(some well known facts for most Italians, that are not available on international publications in English)
I grew up in a small town near Milan, where my family still lives, and where I will be back to visit them for few days in May. Since booking my ticket to Italy, I have been asked a number of times THE big question: “are you going to visit the Expo?”. The answer: NO, and you shouldn’t either. Here is why.
– The Expo on its own covers 1000 hectares of agricultural land, in an area that is already scarred by decades of real-estate speculation. Kind of a joke for an event called “Feeding The Planet”.Regardless of what will happen after the event, that land will not be able to be re-converted back to agriculture (or to wilderness) any time soon – if ever.
– One of the key elements that helped Milan winning the competition to host the event was the development of a series of canals that would celebrate the region’s agricultural background. We later found out that the plan was technically impossible to realize. The plan then changed to include only the refurbishment of existing water-ways (already planned in 2004) and the building of a 22Km canal to connect the Expo site with another canal south of Milan, which was then proven to be useless, expensive, and damaging the territory. The process was finally arrested in 2014 thanks to groups of concerned citizens and farmers from the local area.
– Not only the plan for the water-ways was flawed, but also the one for the site itself was. The proposal approved by the Expo committee in 2008 was actually an unrealistic one, as the allocated spaces for the pavilions could not possibly fit the designated area. Now, I do not have a reference for this (since it came from a friend doing an internship in an architecture office that had the original documents), but I do know that the proposal changed a number of times, each one handsomely paid.
– These problems (and possibly some others) pushed the schedule of the project dangerously close to the deadline. So much so, that some sources believe that the site will hardly be finished by the time of its opening, and some structures will never be completed. Which is not hard to believe, since this is exactly what happened with the massive hotel that was to be built outside Milan to host journalists at the 1990 Football World Cup but was never finished, and whose dooming skeleton was finally demolished in 2012. This is how I remember it.
– Because of the time-crunch and the scale of the event, Expo is considered an emergency, and it is therefore managed by a commissioner with special powers that can take decisions without any sort of transparent consultation.
– Mafia and corruption. From the beginning, Expo has been stained by a great number of illicit actions, coordinated by the same-old faces from that parallel informal government that pretty much manages Italy. The engineering and planning of Expo is being conducted by the same people that are in charge of all the big infrastructure projects (“grandi opere”) that are being built in the country. At the moment of writing, 50 of them are under investigation, and 4 of them under arrest. Remember the water ways mentioned before? The principal commissioner for the project (and former commissioner for the Italian Pavillion) is also under arrest.
– Green washing: despite the feel-good tree-hugging title, there is nothing truly sustainable about Expo. Other than the obvious consequences of what I mentioned above, Coca Cola is the official drink of Expo 2015, and the site hosts a McDonald restaurant.
– Social washing: ANCI (the “National Association of Italian Towns”) signed an agreement with Expo. Local events can now use the Expo logo on their promotional materials, even if the event was already planned. This means that if you are trying to boycott Expo, you might find yourself in events that are used as a promotion for it. And if you are a speaker at one of these events, you are indirectly supporting Expo.
This is nothing new for most Italians. There are a number of groups acting at the local or national level to fight against something that has been imposed to us, despite its clear and direct consequences. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much information on international media published in English, and this is the reason why I am writing this to you.
Just before Christmas I was back in Italy. I was looking from the passenger seat at the awkwardly big pavilions being built along the highway that my dad took to take me home from the airport. As a coincidence, the man on the radio was talking about the latest corruption scandal. Unimpressed by the gravity of the news (after all…don’t we hear things like this every other day?) my dad pointed at the Expo site: “do you need some cash? that’s the place to go get some”.