Friday, May 25, 2007
It's a common observation, of course, but the land uses of big continental European cities forms a stark contrast to those of the United States. The 15-mile ride from the airport of Rome passes through mostly farmland and small towns, until the city, with a population of more than 3 million, quite abruptly appears, with multi-family housing. In the United States, a similar stretch would be filled with housing subdivisions. How does Rome avoid sprawl? (Or, from another perspective, why don't affluent Romans live in detached houses on the outskirts?) There are many factors. One factor is tough land use laws that makes the preservation of farmland a paramount goal. Another is a transportation policy that builds few new auto roads (even though Rome holds a "beltway" and most Romans own a car). Another is an attitude toward metro living. As in many European cities, living in central Rome is pleasant, vibrant, and chic (and demand-driven expensive). The limited suburbs are both bland and far from the action of the city (Mussolini built the cold "EUR" suburb in the 1930s outside the old city walls). Accordingly, most affluent and middle-class Romans would prefer a spacious city apartment above a trattoria than a house in the suburbs.