Monday, October 09, 2006


Another Brick In The Wall

Via 2Blowhards, a fascinatingly under-reported story:

BBC News: 'Ring Of Steel Divides Padua'

'The Anelli estate in Padua is a cluster of crumbling high-rise flats.'

. . .

'It has a reputation for crime, drugs and prostitution, and is a constant source of angry complaints from local Italian residents.'

'This summer, after riots between opposing gangs, the left-leaning mayor of Padua took a drastic decision to seal off the estate - with a metal wall.'

. . .

'There is only one way into the complex, through a police checkpoint.'

'Uniformed officers now vet everyone coming and going.'

'The wall has limited the drug-dealing. In fact some of the inhabitants welcome the changes it has brought.'

The story, it seems to me, suggests that the residents of the Anelli estate are seen as almost diseased, contaminated by their address. They have also effectively been abandoned, and given up on as lost causes. In reality, this is nothing new - government, whether city or national, often come up with worst resort plans for sealing off parts of a city should it become diseased. Returning to that old favourite of mine, 'Discipline And Punish', Foucault starts off by analysing the French authorities' plan for sealing off a town or city if the Plague should strike:

'First, a strict spatial partitioning: the closing of the town and its outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain of death, the killing of all stray animals; the division of the town into distinct quarters, each governed by an intendant. Each street is placed under the authority of a syndic, who keeps it under surveillance; if he leaves the street, he will be condemned to death. On the appointed day, everyone is ordered to stay indoors: it is forbidden to leave on pain of death . . . It is a segmented, immobile, frozen space. Each individual is fixed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment.'

The other case it reminds me a little of is an incident in 'The Motorcycle Diaries' in which the young Guevara travels to a leper colony, and finds that the colony is divided into half - one half for the hospital and the workers (those who can be saved) and one half for the lost causes (those who can't). The division here occured around a river, but the placement of the colony is as artificial as the placement of the wall in Padua. (By the way, please don't turn the comments into a discussion of the life and politics of Che Guevara - I have plenty enough opinions on the subject, but they can wait for another time. The only thing that matters here is that there is no reason to believe any of the story concerning the layout of the leper colony is fabricated.)

Clearly, nothing so severe as any of this is in operation in Padua. In fact, the wall only runs along one side of the estate, so I really fail to see what is currently stopping drug dealers from walking around it. However, it is surely notable that for the first time that I know of in a western democracy, a group of people have been - even partially - sealed into an estate.

Yet there is a clear utilitarian argument for the wall. The BBC claim that it has reduced the problem of drugs ("the wall has limited the drug dealing"). Obviously, this argument holds no appeal for me - I consider it an equivalent of the old standard "say what you like about Hitler/Mussolini/Tojo/Fascist dictator of choice, but at least they made the trains run on time" - but in the results-driven world of modern politics, it's hardly irrelevant.

I really want to know what you all think about this story. It seems to me there are so many possible angles it can be looked at from - socialised housing, drug policy, segregation (arguably racial) - that there is the possibility for a very interesting debate on the subject. So, get your thoughts in!

Strikes me that the wall serves a political purpose as a rather strange diversion of attention rather than anything else.

The real issues at stake here are lower down in the article form which you quote - the fact that racial integration is practically nil, and that foreign workers earn less and receieve less benefits than their Italian counterparts. Meanwhile, the Italians see immigrants taking housing and jobs away from them and are resentful. It's the age-old story that's become ever more common since the Common Market and the freedom of movement that the EU has provided.

The wall is merely a front, a way for the mayor to declare that he's doing his bit against crime. It'll be torn soon enough when the residents unwittingly join forces with the drug dealers and attack either the police or the nearest group of African immigrants.

I was fascinated by the article though - I agree that it's been woefully under-reported. I would, however, add that until not that long ago (relatively) there were police checkpoints at the entrance to particularly nasty estates in England and Northern Ireland. Which, although not as spectacular or headline-worthy as a shiny big wall, basically did the same thing.
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