Change, the very hardest thing of all
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Change, the very hardest thing of all

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Thu 25 Mar 2010 1:00 AM

 

Social media used to make a statement, to observe and listen to the reaction, and re-qualify the original statement? Astounding change.

 

 

There is no way that the inauguration of the notorious Tramvia went unnoticed in this city. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re lucky. The rest of us have been sitting in endless traffic jams all over the city for the last three years while Line 1 was being constructed, protested, modified, opened and closed.

 

The obstacles to change in this case, were indeed gargantuan for the city, psychologically and physically. Florence, however, got there, despite myriad problems: altered routes, overdue deadlines, continual construction, impromptu protests (on the ground and in the trees) and greatly exceeded budgets. Despite it all, change happened.

 

Politics in Italy has long been the domain of grey-haired gentlemen aged 55 up who have defended the ?old way’ as fervently as they have promoted change in their election speeches (and then reneged on their promises). Last year, Florence voted in Matteo Renzi, as the city’s mayor at the tender age of 34. In just a few months (whether you love him or hate him), his presence in Florence is undeniably visible. More change.      

 

Over the past few months, Renzi (plus his team, I suspect) has constantly Twittered and Facebooked his way into the virtual and real lives of the local citizenry, keeping ?fans’ and ?friends’ updated on the latest urban developments. Extensive use of social media by an Italian public administrative authority? Enormous change.

 

On the day of the very overdue opening of the Tramvia, this was posted from Matteo Renzi on Twitter and Facebook (http://bit.ly/9EHpZ5): ?Matteo Renzi believes that this is a great day for Florence. Finally we have the tramvia!’ The online compliments flooded in.

 

On February 19, Renzi informed the citizenry, via Twitter and Facebook (http://bit.ly/bvzE4d), that he ?believes that Florence should join in the northern Italian cities’ campaign for a traffic ban on February 28. There’s no doubt that it’s a pointless exercise, as the real solutions, which we are working on, are making cycle routes, investing in trains, tramvias, electric and sustainable developments . . .’

 

And in doing so, Renzi unwittingly unleashed the beast that is the not-so-nice side of social media. Peoples’ comments were fast and furious, and understandably, mostly centered on the idea that ?If it’s pointless, then why are we doing it?’  

 

A speedy press release rebutted: ?I said that the traffic ban is pointless because it is not enough. To really improve the air quality of our city a more complex approach is required . . . Readings show us that on the days when traffic is banned there is an improvement in air quality, and also that the next day we are back to square one. I want to stress that even if the benefits are slight, traffic bans are a symbolic exercise that encourage us to move around our city differently  . . .’ 

Social media used to make a statement, to observe and listen to the reaction, and re-qualify the original statement? Astounding change.

 

In a relatively short period of time, Florence has started to give change a chance. Change in the way the city is governed, change in the city’s infrastructure, and change in the tools that are used to communicate that change. That’s a whole lot of change.

 

Good, bad, right, wrong: change is hard. But it kick-starts innovation, and without it, Florence is going to have a hard time getting out of the current economic slump. The Florence of the 1500s was incredibly innovative. It was a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, grooving kind of city! We locals are realistic: we know that we’ve had our 15 minutes of fame (okay, perhaps its a bit more than 15 minutes), and we’ve lived here far too long to say (or think) that Italy is a progressive society. But I can say that most of us are proud of the change that is happening right here, right now in Florence. Let’s keep it going!

 

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