Genova - “They should at least give us a bit of the seafront! It would relieve us from the stink of the purifier... But we get nothing, jobs are being lost, one worker at a time. And what’s left for us? Chinese trinkets, mini-marts, shopping malls. Public gardens that become the lairs of drug users and drunks at night. And then there’s us, who at least take some kids off the street.” Enzo Celano, master of the noble art of boxing, sighs in his gym on Via Cornigliano which was previously a bowling club.
One of the few athletic facilities and meeting points, in a neighbourhood that has been betrayed twice: the first time, by ILVA’s new plan for redundancies, and the second time by a new city plan that never really took off.
Let’s be clear that here, where the end of the streets are blocked by the railway and by ILVA’s blue embankment, no one misses the blast furnace, the red dust that covered the houses, the smoke and traffic that afflicted the neighbourhood, or the gasometers that took up huge amounts of space. At least from the environmental point of view, the improvement is undeniable. The Villa Bombrini area, with the Film Commission and the summer festival, is an example of a successful recovery project. But the hopes of 2005, the programme agreement that decided the closing of the “hot works” and the guarantee of jobs, were quite different to what has occurred: “We had good foundations in place,” Leila Maiocco, a charismatic leader of the Health and Environment Committee, reflected years later. Maiocco had led the discussions in those years. She went on, “we never took a position against the workers. But in the end, Riva gained too much by taking advantage of employment extortion. And the neighbourhood did not get enough back.”
The new street, which was named after Guido Rossa, the Italsider union leader who was killed by the Red Brigades, was supposed to [reroute traffic to city’s benefit], with heavy traffic going towards the sea, and the main street to be improved with sidewalks, trees, shops, and bicycle paths. The money is available, and the final project is in place, but everything has stopped because the new street’s links to the Val Polcevera are lacking.
And along the Villa Serra front, which was redeveloped for almost three million euros, all the shutters are closed. And no one knows who still might occupy this space or what will be done with it.
The images in the architects’ renderings, which were circulated on the Facebook page “Cornigliano, the rebirth” and superimposed on present day photos, seem even more fictitious now: Via Cornigliano, the central axis of the neighbourhood, looks the same as ever, perhaps with fewer trucks, but with the same closed shutters. In the window of the real estate agency, the prices of apartments hover around the psychological threshold of a thousand euros per square metre. At the bus stop, and in the Melis Gardens one sees old men in overalls, South American caretakers, and children of all colours. Foreigners make up 20% of the population and almost none of them work in the steel mills. They cannot be very concerned about the fate of ILVA. On the other hand, the relationship between the big factory and the neighbourhood has never been an easy one. ”16,000 worked at Italsider,” said Giacomo Di Martino, a white cross warrior since 1982, who has been at the plant since 1986. “I have been on “wage guarantees” for 12 years... What will happen if they go ahead with these redundancies? We will protest, as we always do. We will shut everything down. But who knows whether the neighbourhood will be behind us. In my opinion there are some who are against us.” Not many believe in the future of ILVA now, after so many years of wage guarantees and economic crisis. But no one wants to give up their jobs: “There are areas that could be sold by ILVA where other factories could be built, perhaps less intrusive ones,” says Stefania Bertini, a shopkeeper who is trying to see the bright side of the situation. “At least half of those who work at ILVA live in the neighbourhood, I am sure it would be a nasty blow,” says Mauro De Salvo, the president of the Lucani Genova Association, which with its 300 members and football field is a point of reference for the delegation. He continues, “the problems with immigrants? We have no trouble living together, of course there are always some hotheads, but most people cause no trouble. And of course we are Southern Europeans, and we know what it means to leave one’s country to find work. The real problem in Cornigliano is the lack of work and the lack of cleaned up and redeveloped areas: the old market, for example, is closed and surrounded by trash.”
Sitting at the Association bar, Nicola Cataldi, who’s worked at ILVA all his life, receives the latest bad news about jobs at the plant philosophically: “I’ve been told that I’m redundant for thirty years... but we’re still here.”