European Union Policy Studies

Calling Santo Spirito "Home"

Santo Spirito Community Service

The 2008 crisis hit more than just the national economies. In fact, it was the smaller, local economies and communities that felt the strongest effects of the crisis in their everyday lives. One of these communities was the one surrounding JMU’s satellite campus in Florence. Fearing that the authenticity and excellence of historical antique shops as well as artisanal workshops would disappear from Via Maggio due to tough financial times, JMU Florence paired with the Associazione Via Maggio, which represents local shopkeepers, antiquarians, artisans and historical businesses to encourage cooperation and motivate them to resist the ease of losing culture and endangered trades for the easy profit and security of commercialization. While financial crises are extremely difficult to weather, they do not last forever. Culture and history, on the other hand, only survive so long as we nurture them and continuously recognize their importance.

Not only has JMU encouraged this locally rooted partnership, but it has also strongly committed to improving and renovating historical sites; revitalizing the neighborhood it has come to call home. Through events such as the JMU Big Event, carried out since 2012 in conjunction with the Associazione Via Maggio, but also by creating moments of reflection and exchange about best practices on how to combat vandalism, like the conference on “International Approaches to the Fight Against Illegal Graffiti” organized by JMU in 2016, our University has been an active and committed friend of the Oltrarno. It is commonly known that there are two sides of Florence, separated by the Arno that runs through the city. The side of the river with the main attractions – The Uffizi Gallery, The Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, etc. – has unfortunately become commercialized, losing some of its archaic charm. While tourism is a big industry that supports many economies, especially that of Italy, the downside is the loss of culture, authenticity, and heritage.

This commercialization has begun to spread onto the Oltrarno as well, affecting such sites as Piazzale Michelangelo, Forte di Belvedere, Via Maggio, and Santo Spirito. With the growing influx of students into Florence, the President of the Associazione Via Maggio, Olivia Turchi, notes that the market has changed to cater more towards students; losing quality to produce higher quantity at a cheaper price. Santo Spirito, which was once filled with workshops and antique shops like those still found on Via Maggio, now offers a growing variety of bars and restaurants, while workshops and antiquarians disappear. This transformation has been facilitated by the recent liberalization of local laws regulating how many bars and restaurants can be located within a determined area. It is not only students that are changing the economic environment of Florence, it is also the “on-the-go” lifestyle that is becoming more common even among Florentines.

While JMU has played a significant role in preserving the Oltrarno through community involvement and outreach, in order to maintain this beautiful neighborhood there must also be efforts to preserve something less tangible: the Florentine culture. Much like with ecotourism, intended to support conservation efforts and wildlife, as global citizens and travelers we must begin to think of every new city we visit as fragile ecosystems. How? By supporting small, local artisan businesses and appreciating the culture for what it is. By enjoying Florentine food and traditions and seeking authenticity within each unique culture we explore; unsalted bread and all! Only in this way will our horizons be expanded and our minds opened to new perspectives on the meaning of life and to new understandings of those who are (not so) different from us.

Written by Anna Sullivan (EUPS Class of 2017)

Published: Monday, April 4, 2016

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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