Perusing Perugia: A Journey Through Borgo Bello by Mariah Noth

Despite recently discovering Corso Cavour on jaunts with a friend, I was shocked on our journey by how much more life teemed in the myriad alleys clinging to the main artery of the thoroughfare than I anticipated.

Upon first glance, the area struck me as much more authentically Perugian than the main square and Corso Vanucchi, which, though stunning, seems to be more of the business and tourist district. Conversely, the area surrounding Corso Cavour seems to have let its hair down so to speak, while still asserting its historic Italian charm.

It is not only dotted with lively caffes and eclectic diversified shops– like a record store/ jazz bar/ recording studio– but also friendly neighborhood grocers, artisan shops, and various arts venues. Furthermore, all of this exists alongside a stunning church and an agricultural college which has cultivated a vibrant celestial garden. This sits directly across from another green space–a lush park with a tranquil fountain at its center where cohort of sagely looking statues quietly watch over the scene. The community’s color was only intensified by the personalities we interacted with during our tour including Orfeo, Nati, and the women volunteering at the thrift store.

The beauty of the neighborhood was magnified as we saw it through the eyes of these people who are so deeply bound to the community and its residents. Hearing the pride in their voices as they described the many projects the neighborhood initiative has accomplished was moving and instilled in me, and I believe the rest of the class, an immediate connection to this place. I believe this is what placemaking is truly about: the interactions that take place in a given space, including those between people, between people and objects, and the positive sense of belonging and identity that follows.

One of my favorite stops was at the Orto Bello urban garden where despite the winter season, the sanctuary still felt alive due to all of the activity occurring there (past and present). Equally as inspiring as the project’s mission to be a lively green space and facilitate positive community interaction was the truly democratic use of the space. The fact that the homeless have also been been able to share the area, and feel safe and supported while doing so, has contributed positively to the community fabric and proves that all of these residents truly care about one another.

Therefore I feel extremely privileged to be welcomed in as a complete outsider to see how I can help this organization continue to accomplish its goals. However, despite being somewhat enchanted by the neighborhood and the stunning view at the terrace, it became evident even during this short visit that Borgo Bello indeed has some work to do. I think that witnessing the illicit activities taking place at the site of our future project was extremely important as it gave us a true understanding of the gravity of the situation at hand. However, with the passion of the group as well as its leadership and organization, I feel we can truly make a difference and I am excited to see where the semester takes us.

My optimism stems from the points emphasized in last week’s readings. As the article about the importance of “Zealous Nuts” emphasizes, neighborhoods that thrive are those where people not only have stake in their community, but feel they can assert their agency and create a space they enjoy living in. This requires a sufficient reserve of social capital so that everyone feels that they can communicate their needs and goals as well as form the strong ties that allow neighbors to feel they can lean on each other in good times as well as through hardship. It appears that Borgo Bello is extremely wealthy in this regard given the success of the community initiatives already in place such as the thrift store which supports an elderly living facility, and considering that Orfeo seemed to know everyone he strolled past. People in this neighborhood clearly care about each other and they care about the space they occupy. This is the most difficult task in any community development project, and the existence of these relationships opens the door for us to create something of real significance in partnership with the Borgo Bello group.

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