To coincide with World Earth Day on Sunday 21 April 2013, the national forum “Salviamo il Paesaggio” (Save the Countryside) is organising national demonstrations about the protection of unoccupied land and fertile ground. So far, demonstrations have been arranged in Piedmont, Liguria, Lazio, Veneto, Puglia, Sicily, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Lombardy.
Like water, unused fertile land is a precious community resource (a common good). It’s needed to produce food and to break down waste matter, to filter water and control flooding, to maintain bio-diversity and absorb carbon, and to produce biomass and primary materials. It’s the resource on which all others are based.
Recent findings from ISPRA (a research and environmental protection institute) show that, every second, 8 m² of virgin land is being covered with concrete or asphalt. Every five months, an area the size of Naples is being concreted over, and every year an area equivalent to the distance between Milan and Florence is disappearing under road and construction works. Once this has happened the land is destroyed – irreversibly. Italy, which was once known as “the Beautiful Country”, is rapidly becoming “the country formerly known as Il Belpaese”.
All this building work does not correlate with an increase in the population. In the last 50 years, in two generations, built-up land has doubled: from 70 m² to 340 m² per head of population.
There are already warning signs. Building on floodplains means that rain and melted snow can no longer flow into rivers and escape harmlessly to the sea. There are more and more serious floods.
The environmental movements take such warnings seriously and are working on creative responses: turning existing but unused urbanised areas of land (brownfield sites) to different uses; restoring value to sustainable forms of agriculture; thinking of the countryside as a social resource, an attraction for tourists and providing economic opportunities.
On 21 December 2012 the Council of State published its interpretation of a number of laws and regulations. It states, once and for all, that there are no rights [diritti edificatori] or legal entitlement [vocazioni edificatorie] to build on land which has not been developed. This clarification of the legal situation could help those trying to stop construction projects across Italy which have gone ahead through misinterpretation of the law. In particular, it could become the cornerstone of the struggle against those especially massive and pointless projects.
Soil sealing [impermeabilizzazione dei suoli] is the technical term for the loss of soil resources due to the covering of land for housing, roads or other construction work. At present, the calamity of soil sealing has only been taken up as a central political issue by Ecologisti e Reti Civiche (Ecologists and Civic Networks) and M5S. Others (such as Sinistra, Ecologia, Libertà – SEL) recognise it but are not working on it centrally.
The challenges of this land management issue are shown classically at local level where administrators of every political colour find themselves in a cleft stick. They need resources to pay for essential local services and more and more frequently they are having to rely on “oneri di urbanizzazione” (money paid by the builder on every new building) as the only income in the community account. These short-term decisions in favour of construction have the long-term consequence of spoiling the landscape of the place they live and wrecking the environment. That is why on 21 April ever larger organised groups of citizens will shout together: We cannot allow the land, our land, to be violated like this in the interests of just a very few people. We must stop soil sealing and consumption so we can hand on a healthy countryside to our children. We need a healthy countryside which can breathe. Without this we cannot breathe ourselves.
text [en] European Commission
video [it] Il suolo minacciato
text [en] Saving the countryside