Recently, the popular Italian blog “Roma Fa Schifo” (Rome Sucks), which takes a critical look at everything from corruption in the Italian capital to costumed gladiators behaving badly at the Colosseum, turned its gaze northward to report on the continuing expansion of Milan’s already efficient transportation network.
Bitter commenting ensued – Romans are still waiting on a third subway line to be completed after years of hollow promises – with one person remarking, “In Milan, they live. In Rome, we survive.”
The fact that the notoriously proud Romans would look at their northern rival with even a twinge of envy is an indication of the level of frustration with the capital as of late, with trash piling up in the streets, charges of mafia infiltration in city government and a mayor who was forced to step down in disgrace last autumn.
By contrast, Milan last year staged a successful six-month World’s Fair (also called Expo), which led to many improvements in the city’s infrastructure. In the last year alone, the subway line saw major expansion and several new highways were inaugurated to alleviate traffic and make for easier connections to the airports and outlying cities. Furthermore, three major museums opened in the city with a focus on contemporary art, fashion and world cultures.
According to the quality of life index released last December by Italy’s influential Il Sole 24 Ore financial daily newspaper, Milan shot up the rankings to second place for 2015, (up from eighth place in 2014) while Rome was knocked out of the “top 10” and was down four points on 2014, coming in at 12th for 2015. The index takes into account factors such as standard of living, population, work prospects, culture and law and order.
“Milan has had a great boost in terms of its reputation,” says Filippo Del Corno, Milan’s councilor of culture. “It has raced to the top of the charts in many rankings in terms of being an efficient and attractive place to visit.”
Milan has long been known as a fashion and finance hub and has only recently become more of a draw for tourists. Visitors still flock to Rome, but there’s been an overall sense lately that the ancient city is, well, showing its age.
Giuseppe Roscioli, president of the Roman hotel federation Federalberghi, recently told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper that hotel stays were down this past December and January 2016 as compared to the same period a year earlier. However, Roscioli blamed fears over terrorism, not the city’s recent woes, for keeping tourists away.
However, some Romans believe that complacency, corruption and bureaucracy are the issues impeding the city’s progress.
“Romans are too proud. It’s as if the only beauty in the city is the beauty that already exists,” says Valerio Gatto Bonnani, an actor and playwright from Rome who spent three years occupying the historic Teatro Valle to keep the city from turning the world-renowned theater and former opera house from the 1700s into commercial space via what he called “dirty dealings.” “For a young artist, getting things done in Rome can be like hitting a rubber wall.”
Giulio Ecchia, an economics professor at the University of Bologna, says many Romans display an “arrogance of the past,” recalling the glorious eras of two millennia ago.
While Milan’s reputation was tarnished by corruption, bribery and mafia-infiltration charges during the early bidding and procurement phases of Expo, the national government moved swiftly to improve transparency in the bidding process.
Raffaele Cantone, the head of Italy’s Anti-Corruption Authority, recently commented that Milan has taken back its role as the “moral capital” of the country, while Rome continues to show that it doesn’t have the antibodies to fight off corruption.
“It’s an unfortunate reality in this country, but you will hear people say ‘he’s too honest to get things done in Italy,’ and we have shown that honesty and transparency are the best drivers for providing efficiency, quality and concrete initiatives,” says Del Corno, the culture councilor. “We have shown that this model can work not just in Germany, France or the Scandinavian countries.”
Despite the criticism of Milan’s bidding process for Expo, the Milanese were eventually won over by how the event was run, Del Corno says. The Expo has spurred Milan’s citizens to want to make the city a better place to live. “We’ve had positive results despite the economic crisis, and because of this we have a responsibility to offer leadership to the entire country,” he says.
Rome may not necessarily be looking to Milan for leadership, but Milan’s top security official, Francesco Paolo Tronca, has been called in to replace the ousted Roman mayor until elections can be held. Whether Tronca can bring any Milanese efficiency to Rome remains to be seen.
“In Rome, we know that corruption is part of the DNA of the culture,” says Darius Arya, an archeologist and executive director of the American Institute for Roman Culture, and who has lived in Rome for 17 years. “Bus and train service is getting slower and slower. It is very obvious that money is being mismanaged when you read in the newspaper that the guy in charge of the system earns 400,000 euros a year.”
But he says there are some bright spots in the city, such as new international museum directors who are breathing new life into the museum scene, a dynamic pope and a “culture ministry that is really starting to kick it in.”
According to a recent study carried out by Confcommercio – the largest business association in Italy, which focuses on commerce, tourism, transportation and services – three out of four tourists surveyed expressed disappointment with the public transportation system in Rome, however, 95 percent said they were satisfied with their visit to the Eternal City and 82.8 percent hoped to return one day.
Some say that the two cities really shouldn’t be compared.
“I don’t think there’s a real rivalry between Milan and Rome,” says Gianluca Preti, a Milan resident and videographer who was one of the founders of a wildly popular Expo-related Facebook channel. “The cities have different souls and even their histories are very different. They only started to have a shared history 150 years ago.”