The prohibition era?

New municipal laws are a national trend

Editorial Staff
September 4, 2008

Building sandcastles on a Venice beach. Eating sandwiches on the Spanish Steps. Hanging laundry on Florence's streets. These are just some of the many actions now officially considered ‘indecorous' in Italian towns and cities as municipal police across the country are actively enforcing new local ordinances intended to clean up city streets and discourage disruptive behaviour. A wave of new regulations washed over the country at the same time Italian cities and beaches swelled with foreigners eager to enjoy la dolce vita in the bel paese. Unaware that some of the most banal actions may result in a stiff fine, tourists risk becoming lawbreakers as Italy moves to resolve a nationwide ‘security emergency'.


An article published in Britain's Independent, ‘Tourists Beware: If It's Fun, Italy Has a Law Against It', warned readers of the rules in a new ‘prohibition era' Italy. Expressing bewilderment at the seemingly arbitrary laws recently passed by many Italian mayors, author Peter Popham wondered about their efficacy: ‘Most of them will probably never be enforced, but that will be scant consolation to the pigeon-feeder whose holiday souvenirs include a large fine'.


According to Popham, tourists are particularly likely to unwittingly transgress: ‘Unwary foreigners risk getting hefty fines for doing things that are perfectly legal everywhere in the world except the particular town or city where they find themselves.'


The unprecedented flowering of municipal restrictions stems from a recent national decree granting mayors new powers to deal with crime and security by addressing the many small infringements on aesthetics and ‘quality of life' that often add up to urban blight. When issues of street crime and safety came to the forefront of political discourse after a series of controversial municipal ordinances enacted by Florence's centre-left government last year, Italian policymakers used the example of Florence's extension of mayoral powers to launch the national effort.


As other cities rushed to put new regulations on their books in the wake of the national decree, Florence added more ordinances as well, all of which took effect August 11. Champion of the new set of local rules, Florence safety superintendent Graziano Cioni, warns that those who break them face fines ranging from 25 to 500 euro, with most around 160 euro.


While some of Florence's 46 new municipal ordinances take aim at crime (standing near churches, schools and residential areas for the purposes of prostitution, for example, violates municipal law), many focus on cleaning up the city. People who leave bottles or pour their contents in streets and piazzas, litter (including dropping cigarette butts), bathe in public fountains or urinate in public are subject to fines. (To discourage the latter two, restaurants are now required to allow anyone, whether a paying patron or not, to use their restrooms.) Dog owners must ‘scoop the poop' of their pooches, who must be both muzzled and leashed in public. Other ordinances aim to curb disruption. Public drunkenness is prohibited, as is setting off fireworks and playing loud music in public and private areas. Bar owners are responsible for limiting late-night noise both inside and outside their properties.


Many regulations focus on eliminating clutter and protecting the city's monuments. Chaining bikes to street poles and city monuments; driving scooters and motorbikes in designated green areas; fastening flowers, ‘love locks', photos, notes, posters, fliers and the like to city walls, poles, fences and monuments; leaving fliers on cars, in postal boxes or outside buildings and homes-all illegal. Graffiti is prohibited. Those who climb over bridges or onto bridge platforms now risk fines as well as personal safety.


Itinerant street vending and ‘walking around with large and encumbering bags' are subject to fines. Also on the list: hanging laundry out to dry and shaking tablecloths out of windows; dressing ‘indecently' in churches and on the street; and using the giglio symbol without municipal permission.


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