Do you know the saying which states «The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence»? There is a place, actually, several places, that completely overturn the meaning of this sentence. In Bologna, a city called ‘the erudite, the red, the fat’ by its citizens and located in the centre of Northern Italy, on the other side of the fence, where the grass is greener, you can always find a friendly and nice neighbour that would be pleased to help you with your garden or would be glad to teach you how to take care of your flowers and how to grow grass and plants of a wonderful and bright green. I am not talking about a gardening course, I am talking about help. In 2013, people living in Via Fondazza, a quiet street in the city centre of Bologna, started a challenging adventure which is ongoing and becoming powerful: they created the first Social Street in the world.
What does this mean? The concept, which is extremely simple and ancient, is based on the idea of helping and sharing. The people living in that area of the Emilian city started asking themselves if they could start to get to know their neighbours, and try to live in a more harmonious way. Federico Bastiani, the founder of the project, began wondering about who his neighbours were. One day, he stopped thinking and took action. The first step was creating a closed group on Facebook and printing out some posters to attach on the walls along the street where he lives, with his wife and their two children, which invited all the people living there to take part to the project. What happens after this is an explosion of sociality and collaboration: borrowing things and time, giving useful information, exchanging things and knowledge, helping students coming from other cities with simple things as doing the laundry. When it all began, there were low expectations but the number of people who took part in the project increased quickly and their will to spend time and have fun together too. So, they started organizing concerts in the street, “social birthdays” and any kind of event that celebrates this renewed concept of neighbourhood and social interaction.
Why did this movement started to become so strong? The answer is simple: Social Street is informal, inclusive, free and it has not a strict structure.
The project was born in a very informal way and Luigi Nardacchione, the co-founder of Social Street Italia, tells us that it still is. “Informality, fluidity and dynamism are the basis of the non-structure of this project”, Mr. Nardacchione says, “because this movement has not been created yet but we are creating it every day. It is a long and challenging work to let people trust other people. The goal is to lower people’s defences”. While I am interviewing him, Mr. Nardacchione asks me:”How many times have you needed help and you have not asked for it?”, my “many times” is unnecessary so I just smile and he understands that I perfectly get what he means. Then he goes on: “We usually do everything on our own and we don’t even think that somewhere there might be someone that would like to help us. Social Street is a way to increase and recover sociality”.
It has to be inclusive: categorizing people is not part of the project, because when you categorize you lose inclusion. The only exception is for politics and economy which are totally banned because they always put people against other people.
It also has to be free. This is a fundamental point because the idea that this movement is carrying on is to show that it is possible to do things without money. “Nowadays everybody thinks that you need money to do anything because the economic system is always instilling this idea in our minds”, continues Mr. Nardacchione, “we do not need to pay to spend our time with other people, we do not need money to organize events, we do not have a registered office because our office is the street. We do not need money, we just need people”. They are working hard, they are trying to give the example to other people who want to join this movement and they want to achieve quality instead of quantity (members that really believe in the project). And in the end, they can see the result of their efforts because this project not only changed many people’s lives but it also changed the minds of whom at the beginning was not confident and criticized this new way to socialize.
It doesn’t seem like living in a big city anymore. Now people who belong to this project feel like living in a shining and warm new reality, a man’s measure place. In the age of hyper-connection and the rising of every kind of social network which virtually connects people from one side of the world to the other, Social Street is a chance to re-establish human relationships between people living not only in the same city but also in the same street. All the people who are working hard to build and to grow Social Street network manage to recover an ancient way to establish strong, simple and friendly relationships between people who are sharing the ground they live on. Relationships based on a few things: asking, giving, receiving and thanking. Nothing more than this. Relationships based on a real and spontaneous will to help people in need of salt to cook or of an emotional support in a difficult moment of life. Relationships based on people concerning other people needs. “It is just a matter of giving”, says Mr. Nardacchione, “in our reality people help other people not because they receive anything else. They help just to help”.
In a contemporary point of view, it sounds like something utopian, but, this time, somebody turned utopia into reality.
The Social Street network has become stronger and stronger, wider and wider. Now it embraces millions of members not only in Italy and all around Europe, but also in Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and United States. And what about Portugal? Social Street also traveled from Italy to this country and after more than 2000 kilometres it started taking roots. If you are from Porto you should know that Rua da Santa Catarina, one of the most famous streets, is a social street. Even if you live in or visit Vila Nova de Gaia, Maia, Lisbon, Estoril, Sobreda (and many others) you might be walking between the buildings of a social street.
This is a project that does not have the shape and the colour of a brand new trend and it is not something that comes and goes in a eye’s glimpse. Social Street experience is a way to recover what in the past was considered normal behaviour: knocking on the door of a neighbour and asking for eggs, flour or salt to cook dinner. When having a relationship with your neighbours and helping them was the very normal and natural thing to do. Nowadays, it is not this way anymore. Actually, it wasn’t, but fortunately that changed in September 2013, when Mr. Bastiani founded Via Fondazza and the Social Street network.