Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization

Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization

Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization

Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization


In the 1970s, the city of Genoa in northern Italy was suffering the economic decline and the despondency common to industrial centers of the Western world at that time. Deindustrialization made Genoa a bleak, dangerous, angry city, where the unemployment rate rose alongside increasing political violence and crime and led to a massive population loss as residents fled to find jobs and a safer life elsewhere. But by the 1990s a revitalization was under way. Many Genoese came to believe their city was poised for a renaissance as a cultural tourism destination and again began to appreciate the sensory, aesthetic, and cultural facets of Genoa, refining practices of a cultured urbanity that had long been missing. Some of those people--educated, middle class--seeking to escape intellectual unemployment, transformed urbanity into a source of income, becoming purveyors of symbolic goods and cultural services, as walking tour guides, street antiques dealers, artisans, festival organizers, small business owners, and more, thereby burnishing Genoa's image as a city of culture and contributing to its continued revival.
Based on more than a decade of ethnographic research, Creative Urbanity argues for an understanding of contemporary cities through an analysis of urban life that refuses the prevailing scholarly condemnation of urban lifestyles and consumption, even as it casts a fresh light on a social group often neglected by anthropologists. The creative urbanites profiled by Emanuela Guano are members of a struggling middle class who, unwilling or unable to leave Genoa, are attempting to come to terms with the loss of stable white-collar jobs that accompanied the economic and demographic crisis that began in the 1970s by finding creative ways to make do with whatever they have.


Cities are a combination of many things: memory, desires, signs of a
language: they are sites of exchange, as any textbook of economic
history will tell you—only, these exchanges are not just trade-in
goods, they also involve words, desires, and memories.

    —Italo Calvino (1972)

Clad in a bright green suit, Beatrice, a tall woman in her forties, is leading a walking tour entitled “I misteri di Genova,” Genoa’s mysteries. Her group comprises eleven people, all of whom are local; the setting is this city’s centro storico (historic center). For the occasion, the medieval neighborhood is bathed in a sallow moonlight. Through the evocative power of Beatrice’s words and the suggestiveness of the built environment, we encounter sinful nuns, murderous aristocrats, and medieval mass burials. the highlight of Beatrice’s tour, however, is one of Genoa’s most recent ghosts: the vecchina (little elderly lady) who haunts Via Ravecca, wandering about with a lost expression on her face on her quest for an ancient vicolo (alley) that no longer exists. Beatrice informs us: “The vecchina began manifesting in 1989. Those who saw her claim that the elderly woman would ask passersby for directions to Vico dei Librai, and then she would vanish. Vico dei Librai no longer exists: it was razed to the ground during the project that destroyed part of the centro storico in the late 1960s to build the Centro dei Liguri complex.”

Widely publicized by local newspapers, the ghost’s appearances immediately struck a chord with Genoese publics: as a phantom presence that transmits affect through the materialities it haunts (Navaro-Yashin 2012) . . .

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