We interviewed Vannino Chiti,
President of the Region of Tuscany
Mr. President, what changes have taken place in Florence in the past thirty years?
The 1996 flood marked a moment in the history of Florence that had such an effect on the city's image that it was almost as if a war had taken place. This tragedy, combined with the incredible "explosion" of international solidarity, was to radically change Florence's image. In fact the "Mud angels" were really responsible for helping its myth as a "universal and cosmopolitan city" flourish again.
All the youngsters who hurried here in aid of Florence were more or less pioneers of the mass tourism of today, which now not only considers the main city of Tuscany as one of its most important points of call, but also represents its "torment and delight"; apart from being the prime source of income and employment, it also creates the permanent problem of how to resolve the quantitative and qualitative contradictions it poses.
Today Florence can be said to be a city of the world in all respects, a modern and lively city which not only contains wonderful museums and monuments but also excellent technological and industrial skills. However this city still watches over its river with an anxiety that is hard to hide. Originally the deciding factor behind the foundation and development of the city, the Arno has now become a difficult neighbour and perennial cause of autumn floods and summer droughts.
When the dam at Bilancino and the Florentine depurator are at last finished, the Florentines will find the Arno will once more assume its friendly characteristics of the past: however the end is not yet in sight because we still need funding for another 2.500 billion lire to be able to finish the work so, as you can see, there is still a lot to do.
Tell us about your personal experience. What were you doing immediately after the flood?
I'm not a Florentine and therefore my experience of the event was closer to those who came to the city to lend their aid than to those who suffered what was often serious damage. At the time I was in my final year of classical studies at the liceum and still living in Pistoia, my home town.
I had only just passed my driving test and my first journey, which soon became a daily one, was to Florence in my Fiat '500 with my school friends packed inside.
We used to go and help wherever we were most needed: distributing food to people who had lost everything and removing mud from the manuscripts in the National Library. This period was so important and unforgettable as to contribute towards the formation of many of my generation, who had been lucky enough not to have lived through the war.
It was also to definitely bind my relationship with Florence, where I was to go to University the following year.
One of the book mountains arround the city.
As President of the Region, what would you like to say today to the "mud angels" and everyone else who helped the city at such a time?
That it is impossible to forget the extraordinary feeling of solidarity immediately after the flood. This is the same solidarity that Tuscany was able to show in many practical ways on the occasion of other tragic events, like the earthquake in Friuli and the war in Bosnia.
A generous and voluntary commitment that is also a huge responsibility for the institutions who are asked to intervene and above all take preventive measures. We should also make a point of remembering that, although 30 years have gone by, very little has been done for the Arno and that the Florentines should not take it for granted that they are completely safe from the repetition of another flood.
The work of the Region has been heavily conditioned by the many partial and muddled competences. Law 183 of 1989 classifies the Arno as a river of national interest and any hydraulic work concerning its basin is thus assigned to a special State authority. In spite of this, the Region has still managed to play an important part in the execution of such works as the spillway at Pontedera, the dam at Bilancino and the recently opened tributary of the Sieve.
A few weeks ago we organized the first Conference on the Arno, which discussed the problem of its security and gave rise to a practical exchange of views between administrators, technicians, University teachers and State authorities. We have also recently allocated 275 billion lire to finance works that are, for the first time, mainly preventive in character, instead of being carried out after the damage is already done.
We still have a long way to go but I am sure that these practical facts are the best way of expressing our gratitude to all those "Mud angels" whose voluntary dedication of 30 years ago were able to demonstrate that Florence represents a cultural heritage that belongs to the whole world.
What initiatives is the Region organizing for the 30th anniversary?
We have been working on a series of initiatives for some time. I would like to mention one of these in particular which I think is extremely interesting because it aims to create a link up between the problems connected with flood risks and the new frontiers of multimedial communication.
The project - which will be carried out by the University of Florence and the Centre of Studies in Engineering of the Authority of the Basin - has been given the significant name of "Arno multimedia" and will start by creating a multimedial project that will provide detailed documentation on the various problems related to the river basin, on the various floods of the past, on what has been done so far and what is being done to make it safe.
It will be presented at the "Defence against floods" convention planned for November 4th and 5th in the main University lecture room and will be given an extensive distribution, especially among the schools.
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