The Ecolandia of Reggio Calabria, where utopia overcomes decay

Filling the void, breaking down the full: Calabria is a geography of killed places, abandoned areas, missed bets, scams. Against commonplaces and abandoned ones, there is instead the story of Ecolandia, one hundred thousand square meters of a late nineteenth-century Navy fort. A balcony on the Strait of Messina, with a view that goes from Etna to the Aeolian Islands, in the area of ​​Arghillà, the district of Reggio that seems to be condemned to perpetual marginalization. Holes, decay, an open police station where once there was a school, dismantled cars and obese children.

Until you get inside: Ecolandia lives on a landscape protection area, it defines itself as a “Playful, technological, environmental park”. It has a reception room for schools, photovoltaic panels, the rainwater collection system, a synergistic vegetable garden, a phytodepuration tank, the livaredde trees planted, which would then be the small almost wild olive trees. In that fort there used to be horse races, clandestine stables. And then, on the top, one of the most important “passes” for seasonal glory hunters, they shot the honey buzzard in transit just below the walls. There is now a bird watching observatory. And in the summer, concerts in the amphitheater for five hundred people. But, as always happens, the road has been long.

Financed by European funds, “Ecolandia” collapses for the first time, at the time of the financial crisis of the municipality dissolved for mafia. The biologist Eric Van Monckhoven, environmentalist, who had signed the first project, denounces the state of the work. The EU orders the Municipality of Reggio to complete it within a year, otherwise a request for 2.5 million in damages will be triggered.

The Municipality obeys, the space takes on a new life thanks to a pool of associations and companies that wins the tender. And it becomes a place where you learn. For example, an African plant is grown, the Jatropha: the waste of its seeds ends up with those of the pruning in a shredder: a natural fertilizer is born; with the squeezing machine of the seeds, biodiesel is produced for agricultural machinery, used in the park.

Piero Polimeni, head of the technical office and research infrastructures, describes “Ecolandia” as a place of paths and knowledge: the Renaissance garden, the tents and the life path, the Tibetan bridge. The use of confiscated goods here becomes creative: once upon a time there was an abusive bathing establishment on an Ionian beach: a gazebo with chestnut beams, even a container that has become a tool shed: now all those materials are here broken down to re-inhabit the spaces.

And to explain how a beach volleyball court, a minigolf field and a dog area can coexist with the path of Ulysses created in the waters of the moat that surrounds the fort, with the oasis of contemplation, one of the seven stages of the educational path of integral ecology that refers to the encyclical “Laudato si ‘”, with the forest of the trees of the Bible and the area of ​​air games. The new plants planted compensate for the CO2 produced during concerts and meetings with school children.

Many wooden works are a creation of the fantastic Syrian carpenters, who arrived here with the humanitarian corridors. Three large tepees, eucalyptus, cypresses. You may ask, too good to be true. In fact, there was no lack of damage and theft, but surprisingly, there were also repentant thieves.

There are spaces that need to be adopted, they tell about the presence or failure of institutions. Calabria is full of spaces without families, Ecolandia is a journey on the path of the non-resigned.


Source: L'Espresso – News, inchieste e approfondimenti Espresso by espresso.repubblica.it.

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