Beppe Sala, who admits errors in his early response to the crisis, explains why he is searching for sustainable solutions
Mayor Beppe Sala of Milan admits he has made mistakes.
He posted a promotional video on his Facebook page with the hashtag “Milan doesn’t stop.” in late February 2019, a week after the first locally transmitted coronavirus case was confirmed in Italy.
Photos of people kissing, dining at restaurants, walking in parks and waiting at train stations were included in the clip.
It wasn’t the finest hour for Sala.
At the time, the city was not on lockdown, but it had quickly ground to a halt as visitors fled and travelers started to work from home.
Sala was not alone in his estimation of the danger of the virus, and mixed signals were given by many scientists and politicians, but when all of Lombardy was placed on lockdown on March 8, he urged people to stay home.
He has benefited from his past, he says.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, and still a little bit today, the scientific world was really divided,” Sala said in an interview with The Guardian. Two health experts voiced different opinions in Milan in February. One said the coronavirus was only a little worse than the flu, the other said it was very serious.
“One thing I’ve discovered is that it’s OK to try to interpret things with common sense in the face of an unpredictable and unusual circumstance.
But you may have to take a more formal approach, go to the government and ask for formal advice about how the problem should be treated. That’s a mistake I’ve made, like many others, and one I’m not going to make again.
Aside from the lessons he learned, Sala said that the experience reaffirmed the generosity and ideals of the town for him.
A significant number of young people joined Milan Helps, a massive network that supports people over 65 and others at high risk of infection at home, and in a matter of weeks, the emergency fund raised EUR 14 million (£ 13 million).
Navigating a city of 1.4 million inhabitants during a pandemic is no simple task.
At the heart of the second wave of Italy are Milan and its broader province. The city is also the economic engine of Italy.
From finance to fashion, it hosts every industry, and the blame for the country’s recovery rests largely on its shoulders.
Thus, Sala is also mapping the future of Milan as he continues to handle the pandemic. He chairs C40, a working group of mayors from cities around the world established in May to coordinate efforts to facilitate a low-carbon, sustainable recovery from the pandemic.
“It’s not a rhetorical organization, it’s a real one where we meet a lot and spend a lot of time defining a common strategy,” he said. “In the face of this pandemic, we should take the opportunity to accelerate [sustainable]policies.”
In order to cope with high levels of pollution in the area, Sala, a center-left Democratic Party politician who was elected mayor in 2016, has taken some bold steps.
Area B, a traffic restriction zone covering 70 percent of the region, was implemented by authorities in early 2019. Between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, highly polluting vehicles will not be permitted to join the largest low-emission zone in Italy.
Other proposals include an October 2023 ban on diesel heaters in public and private office buildings – the same year all gas stations would have electric car charging stations – and a full electric bus fleet over the next eight years.
“Cities that are really progressive have managed to get to 40 per 100 inhabitants,”Cities that are really progressive have managed to get to 40 per 100 people.
The incremental construction of 300 km of bike lanes is one of the town’s most ambitious initiatives.
35 km of roads were reconfigured as a first stage during the spring closure for biking and walking. “It’s true that this has led to some division, not everyone is in favor of it, but this is the direction all cities are going,” he said. “Milan is not a huge city and it is flat.”
It is planned that some of Italy’s 209 billion euros from the European Recovery Fund will be invested in the green economy. Green politics