Nothing better illustrates the hopes of the antimafia movement than its commitment to the recuperation of Palermo city, undoing the “savage” expansion of the periphery and shameful neglect of the historic core. From the first burst of activism in the early 1980s, the city's renewal has been a movement priority, both an emblem of the desired cultural changes and a test of the extent to which they are progressing. The recuperation of historical architecture in the old city center and the development of a wider urban plan anchor the rhetoric of “reversible destiny, ” pointing at once to physical and symbolic transformation.
Between the two world wars, modern architecture and urban planning were professionalized in Italy as the fascist regime, deeply engaged in social engineering, patronized architects and planners, harnessing them to the task of remaking, managing, and “civilizing” society. Bold strategies of expropriation, zoning regulation, confiscation, and the redefinition of eminent domain went forward; private as well as public investors in large and ambitious projects worried little about the rights of anyone in the way (Booth 1997: 152–74; von Henneberg 1996). Although today's antimafia professionals work under the very different conditions of a parliamentary democracy, some of the dynamics affecting their vision and its implementation are similar to the dynamics of ordering the urban environment in those long ago days. In particular, today's planners continue to view architecture and planning as instruments to reshape society, “a pedagogical project” (von Henneberg 1996: 98).