It is hard to define in an honest and complete way Via Padova in Milan, Italy. The subject itself represents a controversial question regarding the issue of immigration. While it has been badly advertised, I tried to understand if this perception truly applies to everybody, so I began asking around: “What is your opinion of Via Padova?” The results were clearly divided: those that instantly go to the “dangerous” response, and those that take a moment to reflect from another perspective.
The street has a population of almost forty five thousand; 20.3% is represented by Filipinos, followed by 12.8% Egyptian, 9.8% Chinese, 8.5% Peruvian and 6.8% Ecuadorian.
Most everyone agrees that Via Padova can be called a “city within the city of Milan.” This is due to the unique social aspects which strongly reflect on its urban environment. As one person put it, “when you enter Via Padova, the change just hits you: the smell, the people, the image of the city changes completely; it’s hard to believe you are still in Milan, just a few kilometers away from the city center.”
There is a portion of the population that instantly defines it as “dangerous.” Among them are both visitors and residents who have had their car vandalized or witnessed strange events. As one bystander commented, “I used to see strange things happening on the street, and I was terrified even in taking the stairs up to my apartment. Anything can happen, it’s not a safe area.”
On the other side, there are those who reflect on a deeper level, looking at the lives of the people who call it home. This optimistic group doesn’t seem to emphasize the bad reputation, “sure, there are accidents, and yes, maybe the ambulance comes one too many times; but those are not the only faces of Via Padova.”
The documentary on Via Padova by Giulia Ciniselli and Anna Bernasconi captures, in an amazing way, the humanity of the street and the struggles of its immigrant residents. By relating the story of different nationalities, it provides an inside view on their struggles and life in a city where they are discriminated.
Most of the residents moved in search of a better future for themselves and their families. Whether they are sending money home to their poor relatives, couples who raise their children in the hope for a better life, or refugees from the war, these are stories that evoke emotion and understanding.
It also shows the good intentions of these immigrants to earn an honest living in Milan. The commercial part of the street is represented by the diverse cultural businesses most of which are owned by the locals. In fact, 44% of the commercial enterprises that have their base in Via Padova are run by immigrants. Telecommunications companies are managed almost solely by immigrants and represent their capacity to organize themselves to meet the requirements of communicating at affordable prices with their countries of origin.
As a reply to a remark on how low-uneducated immigrants help build a better future, the answer is: maybe he didn’t get it. The building of a better future stands mainly in the hands of those who have had the chance to be educated and can do something to help the ones less fortunate – fail to look deeper and you miss an opportunity to make a bad situation better for everyone.
As Doug Saunders concludes in “Arrival Cities,” it takes three generation for a complete cycle of integration. But the question remains: how can urban policies help solve these complex issues? And at the end.. is Via Padova Milan’s social nightmare or… the immigrants’?
Credits: Images by Alexandra Serbana. Data linked to sources.