“Italy prefers inaugurations over maintenance”, was the caustic comment of Leo Longanesi. The quip, with its evocation of politicians immortalised in epic poses and green, white and red sashes as they cut ribbons, would be funny if it weren’t for today’s bitter epitaph provided by the tragedy in Genoa. Forty-three people swallowed by the void which opened where just a second before the Morandi bridge stood. In Italy people also die this way, a road which becomes an abyss and leads them to fall into nothingness, and into the air, the element into which a country capable only of words and unable to provide solid care for its foundations is evaporating. The rhetoric of the inauguration on sites for maintenance works, as Longanesi said, and he wasn’t kidding when he reminded us that the situation in Italy is tragic and lacking in seriousness. After all, the Morandi bridge in Genoa – a city which already bore the scars of floods and landslides - is not the first to collapse in Italy.
The past few years are marked with a long series of infrastructural failures, with consequential deaths and injuries. On 18 April of last year, a viaduct on the Fosseno ring road in the province of Cuneo collapsed, and the fact that there were no deaths was purely down to luck, as there were no vehicles on that section of the road at the time. However, a month earlier there was less to be relieved about, as the collapse of a motorway bridge in Ancona led to the deaths of two people. On 28 October 2016, the collapse of a flyover in Molteno, the Milan - Lecco highway, killed one person and injured another four. The list is long and includes two deaths in 2013 for the collapse of a bridge, during testing, in the province of Pordenone, and three bridges which collapsed in Sicily between 2013 and 2015. The point is that Italy, with its various road systems and hydrogeological situation, seems to be slowly crumbling like so much stale bread due to carelessness, improvisation and incompetence. It would certainly be interesting to discover who is responsible for the tragedy in Genoa – and it will take years – but in the meantime it is clear that no-one is completely innocent.
The point is that Italy, with its various road systems and hydrogeological situation, seems to be slowly crumbling like so much stale bread due to carelessness, improvisation and incompetence.
Apart, that is, from Riccardo Morandi, who does not deserve to have his name associated with ruin, and who cannot be blamed for the fact that works designed and constructed half a century ago were not maintained or reconstructed, or that the old reinforced concrete stays used by the engineer at the time were not replaced by more resistant ones. The concession-holders for the motorways who display astonishment in the face of the collapse are not innocent, with their ever-less frequent checks on the state of infrastructure, and neither is the world of politics, having made such a mess for such a long time with concessions and maintenance, investing neither resources nor energy as maintenance is low-visibility, in stark contrast to inaugurations, even if they are only for a worksite at the beginning of construction, useful however for highlighting in glossy slides depicting projects achieved.
Infrastructure does not lead to votes, although when it collapses, as is the case with the Morandi bridge, it severs the bond of trust between citizens and the state. The State is, more than ever, a place of transit for ever increasingly improvised leaders who are devoid of a systematic view, incompetent on matters of urban planning, road networks, hydrogeological restructuring and the Italian landscape. Yet it would take little to begin to improve matters. Service contracts for public concessions should, for example, set an obligatory spending limit for maintenance works. With regards to state technicians, everyone knows that it is a sector which is understaffed and de-skilled. More architects, engineers and geologists are required, employed by the State through regulated competitions and made more efficient, encouraged and rewarded, finally ending the lament of those who see every State official as a loafer. “How can a State without technicians manage a motorway network?” was the justifiable question posed by Sabino Cassese. But good sense cannot come from a common line of thought driven by endless propaganda and rhetoric centred on renovation and revolution. The new as a cover-up for old, rancid and slovenly rhetoric. What poor Italy needs is more silence, serious work, care and maintenance for that which those who came before us have done.