The exodus that emptied Italian towns. In six years, 75 thousand inhabitants vanished into the cities
In small municipalities citizens are happier, but more and more people are leaving because of the lack of services and jobs. Mayors: we need tax breaks for companies in marginal areas or we risk desertification
Paradoxical it may be, the phenomenon seems inexorable. Although statistical indicators show that people live better in small municipalities, the exodus from smaller towns to urban areas is accelerating. In six years the villages have lost more than 74 thousand inhabitants. To put it plainly: it is as if Italy’s biggest football stadium had disappeared. In 2017 alone, more than 16 thousand residents left the village to move to the city.
To tell the story of the great escape that is emptying Italian villages, we shall start from Cerignale, a small town near Piacenza (North) that in the seventies had 600 inhabitants. There were the blacksmith, the shoemaker, the tailor, the barber, a hotel, two grocery stores and four taverns. Today, it’s left with 127 people, a hotel, a camping site and a small retail outlet. “The exodus began when the state started giving out contributions to those who left the fields and sold their livestock. For years mountain culture has been considered less compared to that of the city. Today we pay the price for those wicked policies”, the town’s mayor, Massimo Castelli explains. “But - he warns - to reverse the course is not utopia”.
Quality of life and safety
The municipalities considered “small” are those with less than 5 thousand inhabitants. There are 5,544 smaller centers in Italy (more than two thousand divided between Piedmont and Lombardy). There live 9.9 million people, 16.4% of the population. In the villages – according to recent surveys, people - feel more protected: only 5.1% of the population considers safety a problem against 15.9% of those living in urban areas with more than 50 thousand inhabitants. Neighbors are trusted (78.2% compared to 66.1% in the cities) and the inhabitants are more likely to get together (14% compared to 10%). The houses are on average bigger and those who live there have more space available (92 square meters per inhabitant against 53 of large cities). Living costs less: an average of 119 thousand euros are needed to buy a property compared to 270 thousand euros in urban areas.
The statistics, in short, tell us that the quality of life in the villages is better: 70% of the population of municipalities under two thousand inhabitants are satisfied with their condition while in medium and large towns the percentage drops by more than 5 points. Yet something doesn’t add up: why do small towns empty themselves? “The problem is twofold”, Matteo Bianchi, Lega’s mayor of Morazzone (Varese) explains: “On the one hand there is a lack of job opportunities and on the other there is a lack of infrastructural connectivity. I’m not only thinking about transport, I’m also thinking about broadband. “Concrete actions are needed, such as the investment of billions of euro to bring optical fiber even to the most marginal areas”, relaunches Castelli, who is the first citizen of Cerignale.
Saving post offices
The other challenge for small villages is to increase services to citizens. Schools, health centers, shops: the recipe is to network with neighboring administrations. The presence of a post office can also make a difference. Gianluca Forno, mayor of Baldichieri d’Asti, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the national postal services in which the company undertakes not to close down post offices in Piedmonts’ municipalities with less than 5 thousand inhabitants. “This is an essential service for small towns. The post offices represent a stronghold that often replaces the bank and allows citizens to manage their money and pay their bills without having to travel through valleys to reach the city”. But for Antonio Decaro there is another requirement to save the villages: to win the battle against red tape. “It is unthinkable that a municipality with a thousand inhabitants works with the same rules as a municipality with 100,000 - he explains - Different rules must be adopted: formalities must be simplified”.
The protagonists of this internal migration from small to large centers are young people. New families are moving to cities, where services are more accessible and there is greater social mobility. That is why the other side of depopulation is the ageing of the village population. In small municipalities, there are more elderly people and less young people than in the cities: the over 65 are over 24% of residents, while in large towns it is 22%. The percentage is reversed if the sample we consider is that of under 25s.
Three points for a fresh start
In the conference “Small City & Smart Land” - held today in Viverone, Biella - the government was asked to carry out three reforms for small municipalities: the introduction of a tax advantage for businesses that settle in marginal areas, the rethinking of the mechanism for the transfer of resources to municipalities on the basis of square kilometers and no longer only on the basis of inhabitants, the establishment of an distributive fund for weak areas as a compensation for natural resources that are born in the mountains but are consumed by those living in the plains. “Beyond big cities, there is a great west to be reconquered” Castelli relaunched. If we do it, the whole country will benefit from that”.
Translated by Anna Martinelli
Pubblicato il 13/07/2018
Ultima modifica il 13/07/2018 alle ore 16:52