In chapter two of “Life and Death of Great American Cities,” Jane Jacobs examines sidewalks, focusing particularly on their safety and how they are used. She says, “If a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks interesting; if they look dull, the city looks dull” (Jacobs 29). I have to agree.
“Historic,” “medieval,” and “rich in culture” are some of the words that come to mind when I think of first impressions of the streets of Perugia. When I think of the streets of my hometown, Billings, Montana, the phrases “lackluster” and “small town feel” are the first that I think of. (And, if you couldn’t tell, I feel like I’ve somewhat outgrown my home city since moving to the Twin Cities for college.) The Twin Cities in Minnesota seem to me like the best of both worlds. St. Paul, where I live, is green and somewhat residential with many parks and lakes, and fun-for-the-whole-family festivals. Minneapolis is vibrant and lively. I love the nightlife; everywhere you turn there is art and bright lights and live music. Between the two cities, there’s always something to do, and their streets definitely reflect that.
Regarding the safety of the streets, Jacobs discusses how it is not the size of the city that affect its safety, but the people who inhabit the streets. As she points out, “No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down” (32). I like the phrase she uses to describe the sidewalk and street peace: “public peace.” I would say that the public peace in Billings is quite high. Like any city, there are places you avoid at certain times or places you wouldn’t walk alone. It’s interesting to me that despite how safe Billings is, I would rather live in the Twin Cities, a place I where I would say the public peace is lower and I feel less safe. Perhaps this can be attributed to the size difference and the fact that I simply do not know the area of St. Paul/Minneapolis as well as I do my hometown because I have only lived there for a little over two years. Billings’ population is around 120,000 while the Twin Cities is around 3.5 million. However, safety and population may be two separate concepts entirely. Some people want a calm small town vibe, while others, myself included, crave the energy in a big city. In fact, since first visiting Southern California when I was twelve, I’ve always felt drawn to SoCal and hope to move there after I graduate. What are others’ thoughts on the relationship between population size and public peace in the streets/safety?
One thing I’m curious about in Perugia is how friendly Italians are with their neighbors. I rarely see people in the stairwell of my apartment building, but on the few times I have passed someone we’ve exchanged “ciao” or “buongiorno/buonasera.” Once, during our first week living in the apartment, my roommates and I could not figure out how to open the first door that leads into our apartment. As we were pulling and pushing on the door with all our might (undoubtedly making a lot of noise as one does when essentially breaking down a door) the neighbors just below us came out of their apartment and tried to help us open the door for at least ten minutes. They were incredibly kind, patient, and helpful even with the language barrier between us. (Update: we have since gotten the bolt on the door fixed!)
I’m eager to experience more of Perugia. I have not explored much outside of the center nor have I interacted that much with Italians who live here, (something Jacobs would argue is not only linked, but impossible to examine one without the other).