Ghost Villages (5 / 5): Localised Social and Medical Services

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Ghost Villages in Sardinia (2/5): Transport Connections

This part of the series on ideas to counter the increasing ‘Ghost Village’ phenomenon in many rural areas in central Sardinia, is dedicated to transport connections. As you might have figured out from many other posts on this website such as #BusNotturniCagliari campaign, I am a massive believer in public transport. For me this is the most fundamental part in countering this phenomenon and also making the roads safer and less clogged up with traffic and hence this is the longest post in this series. 
When talking about small communities the importance of good transport connections is vital. This can be the ‘make it or break it’ factor when choosing whether to stay or leave the village you grew up in. Whilst in the past the communities rarely needed to move much,now times have changed and so there is the need and wish to be in contact with the rest of the world. 
Whether to go to school, work, see a doctor or to hang out in the cool bar in the neighbouring village, it is important to provide safe roads and reliable, frequent and affordable public transport connections. 
Sardinia has two railway systems: Trenitalia and Ferrovie della Sardegna. Trenitalia is owned by the Italian state whilst Ferrovie della Sardegna is owned by the Sardinian regional authority which also is the owner of ARST, the biggest bus company on the island. The problem is that amongst the many illogical things on the island, there is no cooperation whatsoever between the two transport systems which are still ultimately subsidised by the Sardinian tax payer.
What is my idea?
The network
Well, first of all Trenitalia should run frequent express services between the big cities with very few intermediate stops. Simutaneously there should also be local ‘slow trains’ that run between the two larger stations where the express train stops,connecting those two centres to all the minor communities by stopping at every station.
Ferrovie della Sardegna should also do a similar operation and this must come with a modernisation of its fleet which is still mostly based on the ‘Litorina’ model, originally introduced under Mussolini’s regime with the most recent up-dates in 1970s/80s to most parts of the network. These modern trains with air conditioning, step free access, wifi could also potentially reach higher speeds than the current average of 50 Km/h. Most of these routes are only used in Summer for tourism purposes as the single track route offers beautiful views over the undiscovered inland heart of Sardinia. The modernisation of the fleet would also require a certain amount of maintenance to the tracks and stations adding, for example, information screens with train timetables and ticket machines (possibly available in several languages). Same as Trenitalia, there should be local trains and longer distance ones.
As most of the island ,however,is not connected by the railway network there needs to be a good bus service to integrate with the railway connections ensuring the bus arrives at the station a few minutes before the arrival of the train,and also leaving a few minutes after it departs in order to take the railway passengers onto their final destination with minimal delay. The bus fleet is modern yet really uncomfortable, has no wifi, no card readers to sell tickets onboard and very few cater for handicapped people. As if this wasn’t bad enough the buses are also large which makes it really hard for them to be driven up narrow and winding mountain or coastal roads which characterise more than 80% of the country roads in Sardinia.
To sell the entire fleet and invest in a new one is a must in my view. The waste of public money for these very good looking and modern luxury* buses seen from the outside is sickening (* ‘luxury’ by definition as they all have an espresso machine incorporated on board which has never have been used but is there just to tick the box in order to comply with the definition, this is how low Sardinian politics can get). The new buses beyond being modern (card reader, air conditioning, comfortable seating and Wifi) together with a step free access should be of two types: long and short distance. The long distance ones, which should be used only in areas that are not covered by the railway network, should have a greater capacity maybe even double deckers to maximise the number of people that can be transported by one driver, hence controlling the price of the individual ticket. These buses should run an express service, similar to the one previously mentioned for trains. The local buses should be smaller or even perhaps mini-vans which can move with fewer difficulties, more engine power and faster along the winding roads compared to the current large buses (which in most cases travel half empty). These buses would pick up passengers even from non designated bus stops like a sort of taxi service along the route and do the same for dropping people off. The local drivers, with good road knowledge of the area covered, could even offer to make small detours to accompany people to their door which could be really good for people with reduced mobility and the elderly. This sort of bus system is very popular in Eastern Europe. 
Finally it is important that the bus system must be perfectly integrated with both railway systems. This means an efficient website in several languages where tickets can be purchased online from A to B which would include local buses, trains, coaches and if necessary ferries to the smaller islands. These combined tickets should also be available for purchase via an App and in newsagents, tobacconists and supermarkets across the island. The option to buy tickets on board with a surcharge should also always be guaranteed. 
Offering free travel to all the residents of these communities over the age of 65, handicapped people, children under 16 and reduced fares for students would encourage a more proficient use of these transport networks. 
Throughout this post I have stressed the availability of free wifi but offering this service (when technically possible) would allow businessmen and students to work whilst commuting and other passengers to enjoy entertainment whilst being driven from their rural community to the bigger centres.
This may be a utopian dream but as Walt Disney said ‘all of our dreams can come true – if you have the courage to pursue them’.

Ghost Villages in Sardinia (1/5): Education

As a guy from the village of Ales, in central Sardinia, once said: ‘Studiate, perché avremo bisogno di tutta la vostra intelligenza’ / ‘Everyone should study, as we will soon be in need of all of your intelligence’ (Antonio Gramsci). Learning English properly is the key, not only in order to offer good tourist services, but also for personal enrichment to be able to make the most of opportunities that extend beyond the village and can reach the far corners of the world.

Starting from nursery schools, the English language must, in my view, be taught at all levels of schooling, ideally reaching a good enough level in high school to be able to study all` sciences 100% in English as opposed to Italian. This may seem to some as extreme globalisation, but on the contrary, having a solid basis in English would allow future university students to be able to choose to study in whichever university worldwide and also enable them to take part in global debates from their laptops and smartphones thanks to blogs, forums and social media platforms. Also, from a ‘Sardinian identity’ prospective, if English is the language spoken at school, the family could speak Sardinian at home without running the risk that their children would mix Sardinian and Italian which can be quite similar and which leads Sardinian pupils to make many grammar mistakes when writing in Italian.

If many more Sardinian youngsters were fluent in English, even university courses organised by the University of Cagliari or Sassari, the two universitie on the island, could be held in English, potentially by professors from other countries, thereby making the educational offer more interesting. Also, having courses taught in English would enable non-Italian speakers to be able to study in Sardinia, both as part of exchange programmes, but also for entire degree courses which in turn would be a great source of income for the universities and the entire island economy. Imagine if there were good courses in architecture taught in English, an English or American student who is used to paying over €10.000 / €20.000 for one year of tuition fees would pay a maximum of €3000 and would also have cheaper living costs. Not to mention the fact that the foreign students would love to have the chance of going to the beach when not in lectures and eating authentic pizzas and drinking Italian wine yet at the same time they would share with the locals part of their own traditions and culture which would benefit the island.

Distance learning courses could also be offered by the universities in Sardinia so that young people in the villages would not have to make a choice as to whether to study or continue their family business; they could do both. The knowledge given them through studying at university would empower them to improve and modernise their business in order for it ,not only to survive,but flourish in the modern world. This should not be too difficult to implement nowadays, as most articles and literature are available in PDF; the lectures could be streamed via video link and assignments uploaded to a student portal. The student would only need to go to the university to take exams and for certain seminars or events, but could still live and work in the inland village.

 

The Problem of the ‘Ghost Villages’ in Sardinia

In September there will be a one week course held in a rural community in the centre of Sardinia in which there will be lectures and discussions on the ever increasing problematic of ‘desertification’ of inland remote villages. As part of the application process the organisers asked me to write about what pushed me to sign up for the course and my answer was: will to learn and contribute to the discussion to find good ideas which could be, one day, put into practice.

The problem lies in the fact that communities are getting torn apart from the high levels of unemployment, lack of opportunities and future for the fact that many young people are leaving the villages to move to bigger cities in the island or go to the mainland or in other parts of Europe or the world. If one looks at the number of people who identify themselves as Sardinian I would guess almost half of them are not living in Sardinia. There has been a massive diaspora not due to war or persecution but due to another deadly factor: hunger. This does not merely mean hunger as in food deprivation as our land is fertile and we can be self-sufficient in terms of food production it is mainly hunger for opportunities, not living on the bread line and also getting in contact with the world which is portrayed via the internet and television. This phenomena is not necessarily a bad thing but there is the need, for the sake of preserving part of our identity, to strengthen these rural communities. Question is, how?

I think what is needed is a 5 step plan:

  1. Education
  2. Transport network improvements
  3. Technological improvements
  4. Incentives for start ups and businesses to open or relocate to one of the communities
  5. Better localised social and medical services for the population, especially the elderly.

Details of this plan will be further explained in the linked numbers or articles. Click on one of the five titles to read more about the specific idea to fight desertification of rural communities. If you like share the idea or drop a comment, having a debate and exchanging ideas in the hope that some concrete action takes place in order to reduce or maybe even reverse this phenomena.

Living in Manchester

Pre-reading Dictionary (Northern -Standard English):

Chips = French Fries / Pommes Frites

Footy = Football – Soccer

Gravy = a sauce often made from the juices of meats that run naturally during cooking and thickened with wheat flour or cornstarch for added texture.

Lad = Man

Lass = Lady

Ta = Thanks

Looking back at my days as an undergraduate university student made me think that there is something somewhat philosophical in being rained upon almost every single day of the year.

No matter what you do in life, where you come from, the amount of money in your bank account, when you are in Manchester you will get drenched. It’s almost as if someone wanted to remind everyone that there is nothing one can do to counter the great force of the cosmos and that everyone in that Northern city is in the same boat. You are not alone when you are slowly drowning in greyness, dampness , cold and misery.

manchester-rain

Will you get to work with a clean suit or will a double decker bus go full speed into a puddle and cover you in mud? Every morning people in Manchester leave their homes without knowing the answer to this quintessential question. After all, who are we to know the cards destiny has laid out for us?

However there are some solutions one can take to counter all of this. Finding a pub, which there are plenty of (surprise, surprise), is always a good start. Once inside, choose between a wide range of cheap and pretty good beers (lagers and traditional ales) and order a massive portion of cheesy chips with extra gravy, two things which always succeed in cheering you up, at least momentarily. It’s easy to find friendly people to share your misery with and of course being in England what better way to break the ice than talking about how shitty the weather outside is. Conversation with the lads is likely to cover topics such as footy and how City or United is doing in the league and you might even be lucky enough to talk about Rugby (topics I would not cover categorically as I know close to nothing about sport and am rather proud of this).

manchester-pub

When you reach that point in the night when the conversation starts to run dry you either turn your attention to the lasses or you pick up a fight. If  you choose the first option you might want to try out your well-rehersed pick up lines in the hope you’ll get lucky, remember to keep it classy: ‘Hello gourgeous, what can I get ya?’ tends to be an all time winner. If you would rather opt for the latter the best way of going about it is by shouting out loud something along the lines of: ‘Well, if you think about it, Thatcher was not that bad after all’. The reactions will be epic, guranteed. I, however, did not generally pick any of the above as I prefered going home, having a glass of milk with 2 or 3 digestive bisucuits and hitting the bed.

The good thing is that once you get kicked out of the pub, depending on how many pints you end up drinking, you will not even feel the rain, beer truly is God’s blessing in that part of the world.

I firmly believe it is important for one to strive for more long term solution to the constant, dramatic, sense of submission to God/Mother Nature that becomes your way of life whilst in Manchester. So:”Taxi! TAXI!! – once it eventually stops -To the airport please mate, ta!”

manchester-airport-terminal-1

Up, up, up and AWAY!!

Reflections on the Russian plane disaster

86542463_029932319Since the latest airplane crash, in which a Russian airliner went down on the Sinai peninsula killing all 224 people on board new questions on airport security have been raised.

Before the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 suitcases were not scanned for bombs and the rule that if the passenger isn’t on board the suitcase gets offloaded wasn’t in force.

Then following the terror attacks of 9/11 the amount of security has increased considerably. The foiled attempt of bombing the transatlantic planes from London to the U.S. resulted in the prohibition of passengers transporting liquids of a greater quantity than a 100ml in their hand luggage.

The latest bomb that involved the Russian airline from Sharm El Sheik to Saint Petersburg will push for a further tightening of security amongst the airport staff and stricter controls on suitcases.

I for one, believe that current security is already very high and that a further increase could bring a greater invasion of our privacy and peace of mind. Although I am perfectly aware of not being a terrorist, I still feel uneasy about the policemen with their machine guns casually walking around public places. What if one of them goes crazy and starts shooting everybody, it would be a massacre! The intense scrutiny at passport control when entering the UK also makes me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps my old passport photo and the tatty cover are elements that make my experience particularly tricky but I can only imagine what an Asian person must go through.

Overall, on a pessimistic note, there will always be a way of killing people en masse, even in civil aviation. There are measures we can take to make it harder, but there is no guarantee that this will prevent another attack. We need to fight the cause at the root and accept the fact that by living our day to day lives we put ourselves at risk. This risk, however, must not deter us from being human and living our lives to the full. Only this will make us resist the terror that the extremists want to inflict on society.

Studying Italian Constitutional Law

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Following a module in Italian constitutional law is probably the most annoying, pointless and frustrating thing one could do. It’s almost as counterproductive as calling your sibling a ‘son of a bitch’.

A. M.

The Italian Republic has an old yet AMAZING constitution yet it is not applied and most likely never will be. Why? Money, Power, greed, EU and US influences, Cardinals, Mafia, bigots and the list goes on.. A bit like the ‘no sex’ rule for Roman Catholic priests..