Is Rome Turning into a Dead City?

Rome isn’t doing so well. At least, that’s the opinion of Christian Raimo—writer, cultural journalist, and instructor of history & philosophy at Dante Alighieri high school in Rome. According to Raimo, Rome is slowly transforming into a museum fixed in the past. Cultural initiatives that try to revive it are often squelched by city officials. Below, Christian Raimo discusses the causes and effects behind Rome’s cultural decline.

A few weeks ago, we told you about Roman concert venue DalVerme and its unexpected closure. When it happened, Christian Raimo wrote an excellent article for the Italian site Internazionale detailing the death of culture in Rome. The article piqued our interest, so we decided to contact Christian to learn more.

What moved you to write the article “Rome is Dying and Nobody Seems to Mind”?

I’ve lived in Rome my whole life, so I’ve been able to see the city change. With this article, I hoped to expose some of the main issues facing us. The biggest concern is that no overarching plan exists for the future of the city. In the 1990s, Mayor Francesco Rutelli tried to give Rome a fresh face by instituting a major clean-up of the historic city center, but the changes he made only scratched the surface. Construction permits were given out by the dozens so a lot of money could be made quickly, but there was no investment in any other sectors. So the entire economy of the city is based on real estate rather than on production.

In your article, you seem to say that Roman city officials tend to forget about the well-being of the people who live in Rome while giving priority to tourists…

Yes, another big problem in our city is that the city center is slowly losing its inhabitants. Rome is turning into a sort of postcard for tourists. Every morning, one million people commute into the city for work. Ten years ago, there were only 300 000 commuters. Rents are much too high. For example, my apartment isn’t particularly close to the city center, but I pay 850 euros per month for an apartment that’s less than 500 sq. ft. and I only make 1400 euros per month as a high school instructor.

Can you give some examples of conflict between city officials and certain cultural initiatives?

Many places have tried to promote the arts and make a cultural impact on the city in the last ten to twenty years. The most striking example is probably Teatro Valle which at the time was the oldest active theatre in Rome. After the city decided to cut its funding, artists and technicians occupied the theatre day and night starting on June 14, 2011 to keep it from being privatized and sold. The protesters declared the theatre to be a “cultural and artistic common good”. The city tolerated the occupation for a while, and the movement received international recognition as an example of the democratization of culture. But the city never considered any of this to be legal, and it eventually called for the occupiers to be forcibly removed in August 2014. 

In your article, you also talk about the independent art space Angelo Mai and how it’s also being threatened with closure…

Angelo Mai Altrove is another example of people in Rome trying to reimagine how we access culture. It’s an independent cultural center that was founded in 2004 in an abandoned convent in the center of Rome. In 2006, the art collective there was thrown out, but it continued to put on theatrical productions, concerts and films in various places throughout the city. Fortunately, Angelo Mai Altrove was able to find a permanent location in a former boules club in 2009 and it’s been thriving ever since. But recent threats to shut it down are another example of how precarious the situation is for cultural initiatives here.

How is this cultural decline affecting the city?

Rome is becoming a boring city, it’s nothing like the Rome of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Aside from tourists and everything tourist-related, there’s no life left in the city center. Rome isn’t growing or changing anymore. People don’t think twice about visiting a place like Barcelona several times in a row, but that’s not the case in Rome because you know nothing has changed since the last time you came. The city tends to say they are shutting down cultural spaces for security reasons, but Rome is a safe city. The mafia doesn’t have a presence here like it does in the south of Italy. A woman can walk around alone at night without any trouble.

In your opinion, what could city officials do to improve the situation?

I’m not optimistic about the future of Rome. It seems like city officials aren’t capable of making any significant changes here. If it were up to me, politicians would join forces with intellectuals to come up with a solution, and more money would be invested in higher education. It seems to me that the city is trying to build up a population of servers rather than researchers. They should find a way to collaborate with non-profit organizations and people involved in grassroots politics. They should find a way to invest more in culture instead of putting everything into real estate. In my opinion, investing in the cultural economy—national television, publishing houses, cinema, etc. would be one way to improve the condition of the city.

Photo Teatro Valle Occupato: Tiziana Tomasulo © press office / Article translated by Andrea Perdue