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(en) Sicilia Libertaria: The house as an ideology, review of the book "Living tired" (ca, de, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Mon, 13 Mar 2023 07:55:44 +0200

There are books that aren't perfect yet are necessary, maybe they aren't very well written but the content is worth reading, books that mix personal and collective a little too easily but still prove to be precious. This is the case of "Abitare tired", written by the indefatigable Sarah Gainsforth, independent researcher and freelance journalist who in the space of a handful of years has made herself known for her writings on changing cities. ---- After having comprehensively monitored the phenomenon of Airbnb and the touristization of historic centres, in the book "Abitare tired", recently published by Effequ, the author places the accent on the phenomenon of the house, one of the most typical Italian obsessions. The barricades erected by Italian politics, horrified by the European directive on energy efficiency, are proof of this: the provision, still under discussion, provides that by 1 January 2030 all residential properties will have to achieve at least energy class E. This means, in practice, that almost all of the houses will have to face huge works such as the installation of a thermal coat, the replacement of the fixtures, the installation of solar panels and the introduction of heat pumps.
However, what terrifies the right in government, as underlined in a parliamentary question by the Northern League Stefano Candiani, is "the loss of value of the properties" for those who will not or will not be able to adapt. They don't give a damn who should bear these costs or if they are necessary expenses (they are, Italian homes are in terrible shape). The idea that the house is a fort to be defended, an individual or at least a family refuge in which no one can tell you what to do and what not to do, the idea that everything is valid inside it because you own it is, in background, one of the theses around which society has been built in recent years, one of the architraves of neoliberal individualism. Thus, as Gainsforth points out in the text, "Italy is in demographic decline and there are seven million empty houses on its territory". If with Covid we had discovered that houses can be prisons, "something would have to change" says the author again. This did not happen because since the Second World War "Italy has become a country of owners"; just think that as many as 80% of families own their own homes while the poor remain in rented accommodation, who must either resort to the only houses left, the rented ones, without any margin of negotiation on the conditions, or rely on ghettoization of the rare remaining council houses, where services are absent.
Housing has become a conservative ideology that has shaped common sense, anesthetizing any possible conflict over housing policies. I personally realized this during the Christmas holidays. For lunch my partner and I hosted a couple of friends who decided to buy a house in Milan. Both work in publishing, so they cannot be defined as wealthy, and in fact they were able to purchase a 60-square-metre two-room apartment at the exorbitant cost of 300 thousand euros, by taking on a twenty-year mortgage. "Crazy" I thought, while my partner tried to sweeten the pill, pronouncing the phrase "the bad thing is renting". Words that would have been meant to be comforting, probably, but with an obvious subtext. It was then that I intervened, arguing that "of the revolutions that should be made in Milan, I don't think the priority is the addition of other owners who would rent the two-room apartment for 1500 euros a month in order to at least be able to pay off the mortgage". When I subsequently gave the couple of friends Gainsforth's book as a gift, the title of the volume triggered a significant bitter smile in both.
Among the major merits of the text is the desire to retrace the historical path that led to the current situation, i.e. the dominance of the house as an income. Commendable intention, except that in the first half of the book the author decides to do it starting from the origins of her family - an American father and an Irish mother - which somewhat invalidates the rest of the work, which becomes much more interesting when the focus becomes Italy. Also because in many chapters some significant passages are told in a somewhat hasty way, and others give the feeling of being a bignamino of one or two volumes at most. On the other hand, the second part of the volume is much more effective, in which the demonization of public housing and the contemporary popularization of private property, the death of urban planning and the transformation of the General Regulatory Plans from an instrument of social equity to an affirmation of the interests of stronger. On this last front Gainsforth has remarkable intuitions but forgets to underline that more and more often many environmental struggles are concentrated against the havoc of the new PGRs who continue to invoke tons of cement with a dual purpose: the creation of independent villas (because the American dream, made up of presumed independence and well-groomed grass, basically remains the dream of every bourgeois) and the complete adherence to the touristization of the villages, seen as the only solution to restore oxygen to territories in difficulty. Finally, on the concepts of decorum, redevelopment and regeneration, Gainsforth triggers the most complete analysis: in this regard, the story of Retake is emblematic, the best known of the Italian associations which, using the concept of sharing the common good inappropriately, cleans walls and places doing, as the author rightly observes, "what the public health service should do". The central message on which the activities of associations such as Retake are based is "would you treat your home like this, would you ever throw the garbage or a cigarette on your floor?", in an equation between home and city that makes private property and public space coincide . Where even the conflict must be cleaned up because it dirty the image.

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