Tuesday’s class was certainly unorthodox compared to the slew of college classes I’ve attended in 3 years; I can now say I got to explore a city neighborhood for class, and learned some really interesting things. The most distinct observation I made, even just after beginning our explorations, was that the feeling inside Borgo Bello was different, especially than Corso Vanucci in the heart of Perugia. Borgo Bello felt much more subdued, with an attitude of business and a purpose to everyday life, as opposed to the flashy, tourist driven restaurants and shops of Corso Vanucci. Borgo Bello felt hearty and rooted. Together with the drippy, rainy weather, the neighborhood was certainly unlike anything I’ve found in Perugia so far.
Our first walk through the neighborhood took us straight through to the Roman Archway, with no detours into any alleyways or shops. But upon returning back into the heart of the neighbor the second go around, we took the chance to go down some smaller streets, and into a few of the stores selling teas and coffees. We even went into the church and had a look around. One thing I noticed about the smaller streets is that I would have found no reason to go down them unless I lived down them; everything to see was on the main street, and it was the most direct route back to the upper portion of Perugia. Inevitably, we would walk into the alley way and just turn around after a bit and head back, always to the main street.
It was of course great having a chance to meet some of the community members responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of this great neighborhood, as well as some of the projects already completed. Additionally finally seeing the terrace in real life really inspired me to get excited about the project, and see a true vision for what we as a class can contribute to it.
One thing that was mentioned several times throughout the day, however, was the safety of some of the streets within the neighborhood. This has been a topic that we’ve discussed as a class, and its been mentioned by the professors before, so I wasn’t surprised to hear it again on the tour. It seems to me that the issue is one of surveillance on the streets themselves, which was an issue discussed frequently and in-depth by Jane Jacobs in her piece on American cities. Streets without community surveillance are generally going to be less safe, and what I gathered from the tour was that many of the streets in Borgo Bello remain without surveillance from community members, and thus crime is able to occur. Projects have been implemented in some of the neighborhood’s streets to increase the level of traffic and surveillance in the streets, but the system is still imperfect. And I have theories as to why, because I even experienced it myself. Jane Jacobs writes, “You can’t make people use streets they have no reason to use” (36). Many of the unsafe streets are off the main road, and are thus used much less. They don’t have any restaurants or bars on them, and they don’t lead to necessarily helpful locations while the main road does. Even as we were walking as a class, the alleys were empty; no one from the community was using the back alleys, but the main road was always busy. So while community engagement projects offer hope, unless the street offers a purpose or a reason for residents to use it frequently, the level of surveillance may always remain low.