As the number of tourists tapers off over the winter, residents in Florence are dodging far fewer than the millions who visit the city during the warmer months. This quieter time seems like a good moment to look at tourism and reflect on some of the questions mass tourism raises. Two articles in the features section deal with the difficult balancing act that tourism on a grand scale can force: the promise of prosperity and the threat of losing authenticity. One article looks at the changes to Tuscany’s once-sleepy town of Cortona; the other at the role of tourism in reviving abandoned villages and towns. It’s clear that without tourists, Florence would not be the unique combination of a small town and world-class city that it is. But let’s face it, they do drive us nuts sometimes. We love that they love our city and that they want to experience as much of it as possible in their very short time here, yet we, the residents, have errands to run and jobs and appointments to get to. Often times, the many tour groups blocking the Ponte Vecchio and those snapping photographs of the Duomo just get in the way. You may never look at them in quite the same way after reading the feature that takes us inside a tour group as it vies for space on the city’s sidewalks.
Florentines have become experts at dodging photographs and fighting for sidewalk space. But could our contempt ever turn into ‘sidewalk rage,’ a term coined by New Yorkers who grapple daily with millions of snap-happy, slow walking, gawking tourists in the Big Apple? New York is the inspiration for this issue’s cover, in which we advance an unusual idea: Does Florence need tourists lanes like the ones pranksters from Improv Everywhere spray-painted on New York’s Fifth Avenue last year (see videos at http://bit.ly/aO8hCq)? Should we zone the city’s sidewalks (of course, we mean the very few that are wider than half a metre) and piazzas so that visitors have their own, slower lane and we, Florentines, can rejoice in (finally) taking the fast lane?