THE NEW PHILISTINES
The Parco Didattico (Educational Park), the area around the former slaughterhouse of Padova, is a unique and very interesting ‘green area’ located along part of the ancient city walls. It is listed as a “World Treasure” by the FWT-UNESCO (Dakar 1991) and protected by architectural and environmental constraints. It has recently been devastated by a massive operation of environmental destruction, by the city authorities themselves.
The Park came into being during the last few decades of the 20th century, thanks to untiring work by the members of the Comunità per le Libere Attività Culturali (CLAC) and the Club UNESCO of Padova, following the example of many similar initiatives in Europe. It is perhaps the first of its kind to be created in Italy.
For many years, it was a ‘laboratory in the open air’ for children, young people, and their teachers, who were interested in extending scientific knowledge of the nature and relationships existing between human communities and the territory in which they live. The figures speak clearly: over the years, several thousand students and their teachers, trained, qualified personnel from cultural institutions and associations, and young people from all the countries of Europe and beyond it, came to help create the structures of the Park and to learn techniques and innovative ideas to be transferred to their own countries.
The results of this experience, in all its originality – the recovery of a formerly abandoned green area in the very heart of the city, thanks to the voluntary work of cultural associations freely collaborating with each other – has been presented at many international meetings and exhibitions: Seville, Moscow, Dakar, Bremen, and several others.
Under the guidance of university personnel, biotopes and several diverse environments had been created, to allow various types of teaching itineraries to be followed, albeit on a small scale. First came the ecologically conceived pond, a microcosm of autochthonous forms of plant and animal life, and then the kitchen-garden, planned according to practices going back to the Middle Ages. These were followed by the creation of spaces for exhibitions and teaching activities for small numbers of selected participants.
As from 1985, again under the guidance of university experts, the flora of the Park was enriched, with the aim of re-creating the vegetation characteristic of the plain forest – that is, the system of herbaceous, shrub and tree species which had been so typical of the Po Plain, the largest in Italy, in pre-industrial times.
Spontaneously growing species were introduced in all the natural strata occurring in a woodland ecosystem. For example, the herbaceous belt contained Anemone hepatica, periwinkle, dog’s-tooth violent, green hellebore, Solomon’s seal, and Pulmonaria. Shrubs included cornelian cherry, Sanguinella, berretto di prete, viburnum, wayfaring tree, hawthorn, plum, hazel and common privet. Among the trees were oak, elm, maple, white hornbeam and ash. Water-loving species were planted by the pond: white willow, black alder, and a ring of riparian shrubs and grasses. A small area behind the largest building in the old slaughterhouse complex contained some of the plants characteristic of the local peasant tradition: Neapolitan medlar, Japanese medlar, mulberry and quince.
In total, about 300 specimens of trees and shrubs and a huge number of herbaceous species had been planted in the course of a few years. The results of all these operations, undertaken with the greatest care, were excellent, and almost 100% of all specimens took root. The plants were identified by small metal plaques, and properly cared for. Periodic mowing selectively removed the most aggressive weed species, to the advantage of the autochthonous plants.
After 20 years of growth, the Park had not only acquired its own exceptional aspect, but had reached a considerable degree of naturalness – to the extent that it hosted a variety of animal species rarely found in cities.
The damage done by the workmen (not even gardeners) sent in by the city authorities can only be defined as catastrophic.
The undergrowth has been destroyed throughout the Park, and at least 70% of the spontaneous plants – mainly herbs and shrubs – no longer exist. Much of the soil has been churned up by the wheels of tractors and excavators, and the spectacle is one of devastation.
After so many years of hard work - undertaken freely and enthusiastically, time willingly offered and dedicated to this tiny oasis of naturalness and peace, made available to the public by all the associations, volunteers and university docents who collaborated - the CLAC and the Club UNESCO of Padova continue to ask why the local public administration is incapable of appreciating and enhancing the result of the efforts and experience of all those who put so much into the creation of this unique environment.
The debasement which has been carried out is not only environmental destruction, nor simply deliberate damage inflicted regardless of legal contraints. It is a brutal, unprovoked attack against a spirit of liberal culture and a savage waste of human, social and economic resources.
The coordinator of the FWT/FMACU-UNESCO network