Reinventing Cities With Zip Lines

A handful of mountain towns in Italy look to zip lining to bring in tourists and bolster their economy

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Chuck Wolfe

Hill towns have always captivated me. I write about them often, most recently in the context of Matera, Italy, the "sustainable city of stone."

My premise has been that in the face of remarkable challenges of setting, residents mastered local terrain and natural systems to create lifestyles that worked well for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.

The Italian towns of Castelmezzano and neighboring Pietrapertosa are no exception, full of demonstrable cooperation with their mountain settings. As translated from the lofty Flight of the Angel website description:

Visiting Pietrapertosa you have the feeling that everything is adjusted depending on the rock, such as the many stairs. These are examples of the symbiosis between the village, its inhabitants and the rock, the live demonstration of its territory, which cannot deny the massive presence of almost unbridled nature, but must make it part of the urban structure.

Pietrapertosa takes its name from "Petraperciata," meaning "drilled" (in this case honoring the local perforated rock), and is the highest town in the Basilicata region, with its 1088 m above sea level, spread on the rocks of the Lucanian Dolomites, well protected from possible incursions from the valley. This character of a natural fortress and the possibility of dominating the valley of the Basento have favored the presence of man since time immemorial.

In 1990, Paul Duncan wrote of Castelmezzano that while most residents still lived off of the land, shepherds drove to their flocks in Fiats, with radios to pass the day. Twenty years later, cell phone signals creep around the mountain, and isolation no longer exists.

How can the Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa modernize their economies and simultaneously stay respectful of history and aesthetics?

The Flight of the Angel website provides a partial answer, marrying new human activity with the ongoing setting:

[A] new concept… allows use of creative environmental heritage answering a new need and a new understanding of leisure and recreation, tended increasingly to new experiences and to seek new emotions. An adventure in contact with nature and with a unique landscape, to discover the true soul of the territory.

I am not asserting that a zip wire will revitalize empty neighborhoods (hilly or otherwise), rescue overbuilt fringe suburbs or rural towns without purpose. But to achieve other progressive retrofits in the way we live, use our land and travel, we should take seriously the innovative quality of "zip wire thinking."

An outlier? Perhaps. But it is place-making at its finest, and an example that I, for one, will never forget.

In addition to my photographs, above, many people have captured images and videos of the zip wire. Among my favorites is this video from David Kilpatrick of Kelso, Scotland. David admirably captures and documents context and experience in a “you are there” recording, embedded below.

This post originally appeared on the Sustainable Cities Collective blog.

About the Author

  • Charles R. Wolfe is an attorney in Seattle, where he focuses on land use and environmental law and permitting, including the use of innovative land use regulatory tools and sustainable development techniques.