Decline in Italian Design

How are Italian water services like Italian airport security?

They both go downhill.Declining Design 1

And that’s a good thing.

Gravity can be your friend and has been Italy’s friend since Roman times as water from the Alps has been directed to do what it does best: flow downhill. In doing so it quenches Italy’s thirsty crops and cities. And the result, says Dr. Antonio Massarutto of the University of Udine, is that Italy spends substantially less on pumping water than flatter countries such as Germany.

Not that all is calm in Italy. Like U.S. cities, Italian cities have underinvested in water infrastructure for quite some time. Legislation that was unanimously passed in 1994 to make up this gap resulted in, always unpopular, rapid tariff increases. The public expressed their displeasure in an initiative in 2011 in which 95% of voters voted to overturn a provision stating that tariffs must fully cover the costs but which was perceived (incorrectly) as guaranteeing profits for private companies.

Indeed, as elsewhere, privatization has become a political hot point. And sadly one withDeclining Design 2 the potential to distract from the underlying issue. That is when tariffs are kept too low for many years, substantial increases are needed to make up the difference, and in the short term customers will not see the value they are getting for their money.

The national regulator continues to require full cost recovery in the tariffs and whether it can do so is now in the courts. The court’s decision will be handed down in the next couple of weeks.

My conversation with Dr. Massarutto in Florence also covered issues such as raising private capital, the benefits of public participation, and subsidies to address income inequality. You can look forward to learning more in a paper I am working on with funding from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and hosted by the Ecologic Institute.

The solutions for sustainable water infrastructure aren’t simple anywhere. But as the very clever gravity operated system at the security line at Pisa airport demonstrates, sometimes you just can’t beat Italian design.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *