During most times of the day throughout the entire year, the narrow and often times cobble stone streets of Firenze (Florence), Italy are not so much roadways as they are large sidewalks. Mayor Matteo Renzi is serious about protecting and preserving the historic character of his city – the cradle of the Renaissance. During his tenure, he has taken steps to enforce laws adopted earlier which establish a Zona a Traffico Limitato (ZTL) or a traffic restricted zone in the city center. He also has launched new efforts to move people more efficiently using innovative mobility strategies gathered from other places around the world.
At some intersections, a simple chain is strung across the road to mark the no-drive zone. In other places, round metal bollards with a flashing light on top protrude from the pavement to mark the pedestrian zone. These gentle and not-so-gentle markers help define one of Europe’s most livable and walkable cities. On foot and at a leisurely pace, one can cover the distance from the Academia where the statue of David by Michelangelo stands, past the Uffizi Gallery and across the River Arno to the Pitti Palace with hardly a concern about a speeding automobile.
Of course the streets of central Firenze are planned for mixed use neighborhoods. Small shops and restaurants occupy the first floors and above, on the remaining floors, are residences. There is no such thing as a central business district or a peripheral residential district. People live and work and recreate in an all-encompassing space that both serves residents and draws visitors. Merchants carry on a thriving business despite the absence of cars and parking. In fact, the festive atmosphere of the street undoubtedly improves sales.
Vehicles are permitted under particular rules and residents have special permits allowing them to get to and from their homes. A taxi can generally move through the cordon at strategic points to allow them to ply their trade. Exceptions are of course made for emergency vehicles and others providing a public service. It’s all very manageable and desirable on so many levels. One can experience the rich social contact and participate in the gentle art of strolling and being at one with a place.
Granted, Firenze is a destination city with rich historical and architectural advantages and a cultural character that cannot be replicated elsewhere. It is simply a unique and timeless place. However, the principles being applied to maintain these advantages, to capitalize on the benefits of place and to renew the face of a city for the present millennia can be studied, appreciated and carried elsewhere for the benefit of other cities.