Rome and Vienna are the capitals of empires that have now fallen. But while the Eternal City remained choked with its problems, Vienna rocketed ahead in development, establishing itself as one of the most liveable cities in Europe.
Rome and Vienna are two capitals with an ancient history and traditions, capitals of now fallen empires. But while the Eternal City remained choked with its problems, Vienna shot forward in development, establishing itself as one of the most liveable cities in Europe. In the Austrian capital, the ancient buildings of the Empire mix with modern cycle paths and a dense network of parks that cover the entire urban territory.
But nothing happened by chance: the current ones in Vienna are the result of conditions of attention urban development projects started in 1994, the year before the country entered the EU. The idea was to modernize what was to become one of the major European capitals.
One of the most problematic areas in Vienna was the ring-road railway called Gürtel (belt): under the structure’s supporting arches, many traders once carried out their activities, but at the beginning of the 1990s there was nothing but abandoned spaces. The streets parallel to the viaduct had turned into poorly guarded and violent areas. The neighborhood was in a complete state of neglect.
In 1994 the city hall started the Urban-Wien Gürtel Plus project. Abandoned shops were refurbished and generous incentives were offered for negotiations to open their own business in that area. The streets that flanked the viaduct were transformed into pedestrian spaces surrounded by trees, benches and good lighting so as not to discourage evening activities. At the same time, events were organized to change the perception that residents had of this area. The concept of “soft planning” was applied: the projects focused not so much on large-scale infrastructures such as railways and bridges, but on micro interventions aimed at modifying the image of the place and making it attractive in the eyes of citizens. The ultimate goal was to revitalize the neighborhood and return to being safe and productive.
The project was not the only one of its kind but was often part of a series of interventions that aimed to make Vienna a socially sustainable city and to avoid the ghettoization that can be found in unattractive neighborhoods. Another of these initiatives involved an investment in the Social Housing of the Government, a system of social housing created in the first post-war period, thanks to which good social cohesion was maintained. The system required the government to build or maintain a certain number of apartments, now housing a quarter of Viennese residents, then rented out at affordable prices to the citizens. This system has made it possible over the years to reduce and contain the phenomenon of ghettoisation.
But no social sustainability policy can be effective if not the other aspects of everyday life in the city, first of all mobility. Over the years, the municipality has built 1379 km of cycle paths and a robust bike sharing service. The sustainability vocation of the capital is also possible thanks to an efficient and dense public transport network that gives citizens valid alternatives to traveling by car. Today Vienna has five metro lines, 28 tram lines and 131 bus lines, in addition to the countless train lines that connect it to the rest of the country. The public transport picture is completed with shared transport options, such as car sharing and electric scooters. This is also why Vienna is known for its higher air quality than other European capitals.
There is no doubt that the very size of Vienna, about half of Rome in terms of population, makes its management less complex, but this cannot justify giving up the construction of a better future for the capital of Italy as well.