevinano, was among the first to oppose resources going to a village.

Luca Profilei.
Luca Profilei. Photography: Angela Giuffrida/The Guardian

“Obviously if we had won I would have been really happy,” he said. “But what I mean is that it would be better to distribute the money more equitably between several villages so that an entire territory can be developed, especially since it is extremely difficult for small administrations to manage such enormous sums. And with a deadline of 2026, it’s not going to be easy. »

The controversy shows no sign of dissipating, with leaders from other Italian regions dropping out while awaiting the verdict on their own €20million winner.

“If you play against each other, obviously there will be anger and division,” said Marco Bussone, Piedmontese president of Uncem, the national union of mountain communities, who wants the abolition of prices. “It’s basically a lottery. But rotating funds on a village will not generate development, what it will create is a tourist resort, and we don’t want that. The money is for reducing inequality – we need projects that regenerate communities across an entire region.

Italy is the biggest beneficiary of the EU recovery fund, and a significant share of grants and loans will have to be repaid by taxpayers. Francesco Grillo, a political economist and director of the Vision think tank, said the village initiative cast serious doubts on how effectively Italy will invest the rest of the money. In addition to the €420 million for some of Italy’s smaller settlements, a further €580 million is offered to 229 villages with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

“These small administrations would have to apply for something very complicated and go through difficult stages,” Grillo said. “It’s like asking a very small cat to eat a huge cow. By tomorrow. It’s worrying.” He also doubted that the project would achieve the goal of reviving dying cities. “One thing is to revitalize places that have connections to big cities, the other is trying to repopulate remote areas – my question is: would it be sustainable?

A Trevinano street.  The hamlet lost a large part of its population.
A street in Trevinano. The hamlet lost a large part of its population. Photography: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy

The people of Trevinano seem to think so. “We invested here when there was really nothing there,” said Romano Gordini, owner of La Parolina restaurant with his wife, Michelin-starred chef Iside de Cesare. “It’s great that Italy is reviving from places that are usually forgotten.” The restaurant is attracting a good flow of customers from Lazio and neighboring Umbria and Tuscany, and hopes the project will bring more. Gordini enjoys Trevinano’s stunning scenery and slow pace of life.

“It’s otherworldly,” he said.

“Once you visit Trevinano, you always come back,” Marelli said.

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