To change or not to change?

Florence faces a decision

Elizabeth Monroy
December 15, 2011

Florentines have always been thought of as chiuso: closed off, resistant to change. As the centuries passed, from inside their beautiful city Florentines would watch with skepticism as the world outside their medieval walls changed. They observed and discriminated, accepting some changes that would improve their lives and rejecting others as fads. As an American expat living in Florence for many years, I have come to respect the Florentines' right to selective change and to realize that not all change is for the best. However, have the Florentines become so overworked, underpaid and burdened by the encroaching economic crisis that they have lost their objectivity to discriminate, to accept change for the better?


Increasing numbers of Florentines have sold their historic apartments to foreigners and moved outside the city, where they have found more affordable mortgages. Theirs is now becoming a car culture: driving to supermarkets, health clubs and shopping malls, using their paychecks to support chain stores. Are the family-owned cafes, restaurants, corner bars and specialty shops, as a result, going out of business? Will international corporations take over and will we lose the very things we love about Florence?


In piazza Duomo, we now have a Ben & Jerry's; in Piazza Repubblica a Hard Rock Café. Perhaps there is room for everything, but why then is it so hard to fill Florence's piazzas with their traditional creativity? Life beyond Tourism, an organization based on sustainable tourism values and not consumer services, states that tourism should provide tourists the opportunity to get to know the spirit of a place, its cultural diversity, and historical legacy. Is the heart and soul of Florence being lost as Florence marches on into a dubious future? I pose the question to all Florentines, for this is our city and our future. Take time to ponder the consequences of each action.


At the recent TEDx event held in the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, motivating speakers addressed the theme of innovation and optimism. They asserted that the primary ingredient in defining the future is to see the new in technology, science, art, culture and the like. All of the speakers said that the future must be met with optimism and creative solutions to our problems, especially the economic ones.


In that spirit, I offer two suggestions to spark the flame of creative innovation in us all; may it help bring the heart and soul of Florence into the future:


1. Keep the piazzas at the heart of the city. People flock to Italy for its beautiful open-air art, for the buildings, statues and fountains as well as for the people inhabiting the piazzas. Like a movie set, each piazza has a life of its own, with people eating and drinking, and street performers from all over the world; some have open-air markets of food and artistic wares, in others, music fills the air. These are just a few things that keep our city alive.


2  Encourage culture and creativity today. We need more international creative activities here in Florence, for example funds for filming on location and financial support for local filmmakers and actors who can participate in re-enactments of historical events. Other cities around the world make such investments to preserve local heritage and teach, especially the young, about shared history. Florence should do the same.


I believe in Florence. I believe in its people and I think we can all move into a beautiful, creative and prosperous future once we answer a very important question: how? Let TF know what you think; write to [email protected].



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