Tag Archives: tommaso sodano

Naples is becoming a laboratory for social innovation

Participatory democracy, bottom-up initiatives, and social innovation

Participatory democracy in action: Deputy Mayor Tommaso Sodano takes questions from citizens and listens to their proposals in an open-air assembly in Bagnoli on 29 July 2011.

Anthony M. Quattrone

The election of Luigi de Magistris on 31 May 2011 has coincided with a renewed sense of citizenship on the part of many Neapolitans who have become disheartened towards the political process.  During the latest rounds of local and national elections, Neapolitans have demonstrated their unhappiness by simply not going to vote or by voiding their ballot in the privacy of the poll booth.  The “non-vote party” has hovered in the 35 to 40 percent range reaching a enduring level of disaffection towards all political sides.  A famous Neapolitan actor, Beppe Barra, during a concert in support of the electoral campaign of Luigi de Magistris’ for the post of Mayor  bluntly warned the candidate on 13 May 2011: “Luigi, please don’t disappoint me!”  Many citizens in Naples feel that the election of Luigi de Magistris is a last-ditch bid to save whatever is left of the glorious capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, conquered by the North 150 years ago and annexed to the newly formed Italian state.  Some historical revisionist analysts feel that Neapolitans first became disillusioned by Italian politics exactly 150 years ago, when the Capital was downgraded to a mere province in the new Italian state, and the northern Italian conquerors made ill thought political agreements with members of organized crime, the Camorra, making them become the first police commissioners. Neapolitan disenchantment with politics and total distrust of politicians started with the unification of Italy and has basically persisted to this day.

However, with the election of Luigi de Magistris, Naples appears to have become a sort of laboratory for participatory democracy, bottom-up initiatives, and social innovation.  On the participatory democracy front, the new mayor has kept his promise, so far, to consult with stakeholders prior to implementing policies, with the intention of making citizens part of the decision making process.  De Magistris and members of his City Government have taken their policies to the street holding open air assemblies in several neighborhoods, where citizens were given the opportunity to put forward challenging questions and where the mayor and his team have been required to provide candid and straightforward answers. The Mayor has also made time at City Hall to receive social action groups and private citizens interested in providing him with their view on all aspects of governing the City.  De Magistris has stated that 90 percent of the meetings are about issues of general interest while only 10 percent pertain to “personal” matters.  He commented also that most of the meetings produce a wealth of raw information not readily available to City Government officials and, in many cases, citizens also provide reasonable solutions.  The deputy mayor, Tommaso Sodano, for example, held a fiery meeting with several hundred residents of the western neighborhood of Bagnoli, on 29 July 2011, to discuss several practical topics related to living conditions, such as getting more police on the streets, cleaning municipal gardens, picking up the garbage, improving the flow of traffic, and reducing noise at night caused by open air discotheques and hoards of kids roaming the streets.  Although the meeting, organized by the Assise Cittadina per Bagnoli (City Assembly for Bagnoli), was publicized only via leaflets and word of mouth, the participation was high.

Bottom-up initiatives keep flourishing in all neighborhoods.  Three groups that Naples Politics mentioned in a 12 June 2011 article in Naples Politics are still on the move and have not let up their work, receiving praise by citizens and attention in the media.  Two groups are directly involved in taking action to clean up neighborhoods and to take care of gardens, trees and plants.  CLEANAP (whose name comes from combining the English verb “to clean” with “Naples”, to form CLEANAP, which is pronounced like the English “clean up”) continues to tackle different squares and streets cleaning up monuments, scrubbing streets and walls, removing graffiti and garbage, while Friarielli Ribelli (“friarielli” refers to a local type of broccoli and “ribelli” means “rebels”) are involved in “guerilla gardening“, cutting weeds, taking care of the gardens, and planting flowers and plants.  Both groups have continued to make headlines by relentlessly going from one neighborhood to another attacking urban blight and degradation.  The third group, V.A.N.T.O, whose acronym stands for “pride”, is relentlessly documenting and denouncing damage and deterioration of monuments, churches, gardens and buildings in Naples, while indicating low cost methods for preventing future damage.  The leader of V.A.N.T.O, Angelo Forgione together with singer Eddy Napoli were received on 20 July 2011 by Mayor De Magistris who was particularly surprised by the documentation presented by the group and who promised to take get involved.

Naples is getting attention also from international promoters of social innovation.  The UniCredit Foundation, in collaboration with the European Network of Civil Society Leaders Euclid Network and Project Ahead has launched an international competition expiring on 10 August 2011 entitled “Social Innovation for Naples” in which social innovators from across the world are invited to offer innovative solutions to six problems encountered in the city of Naples.  According to a press release issued by the organizers, “Naples is the epitome of state and market failures, its recent history has been marred by a barrage of corruption and a culture that still does not believe in change. These on-going challenges provide the perfect test field for social innovation to move beyond being a ‘nice label’ and to having tangible impacts on the ground and demonstrating that the time for a new approach has arrived.”  According to the press release, the organizers “aim to succeed where all else has failed” and that they “are running a competition to attract the brightest and most creative minds from around the world which can solve selected challenges in Naples.”  The six problems or challenges identified by the organizers are: 1)  Turning a confiscated villa into a financially sustainable Social Business. 2) Making an abandoned Roman bath accessible and sustainable. 3) Creating a sustainable business plan for a volunteering organization. 4) Creating a sustainable business model for a nonprofit organization that works with school dropouts. 5) Creating an innovative new method for inclusion of the young Roma population. 6) Creating an innovative new method for recycling textiles sustainably.

An international panel of judges,  will select a winner for each of these fields of intervention who will receive a grant of €10,000 from UniCredit Foundation, and who, together with a previously identified local nonprofit organization, will turn the idea into a concrete program, drawing up an executive project and a business plan. The second phase of the initiative will consist of the assessment and possible implementation of the most effective projects.  More information for participating in the competition can be found at Naples 2.0 – International Social Innovation Competition.

The city of Naples is going through very interesting times with many citizens involved in participatory democracy, bottom-up initiatives, and social innovation. Neapolitan analysts, historians, politicians, and intellectuals are split between pessimists and optimists, with the former ready to bet that nothing will ever change in Naples, and the latter placing all their bets on the power of participatory democracy, bottom up initiatives, and social innovation. The Mayor and his team are with the optimists.

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Filed under Luigi de Magistris Mayor "for" Naples, social innovation and change

Waste crisis: Naples snubbed by Northern League

Reaction by Naples Mayor engenders pride in citizenry to fight off racism from Northern League.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is flanked on his right by Stefano Calderoli, the outspoken Northern League minister who would like to use a flamethrower in Naples to resolve the garbage crisis, and on his left by the equally outspoken Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League and also a minister in the government. Both Calderoli and Bossi regularly make statements against the people of the south of Italy. (Photo from “Il Mattino” online, 3 July 2011).

Anthony M. Quattrone

The mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, is aiming at making Naples totally autonomous from the central government in terms of waste collection and management after that the Berlusconi government failed to come to the city’s help with an emergency decree which would have allowed Naples to export garbage to other regions.  In Italy, only special waste can be moved from one region to another, with the permission of the governor of each region, to be processed in specialized plants.  Ordinary waste cannot be transferred unless a special temporary decree is issued by the central government.  Naples needs a place to dump or process its garbage until the end of the year, when the door-to-door waste collection system and new compost sites are scheduled to be in place.

On 30 June 2011, the Berlusconi government issued a decree with numerous caveats which make the transfer of ordinary waste from Campania to other regions slow and difficult.  The decree also emphasized that all Neapolitan waste should be kept in southern Italian regions. The Berlusconi government was unable to approve a better decree because of the opposition of the Northern League ministers who hold the prime minister under check because their votes are needed to keep his government alive.

The Neapolitan daily, “Il Mattino” reported on 1 July 2011, criticism expressed by the Italian President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, and by the Cardinal of Naples, Crescenzio Sepe.  The President noted that the decree basically fails to provide the city with tools to climb out of the trash emergency.  Cardinal Sepe stated that the decree offends the dignity of Naples and does not respect the rights of its citizens.  In an interview, Berlusconi defended himself stating that he does not hold the 51% of the seats in Parliament, so he must make compromises with the Northern League.  Racist comments from Northern League politicians and some journalists have abounded during the past days.  Stefano Calderoli, a Northern League minister, announced that he is willing to work on the problems in Naples by using a flamethrower, while journalist Oscar Giannino looks forward to an explosion on the part of Mount Vesuvius for Naples to become a civilized society.

Resentment in Naples against the Northern League has now reached its all-time peak, with several restaurants and stores placing notices that they refuse to serve members of the Northern League.  Several consumer groups sprung up over the Internet requesting followers to boycott northern Italian products and to “buy south”.  Even the moderate Stefano Caldoro, the President of the Campania Region and member of Berlusconi’s center right coalition, is looking for retaliatory measures against the north.  Caldoro is now seeking to conduct a special inventory regarding all toxic waste that Campania imports from the north of Italy.  The Party of the South, a small formation which is part of the original coalition that has supported Luigi de Magistris’ bid for mayor, concerned about the de facto alliance created between the Northern League and organized crime, has called for a “democratic presidium” to be formed, to include the national unions and the associations representing entrepreneurs to assist the Mayor in informing citizens on the way ahead and in getting their participation in resolving the crisis, bottom-up.  The Party has also called on the Mayor to seek the assistance of Cardinal Sepe to inform citizens through the Catholic Church’s parish system regarding what City Hall is asking all citizens to do.

In the 15 days since Luigi de Magistris has appointed his city government, Naples is well on the way to collecting remaining garbage on the streets, placing garbage in temporary transition sites. As of this morning, Naples has reduced garbage sitting on the ground from 2,500 tons to approximately 1,300, with the center of the city basically clean, while several neighborhoods in the periphery are still in critical condition and should be tackled over the next couple of days. Naples produces approximately 1250 tons per day.  The independent suburban towns of Pozzuoli, Quarto, and Giugliano are still submerged with garbage, and they were hoping that the governmental decree would also provide them with relief.  They are now looking for help from the Provincial Government president, Luigi Cesaro, who is a member of Belursconi’s political party, and from the governor of the Campania Region, Caldoro.

In Naples, the city-owned garbage collection company, Asia, is playing a major role in turning the situation around.  The mayor hired on 16 June 2011 a new president for the company, Raphael Rossi, a 35 year old expert in waste collection, processing, and recycling, who earned notoriety last year for refusing a very high bribe in Turin when he had opposed the purchase of useless waste processing equipment with tax payer’s money.  Rossi’s exemplary behavior led to the arrest of those involved in the scam.  The mayor has also has placed all garbage collection workers on 24-hour shifts and he has decided to recapitalize Asia with 43 million euro.  The influx of capital will be essential for ensuring that suppliers are paid and that the new door-to-door collection system will be in place in September for an additional 200 thousand citizens.  Currently, 146 thousand Neapolitans are served with door-to-door waste collection, and their neighborhoods have not suffered during the current garbage crises.

Mayor de Magistris, deputy mayor, Tommaso Sodano, Asia president Rossi, and Raffaele del Giudice, a very well known ecologist who currently serves as counselor with Asia, are constantly in the streets speaking with citizens and encouraging Asia workers in meeting objectives.  The mayor’s personal visit to one of the garbage truck dispatch centers at 6 a.m. on 28 June 2011 paid off with a renewed sense of direction and commitment on the part of the workers.  Del Giudice noted that the waste collection employees are working beyond the call of duty.  In several neighborhoods, citizens who are appreciating the new spirit displayed by the Asia workers have independently formed groups to assist the garbage collection workers with loading trucks with large size items.  In several parts of town, long lines have formed to dump recyclable items in the mobile ecological centers that have been dispatched throughout the city in those neighborhoods that are not yet covered by the door-to-door garbage collection system.

Mayor de Magistris and Governor Caldoro are in touch with six Regions that have expressed an interest in importing garbage from the Campania Region.  If agreements are made quickly, Naples and Campania will be able to implement garbage separation processes without needing to be concerned about mountains of garbage sitting on the streets in the heat of the summer.  If the agreements fail, or if the Northern League and organized crime are able to put up additional roadblocks, Naples and Campania will spend one of the worst summers in their history.

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Filed under Garbage crisis, Luigi de Magistris Mayor "for" Naples, Organized crime