If looking down on Como from any of the surrounding mountains and seeing it nestled at the end of its glimmering lake, who would ever think to question the ecological purity of such a stupendous setting?
Yet looking south or west there is another Como – the industrial city of textile production or the city of commuters making their daily way north into Ticino or south into the Milan conurbation – a city of over 80,000 people of whom most may get to glimpse the lakefront only ‘en passage’ or for an occasional weekend passeggiata.
And in fact the latest figures released last October by the Italian NGO, Legambiente, detailing the environmental performance of all the provincial capitals in Italy, show that Como is an ecological curate’s egg –that is, good but only in parts!
The report from Legambiente entitled ‘Ecosistema Urbano 2017’ places all provincial capitals such as Como within a regional (Lombardy for us) and national ranking identifying those who fall below the standards set by the European Union. The data has been synthesised and then published by Como’s Camera di Commercio (Chamber of Commerce) with the full report available from this link. However here follows a summary of where we stand nationally and compared with fellow provincial capitals in the region such as Varese, Lecco, Monza and Milan.
Milan and other cities in the Pianura Padana, including Como, have historically fared badly in measures of air quality recording some of the highest levels of smog across Europe and on a par only with some parts of Poland. So it is of no surprise to discover that our record in this category is classified as ‘poor’ meaning we exceed the levels set for at least two out of the four measures of air quality. We fail in our average levels of nitrogen dioxide and the number of days registering high levels of ozone. For nitrogen dioxide we are ranked 91st out of about 115 cities with Milan at 95. Our average level is 46 micrograms per cubic metre, 6 points above the EU standard set at 40 micrograms. However, other cities in Lombardy and the Pianura Padana fare much better with Mantova ranking only 19th nationally. In fact, Mantova is the shining example for most of the ecological measures in the report and is by far overall the greenest city in Lombardy.
Excessive ozone is another problem we share with other cities in the Po Valley aggravated by the high temperatures in the summer months and the relative lack of wind. Como had 37 days in the year when the ozone level exceeded the safety standard. It appears that for this measure at least we are not helped by the mountains that flank us on two sides since these tend to trap the air above the city if there is no wind to disperse it. Varese managed much worse than us with 70 days above safety level whilst the cleanest city in Lombardy was Sondrio with 10 days. Genoa was the worst across the nation with a staggering 155 days above safety level.
One positive aspect for us in terms of air quality is the relatively low level of small particles in the atmosphere where we score within the safety level and Sondrio again gets the cleanest score in Lombardy.
Sustainability requires us to reduce as far as possible the daily consumption of fresh water. The national average daily consumption per person is apparently 151 litres (although drought conditions in some parts of Italy, e.g. Agrigento, can explain some spectacularly low consumption figures in some areas). Como’s average daily consumption per person is 185 litres. The lowest level in Lombardy is Varese at 131 litres and the highest is Milan with 209 litres.
Another measure of sustainability is the percentage of fresh water lost in the system through leaks or damage to the supply network. Como has a positive record in that 21% of fresh water is lost which is below the national average. Varese loses 33% of its fresh water whilst Monza is the most efficient losing only 10.8%.
This last year even the beach areas around the city were deemed clean enough to allow for swimming in the lake. This was due to recent improvements in the amount of waste passing through purification plants. Most cities in Lombardy put all their waste through purification plants however Como, although showing improvements, manages only 88% – the lowest level in Lombardy. Nationally however Benevento scores the lowest with only 22% of waste passing through a treatment centre.
The challenge for the future is to reduce the amount of waste generated per inhabitant and then to recycle as much as possible of what is generated. In terms of waste generation the Comaschi create a yearly average per person of 466 kilos which is well below the national average of 536 kilos. We were outdone by the virtuous Monzese with a figure of 430 kilos yet far better than the Bresciani who produced a scale-tipping 675 kilos per person.
We are also quite virtuous recyclers exceeding the government target of 65% recycling set in 2012 by achieving 66.5% last year. However the truly virtuous triumvirate of cities are in the North East with Trento at 81.6%, Treviso at 85% and Pordenone with an impressive 86.6% of all refuse sent for recycling. In sad contrast Siracusa could only manage to recycle 2.8%.
The availability and use of public transport is another effective measure of the extent to which city councils are facing up to the challenges of providing for a sustainable future. More use of public transport could be expected in large cities or those with exceptional circumstances such as Venice which naturally tops the national ranking in the average number of journeys on public transport per inhabitant. Each Venetian travels almost twice a day on public transport whilst for cities the size of Como, Brescia scores highest with 195 journeys per year. Como’s score is 75 which is a higher rate of public transport use than most other cities of a similar size in Lombardy.
However the number of journeys undertaken on public transport obviously depends on how much public transport is available. Milan has the greatest score with 91 kilometres of transport availble per inhabitant. Smaller cities would have proportionally less with Como having 28 kilometres which puts it above Mantova, Varese, Lecco and Monza. Sondrio has surprisingly few kilometres of public transport (6 km) and a correspondingly high level of private car ownership.
Car ownership is however unsurprisingly low in Venice with 43 cars per 100 inhabitants. Milan scores the lowest in Lombardy with 51 whilst Como has 61 cars per 100 inhabitants, amongst the highest levels in Lombardy.
How safe are our roads, or statistically, how many deaths or injuries arise from traffic accidents per 1000 head of population? Bergamo’s streets are the most dangerous with 10.7 incidents per 1000 inhabitants. Sondrio, despite its high level of car ownership, is amongst the safest cities with 3.4 whilst Como is in 39th place nationally with a figure of 7.0.
Reggio Emilia heads the national charts in the provision of cycle paths with 41 metres per 100 inhabitants. Cremona and Mantova in Lombardy are not far behind (lovely flat cycling in the Pianura Padana!). Como is unfortunately below the national average of 7.53 metres with only 2.9 metres.
The city most well-endowed with pedestrian areas unsurprisingly is Venice. They offer an average of 5.3 square metres per inhabitant. In Lombardy Cremona heads the list with 1.2 square metres followed by Mantova with 0.9 and Milan with 0.5. Como is 12th nationally with 0.3 square metres whilst Lecco and Monza at 0.1 are two of the least pedestrianised cities in Itay.
Obvious signs of ‘greenery’ are the number of trees in public spaces with Brescia leading the national chart with 59 trees per 100 inhabitants well ahead of Como with 11, the lowest level in Lombardy. We do better in the amount of public green space coming 11th nationally. At 69 square metres per inhabitant, we are the second most green city in Lombardy after Sondrio.
And finally we almost lead the way just behind Lodi in Lombardy in the generation of renewable energy from solar power. We are in 10th place nationally generating 11.6 kilowatts per 1000 inhabitants. The leader is Padua with 30.3 kilowatts.
So what can we make out of this somewhat confusing set of statistics. Can we in any way profile a city through figures of this sort? They clearly don’t give any precise indication to the heart and soul of a place although the consistently positive scoring of a city like Mantova could lead us (quite rightly I believe) to assume it’s a city well and imaginatively managed. And as for Como? What should be our judgement? My daughter used regularly to come back from school with a report repeating the judgement ‘discreto’ over a range of subjects. Maybe this also applies to Como since we obviously need to improve on our air quality. There is also no reason why we should not be purifying all of our water waste like every other city in Lombardy and nor should we be wasting over 20% of fresh water given how supply is becoming ever more variable. No real issues with waste management but more to do on mobility particularly in the provision of cycle paths which would in any case be much appreciated by resident and visitor alike. Perhaps it is a bit disappointing that we, as a city with a worldwide reputation as a spectacular tourist destination, cannot manage to lead in at least one of these ecological measures. And why not just pedestrianise the whole of the lakefront, if not permanently at least at weekends as happens along parts of the river bank in Paris.