Once known for its culture and its seemingly idyllic political model, the city of Bologna has undergone harsh political and economical transformation, leading to gentrification and massive real estate speculations. F or those political people seeking to address the lack of housing, cultural space, or free social spaces in the city, evictions are currently the only answer.
Bologna, once a city of culture, is now a city of evictions.
For many years, the city of Bologna has been an icon of good administrative practice and culture. After 50 years of almost uninterrupted left-wing governments (first under the Italian Communist Party, then under the centre-left parties PDS, DS, PD), Bologna formed the core of the so-called ‘Emilian model’, universally admired from outside the region. A lively system of production, led by cooperative societies, and cutting-edge social services seemed to be the main strengths of this model.
However, although it produced an enviable level of wealth, the model was not as perfect as it seemed. Its real basis was the Communist Party, which acted as the hidden propulsive force behind the economy, controlling thousands of jobs through a network of giant cooperatives.
Nowadays, the economic growth of the region has come to a halt, affected by the harsh crisis across the entire country: the outsourcing and de-industrialization of the last 30 years are becoming increasingly common. Bologna, once a working-class city, is relying more and more on its tertiary sector. An example of this is the University whose importance in the local economy and also in questions of city planning has grown. Local government, property owners and retail industry are seeking to clean and neuter the historic centre, turning it into a ‘hidden jewel’ for weekend shopping. Much speculation on the value of real estate here is taking place and the University, with a large amount of property, is joining in with a will.
The Bartleby collective has been an important venue in the city centre since 2008. After several occupations, the collective eventually signed an agreement for its current premises with the University, an agreement that expired late in 2012. Bartleby’s positive role in the cultural life of the city has been generally recognised and praised. It has also received an outstanding endorsement: soon before his death, the illustrious poet and former partisan Roberto Roversi donated his private collection of magazines to the collective. This collection is now inaccessible, hidden behind a newly erected wall.
In the early hours of January 23, the main entrance of Bartleby was bricked up as a police contingent called by the University prevented access to the sealed premises. According to the University, the premises are expected to be renovated shortly. As the collective and its many supporters claim, this was rather a carefully orchestrated action to remove the collective from Bologna’s historic centre, eliminating one of the few free cultural venues still in existence in the city. Professors, intellectuals, nationally known arts and cultural organisations such as the Teatro Valle, and locally high ranking members of the CGIL union have all expressed their support of Bartleby.
The eviction of Bartleby is not an isolated incident. Over the last month, about 50 people in need of homes (collectively represented by the independent union ASIA-USB) were evicted twice from some empty public buildings. The residents of the neighborhood had looked favorably upon the occupation as it brought the buildings back into use again. However, the local authorities proceeded with the evictions, despite the bitingly cold winter temperatures. Only one family with three children has currently been allocated housing; the remaining evicted people were directed to emergency places in the city shelters for homeless people. The demand for affordable housing (‘case popolari’) has increased by 82% over the past year. Of recent applicants, 70% currently live in private housing whose rent takes at least half of their income. More than one in ten new applicants have no income at all.
Also under threat of eviction is Atlantide, home to several local LGBT and feminist collectives since the mid-nineties. According to the local council, their current venue (an old building near the city centre) is to be reallocated to an association promoting environmental awareness. The exploitative angle of such a decision did not go unnoticed by many local associations, such as TPO, ArciLesbica, Orlando, and many national feminist and LGBT groups.
Administrators continue to present Bologna as a city of ‘good administration and welfare’, claiming historical continuity with the ‘Emilian model’, yet a local councillor has recently proposed charging for the use of children’s public playgrounds. And for those political people seeking to address the lack of housing, cultural space, or free social spaces in the city, evictions are currently the only answer.
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