The listening marathon

Roundtable discussions between council and citizens

Daniel C. Meyer
December 3, 2015 - 9:00

How do Florentines discuss the future of their city? These days, they organize a marathon, more precisely, a Maratona dell’ascolto.

 

ph. Bruno Evangelista - Agenzia Lama

 

The ‘listening marathon’ is the name given to a series of public meetings arranged by the City of Florence, in association with Sociolab, to prompt dialogue with residents on some of the key issues concerning Florence’s administration, with the goal of finding mutually agreeable solutions.

 

The most recent of these marathons took place on the morning of November 14 in Santa Croce’s cenacolo to discuss a management plan for Florence’s world heritage.

 

Each session features roundtables, one for each thematic working group, in the presence of the city councillor responsible for that particular field or a manager from the city council, plus an audience of individuals with experience in that area. A professional facilitator manages the discussion and, after each session, a report is produced, which is summarized and presented at the end of the meeting in plenary to all participants.

 

At the November 14 meeting there were seven roundtables, with participants discussing such fundamental issues as making the Arno river into a city resource; flood management and climate change; the protection and preservation of Florence’s architectural and artistic heritage; the sustainable management of increasing numbers of tourists; urban renewal to increase tourism in neighbourhoods outside the city centre; improving quality of life in the city centre; protecting and reviving Florentine crafts, trades and historic businesses; and traffic and transit issues.

 

More than 100 citizens accepted the invitation of the city administration and attended the discussions, many signing up through the email address ascolto@comune.fi.it to have their say.

 

Overall, comments were positive and participants seemed to enjoy the unusual opportunity to have an open debate with the administration. People like Primo Biagioni, owner of a carpentry firm founded in 1835 and regional president of artisan trade union Confartigianato, expressed his approval: ‘This is the second meeting I’ve attended and I think these opportunities are very important to meet other citizens and to directly address the problems of the city. Now, my hope is that the administration will able to implement our recommendations.’

 

Alessandra Barbieri, a council employee in charge of sustainable development who participated in the roundtable on management of tourism commented, ‘I believe these opportunities for direct discussions with citizens are very important for both sides: those who listen and those who speak.’

 

Carlo Francini, manager of UNESCO for the Historic Centre of Florence, spoke enthusiastically about the initiative: ‘We believe that, in order to protect the heritage of a city like Florence, we must reach a shared management plan, and we are 100 percent in agreement with this approach to public meetings encouraged by the city administration. The information that will come out here will be very important for us to understand how to address our activities better.’

 

Speaking to The Florentine, Florence mayor Dario Nardella, who opened the meeting, said, ‘Our aim is to promote the participation of citizens on issues that directly affect their daily lives. More specifically, with this meeting we want to understand how to reconcile the protection and promotion of our cultural heritage without sidelining Florence’s businesses and quality of life. Our complex and ambitious goal is to protect our treasures without turning the city into an open-air museum, some kind of extended theme park. We must experiment with new solutions to boost our citizens’ quality of life.’

 

In light of the Paris terror attacks the night before, the mayor closed the meeting ahead of schedule (the roundtables later resumed their work individually on subsequent days) to invite all participants to attend the peaceful rally held outside the French Consulate in piazza Ognissanti. ‘The worst answer we can give is to fall silent: Florence is united in crying ‘stop terrorism,’ and we must give an answer that starts with culture,’ said Nardella.

 

To find out more about upcoming Maratona dell’ascolto sessions, send an email to ascolto@comune.fi.it.

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