This past Friday we visited our peers at the Agriculture School, part of the University of Perugia. They’re located in Borgo Bello, just across from the park. When we arrived we had a short tour of the grounds which included some time in the greenhouses, the workshop and the small plots outside. Given the cold and rainy weather outside, the greenhouses were the highlight of the trip. We checked out some of the tree grafting experiments that professors at the University are working on, as well as the small raised beds where they teach local youth basic farming skills. After we toured the campus of the Agricultural school, we had a coffee and explored the Abby and the church. Inside the church we met one of the eccentric and charming priests who showed us his unique nativity scene. There weren’t many students on campus that afternoon, but the few we did see were congregated in the Medieval Gardens where there is plenty of space for people to gather and enjoy the outdoors. The difference between the main public park and the Midieval Garden was obvious however. The garden, which is partially fenced off and accessible mainly through a corridor inside the Abby, does not allow dogs and controls the foot traffic. So though there weren’t as many people walking around, there was a sense of ownership, which might have come from the clear care for the grounds. Every shrub was trimmed, and the walking paths were neat.
Reflecting on last week’s reading by Jane Jacobs, I think the nuances that she describes: the watchful people, are not easily noticeable to a newcomer in the neighborhood. It wasn’t until this, my fourth visit to the neighborhood, where I began to notice the differences between each block of the same neighborhood. Some shopkeepers stand near their door, or welcomed us, while others stayed hidden inside and kept a watchful eye as we strolled past. Even the patrons at the various bars and restaurants noticed the groups of young people strolling past on the cloudy Friday afternoon. I noticed many more people noticing our group this time around, and I think this has something to do with me being more aware of the people to occupy the space regularly. I’m curious about which faces I’ll see on the street as we visit the neighborhood more and more throughout the coming months. There are few places in Borgo Bello that fit Jane Jacob’s definition of a safe city. There is somewhat of a clear demarcation of public and private space, though the various parks, terraces, museums and churches offer many spaces which are somewhere magically in between. I think I began to notice more eyes on the street this visit. I definitely saw storekeepers and baristas looking out their windows back at me as we walked by- acknowledging our presence. In terms of foot traffic, like any neighborhood, it depended which road we took. On the main street there were many people walking the sidewalk. However, on a majority of the smaller side streets and alley-ways which the neighborhood has spent a lot of time and money investing in, there were fewer people. Perhaps a more obviously cared for and interesting main street would encourage people to explore further.
The last observation I think is important to talk about is the lack of sidewalks on a vast majority of the streets in Borgo Bello. There is poor visibility in the narrow alleys and backstreets which though some may find it charming and quaint, it’s a nightmare for anyone trying to access these spaces with strollers, wheelchairs etc. While we were walking through the road with the futurist installation I couldn’t help but think about the possibility of bringing in a sound installation of some sort. Something that would call people away from car-packed main street. It will take more exploring to understand were the favorite spaces of the locals are. I think we made progress though, visiting the record store/ bar on Corso Cavour and stopping by the puppet theater. I know I plan to bring more of my friends to the neighborhood, and it was helpful to have Davide (the professor from the Agriculture School) and Viviana showing us some of the best places in the neighborhood.