Milan’s Missing Trees


In major European cities, policy makers and civil servants often boast about taking actions to advance environmental protection: cleaning the air, supporting sustainable development, aiding conservation networks, and avoiding sanctions by the European Commission on breaching emission limits. At least apparently.

Despite this rhetoric, the natural world continues to be sacrificed to the whims of economic development and political expediency. Take the case of Milan’s missing trees.

Enhancing subway and surface-transportation along with introducing a ban on cars within central Milan was a welcome and much needed step forward. Despite a raging controversy the choice to move forward was bold. You can now ride bycicles to reach the opposite side of the city. But there are contradictions and a dark side to this deal.

Stazione Centrale is Milan’s main railway station. The new trains run on a clean and zero-emission network.  I am walking with dozen of others, fast-paced, to grab the frecciarossa to the wealthy and misterious North-East. Waking by Piazza Duca d’Aosta, I turn right for a snap before entering the mall-station, something which cannot be avoided. Here for many decades large trees over-looked with their beauty my city. But on this cloudy day they are all down. Ages in trees destroyed for no reason.

What cause, indeed? No subways are under constructions. No parking lots are being paved. Oh, yes, because Milan saw massive rallies as well against cutting trees to leave create for parking lots. Impossible for many to imagine. But real.

The reason becomes clear after a few days. A free-press source reports that due to the clumsy construction of new roadwork aimed at re-styling the railway station, the trees are now posed a risk for pedestrians. Their roots are no longer stable as they should be, therefore the guilloitine is their verdict. They are a threat to us!

What threat when one understands the lack of polices to protect mature and old-growth trees? These trees were there when the railway station of Milan was built in 1934. They were there in dark days of Binario 1, with the deportations “northside” in 1944. They were there in the “renaissance” of Milan from a world in conflict. Ulisse Stacchini and King Vittorio Emanuele III. Gio Ponti. The Pirelli high-rise building. The 1968 uprising and afterwards, the Prima and Seconda Repubblica. Letizia Moratti. Today, Giuliano Pisapia and the “orange breath”.

The trees down, sacrificed for clumsy roadworks. Where exceptions lead often to rules my heart hurts. No matter how sensitive one is, the action of the city was unacceptable.

Indifference is the real threat to our enviroment. Our efforts aim at loving it.

Francesco Donati lives in Milan. He can be reached at: Francesco Donati frdonati@gmail.com.

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