MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
When the famed Italian architect Renzo Piano was named honorary Senator-For-Life two years ago, he handed over his spacious new office and hefty salary of some $15,000 a month to a team of young architects. They were given the task of helping salvage depressed outskirts of Italian cities. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports now on one project in Rome inspired by New York City's High Line, an elevated park built on an abandoned railroad section.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Italy is littered with 600 unfinished public works projects, incomplete highways, half-bridges going nowhere, skeletons of buildings. They're the offspring of bad governance, greed and state subsidies eaten up by graft. In Rome, there's an unfinished elevated track cutting through two peripheral neighborhoods, Serpentara and Vigne Nuove. Originally conceived as a 12 miles long tramline, looping north to south outskirts, work suddenly stopped in the mid-1990s. The reason is clouded in mystery. The result is just one mile of elevated, abandoned concrete. Under Piano's supervision, a team of young architects cleaned up what had become the local garbage dump below. And, using recycled materials, transformed a planned tram stop into a community space for art installations, concerts and workshops
FRANCISCO LORENZI: We put this ship container that have the function of meeting point with the citizens and the architects - young architects - that want to work about public space and reuse of these abandoned part of the city and to put some life there.
POGGIOLI: Thirty-year-old Francisco Lorenzi is one 600 young architects who competed to join Renzo Piano's team of six. It's called G124 - the number on Piano's Senate office door. The project was inspired by New York's High Line, the beloved public park built on a derelict rail line elevated above Manhattan streets. Here, Lorenzi says, the park will be below.
LORENZI: Upstairs can be a path - pedestrian and cycling path - that connects with two big green area of the district - the Parco delle Sabine and the Parco Talenti.
POGGIOLI: We're a 45-minute drive from the city center. These neighborhoods were born during the construction boom of the 1970s and '80s, when cozy relations between city authorities and real estate speculators made building permits easy to get. These suburbs are dominated by huge, gray, ugly public housing projects. Most residents are middle- and lower-middle-class. They fled rising rents in the gentrifying city center. Thirty-year-old Alessandro Lungo grew up here. He studies architecture and is helping Piano's team trying to revive this edge of the big city. He's convinced the outskirts don't have to be incubators of alienation.
ALESSANDRO LUNGO: It's our place. It's our city. Not all the citizens of Rome lives in the center. This is Rome. And so we have to start to think that it's a good place. We just have to meet each other and connect and use this place in the right way.
POGGIOLI: Instead of separating two neighborhoods, Lungo believes an elevated cycling-pedestrian path can help link them.
LUNGO: We always do home, work, work, home, and all the landscape that is in the middle, it's like an unconsciousness landscape, no definition. So I need another kind of mobility to move slowly, to see around, to feel the place where I live.
POGGIOLI: Architect Renzo Piano is especially fond of the idea of an elevated walkway.
RENZO PIANO: When you walk 25-30 feet above ground, it's a miracle because you are still in the city, you're feeling the city, but you are flying above the city. You are in the middle of trees and that's a moment of beauty.
POGGIOLI: Even in the most fraying, desolate outskirts, Piano believes a fragment of beauty can always be found.
PIANO: It's just the beginning, but this is what the architect does. He grab on the little trace of beauty and he build on that, what beauty can be.
POGGIOLI: It's unclear when the project will be completed. It's now up to City Hall to earmark the estimated $600,000 to $700,000 needed to complete Rome's High Line - and nourish beauty in the urban periphery. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Tomorrow on Morning Edition, we'll hear about the problems with a new program that was supposed to make it easier for veterans to get health care. The idea was to open up options for those who had to travel more than 40 miles to get to a VA facility - that story as you start your day tomorrow with Morning Edition.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.