Citizens are on the move
Anthony M. Quattrone
The election of Luigi de Magistris as new mayor of Naples on 31 May 2011 might be having an interesting effect on the participation of Neapolitans in improving their city through a bottom-up approach. Citizens appear to be on the move on several fronts. The Mayor had promised during the election campaign that he would have paid special attention to the points of view expressed by committees and movements, with the purpose of ensuring a higher level of democratic participation in the management of the city. Several committees and movements have taken the Mayor at his word and they have already engaged him through discussions and initiatives on the ground, not even leaving him time to complete the formation of his new city government, which will be announced on 13 June 2011.
A group of fifty citizens led by Rino De Martino, who manages the Treves International bookstore, cleaned up the portico in Piazza del Plebiscito (known as Largo di Palazzo prior to the invasion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860), cutting grass and picking up garbage under the colonnade of the San Francesco di Paola Basilica on 4 June 2011. A week later other citizens, led by a Facebook group called CLEANAP, (the group’s name comes from combining the English verb “to clean” with “Naples”, to form CLEANAP, which is pronounced like the English “clean up”) worked on Piazza Bellini, bringing it back to a spick-and-span condition, while a second group Friarielli Ribelli (“friarielli” refers to a local type of broccoli and “ribelli” means “rebels”) performed “guerilla gardening“, cutting weeds, taking care of the gardens, and planting flowers and plants in the same piazza.
Citizens are also on the move trying to get the city to put back into use equipment sitting in warehouses or simply made “inactive” through the lack of attention by city administrators and lazy citizens. Angelo Forgione of the V.A.N.T.O. movement (the acronym plays on the Italian word “pride”) is attempting to get the attention of the Mayor and city officials regarding a giant movie screen in Piazza del Plebiscito, whose existence is regularly forgotten every summer. The screen, which is placed underneath the pavement between two famous equestrian statues with the Bourbon kings of Naples, Charles III and Ferdinand IV, can be electronically raised and used for open air movies during the summer. Forgione claims that with a very small investment, the system can be brought back to life.
On the security front, citizens have been on the move giving examples that something is changing both in terms of breaking a code of silence that has too often allowed organized and petty crime to gain the upper hand, and in terms of demonstrating that the city is fundamentally inhabited by honest citizens. Since the election of the new Mayor, several criminals have been caught within a matter of hours after committing robberies against tourists or merchants. On 2 June 2011, a couple of thieves stole clothes in the fashionable Barbaro boutique in the central Galleria Umberto, injuring a shopkeeper. Six days later they were arrested. On 5 June 2011, several hours after that two British tourists were robbed near the Cathedral (il Duomo), the Carabinieri were able to identify and arrest the alleged criminal. On 8 June 2011, two criminals were arrested several hours after robbing an American woman, member of the military, in the Capodichino airport area.
On two different occasions during the last ten days, tourists have been pleasantly surprised that honest Neapolitans have returned valuables that they had misplaced or lost. In one case, a tourist from Florence lost, in the Port area, her wallet with over 500 Euros and credit cards and in another an Italian who lives abroad left his personal computer in a taxi cab. In both cases, all valuables were returned to the happy owners.
The death of American tourist Antonio Oscar Mendoza, who died on 27 May 2011, nine days after that two criminals injured him when snatching his Rolex in the Port area, has led many Neapolitans to become more sensitive to the damage done to the image of the city by organized and petty crime. The two alleged criminals accused of having caused the death of the American tourist have been arrested on 31 May 2011. The new Mayor, in a meeting with the American Consul General, Donald Moore, expressed his condolences for the death of the American tourist and discussed with the American official his ideas for making Naples a more secure place for citizens and visitors alike. Neapolitans have reacted to Mendoza’s death in different ways, to include the official request to the Mayor to name a street in the Port area in the honor of the slain tourist.
Now it is up to Luigi de Magistris, the new mayor, to keep up the momentum and to start implementing real change. Tomorrow he will announce his new city government.