Thu, Nov 14, 2019 - Page 9 News List

How the megacities of Europe stole a continent’s wealth

While high-tech cosmopolitan centers such as Milan flourish financially and culturally, former industrial towns continue to decline

By Julian Coman  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

Nighttime haunts go in and out of fashion, but Milan’s Bar Basso, which opened in 1967, remains one of the city’s most venerable social institutions. Embodying a very Milanese combination of stylish prosperity and tasteful design, it is a favorite destination for the area’s creative elite and the discreetly wealthy.

Tucked away in a corner, Pierluigi Dialuce explained why, if a political nightmare unfolds in the rest of Italy, the city that he has made his home could cope.

“It’s very possible that the country is heading for a moment when the hard right and [Italian Deputy Prime Minister] Matteo Salvini take power — perhaps in an alliance with the Brothers of Italy Party,” he said. “We’re talking [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban-style politics at that point, but Milan will stay as it is. There’s too much money here for that not to be the case. Then we will be even more different from the rest of Italy, but that’s fine by me. Better that way, in fact.”

Dialuce is a 30-something financial consultant with one of the myriad multinational organizations that have made Milan a service hub for international finance.

He grew up in Rome, but came north 13 years ago to study economics at the famous Bocconi University. For a while, he worked for British banking group Barclays and then had a few brief spells abroad, but now he intends to stay in Italy’s richest, most cosmopolitan city.

“This place has changed enormously in recent years. It’s much more international,” he said. “There’s been so much investment and there’s so much culture going on — stuff that you won’t find in the rest of Italy. The ‘Milanese’ don’t exist anymore. Milan is made up of the professionals who have come here because there are opportunities that don’t exist back home. They’re the best of Italy. It’s a kind of natural selection that goes on, creating a community that is much more European, open and tolerant in its mindset. Milan is not Italy.”

Dialuce’s confidence is borne out by a poll conducted last year that found that 85 percent of residents would not wish to live anywhere else, while 81 percent believed that their city should be seen as an economic role model to emulate.

However, while the likes of Paris, Amsterdam, Munich and Berlin might reasonably aspire to compete with Milan, the rest of Italy, after 20 years of economic stagnation, can only dream of it.

Milan moves in its own orbit, reaping rewards from an economy centered on finance, technology, design and innovation. It has become fashionable as well as rich.

Next year, Milan is to host the World Cities Culture Summit. In 2026, the Winter Olympic Games are to be held there, as well as in the Alpine town of Cortina.

Unprecedented levels of foreign investment are driving new developments across the city. More than 40 major construction projects worth US$21 billion are to be undertaken over the next 15 years.

Left-of-center Milanese Mayor Giuseppe Sala has presided over a 50 percent rise in tourism based on aggressive promotion of the city’s cultural assets, from the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci to the attractions of the city’s thriving LGBT quarter in Porta Venezia.

Next year, the international book fair usually held in Turin is moving to Milan.

Only the city’s two soccer teams, Inter and AC Milan, have failed to keep up with the city’s pace of growth and development, although Inter — now under Chinese ownership — took a respectable second in the national championship.

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