There’s no way you’d call this a road … more like an alley. The homes and family businesses lining the “Via” are made of 18×24 inch blocks of volcanic rock, cut and placed by hand 300 years ago, forming a canyon for fast moving pedestrians, bicycles, scooters and cars … with no more than 2 inches to spare all around. I manually retract my side-view mirror at 30 km/hr to avoid collision with the on-coming Fiat 500 (Cinquecento, pronounced “Chin-kwa-chen-toe”) around a blind corner, and neither of us bats an eye.
These two weeks in Sicily have provided an opportunity to reflect upon what cultural successes of this 5,000 year civilization might apply to our 160 year old city and it’s planning as this century progresses. I know … Sicily and Georgia are vastly different in economic, social and political context. But that just makes the question more interesting, and perhaps more relevant. Can we can sift the chaff (less consequential structural differences) from the grain (a thematic path to a healthier way of life).
No space is wasted, which leads to (1) creatively simple architectural and civic design, and (2) a thing is exactly the size it needs to be and no more. Communal space outdoors serves as the place to stretch and expand with family and community, more than making up for the smaller space indoors. Relevance to Atlanta: at this year’s Annual Landmark Luncheon for the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Atlanta-based designer and TV personality Vern Yip challenged us to create smaller, multi-use interior living spaces, thus less carbon footprint, closer family encounters, more affordably. Well, and a need for better manners.
Most things are built to last, and usually do. Reuse and repair are bigger than recycle here. Smaller homes and apartments are made of concrete and brick-blocks, requiring less energy to heat and cool, and ceramic tile easier to clean, rather than large boxes of wood, carpet and synthetics that leak energy and retain allergens. Relevance to Atlanta: when available and affordable, buy things designed to last a long time with episodic repair or refresh. Over time, manufacturers and builders will change to meet that demand.
Health is part of the day, rather than an add-on if time permits. Eighty percent of the meals consumed in this community are freshly prepared in the family kitchen, from farm to table ingredients. The other twenty percent are purchased from family-run, neighborhood businesses (bakeries, Italian ice [granite], coffee, and yes, pizzerias). The tomatoes here actually have flavor. The fruit is freshly picked when nearly ripe, sold out of the back of tiny trucks, locally. In my observations, most locals walk 6-9K steps per day here. Relevance to Atlanta: lets buy local Georgia produce, return to the kitchen, getting the whole family involved in the meal. Organizations such as Trees Atlanta, Park Pride, Georgia Conservancy, and Piedmont Park Conservancy deserve our financial and physical support. Zoning and neighborhood planning boards should approve multi-use projects that promote lasting design and constructuion principals, and walking over other transportation (pedestrian piazzas, green walkways, sidewalks and bike paths).
The people of Sicily had to adapt to many cultural, economic and political changes through the centuries (Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, and finally the Italians all ruled here), and made it through just fine. We can adapt to changes in our day to day lifestyle that will strengthen the generations yet to come, by adopting some of what our Sicilian brethren have modeled.