Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The Italian city is imposing a €500 fine for eating in some popular, crowded areas.
Florence, Italy, has declared war on sandwiches—or at least on people who eat them in the wrong place.
As of September 6, anyone caught eating food outdoors during peak hours in four central streets in the Tuscan capital could face a fine of up to €500. When a city proposes a penalty this steep for the modest crime of nibbling on a snack, it’s clear that tempers must be running high—and indeed they are.
Florence’s latest rule is part of an ongoing wave of Italian measures intended to manage tourist pressures and curb anti-social behavior in general, a wave that shows no sign of having crested yet. Two years ago, the city banned non-local food from the city center, while last summer the mayor threatened to attack visitors eating on the cathedral steps with a hose. Elsewhere in the country, cities have banned kebabs, al fresco drinking, and even late-night ice cream in a bid to preserve a sense of decorum and public order. As CityLab discussed last year, there’s sometimes a darker side to these bans, which have served to create rules that can unjustly target marginal groups and to pass the buck for years of bad official planning onto individuals. In this specific case, however, Florence’s new fines do make some sense.
That’s because inner Florence’s streets are full, and tensions caused by their congestion are starting to boil over. The four specific streets chosen (Via de' Neri, Piazzale degli Uffizi, Piazza del Grano, and Via della Ninna) are narrow and extremely busy—even Street View images of the Via dei Neri show it full to bursting.
In streets this packed, any group that lingers can cause a blockage, and that’s just what’s been happening around the establishments in the area serving takeaway food. On August 20, a shopkeeper got into a scuffle with some Spanish tourists who he thought were blocking his entrance after having bought lunch at a sandwich shop a few doors down. It’s easy to understand his frustration. It may seem over-the-top to get too snippy about visitors’ dining habits, but when those habits actually risk harming your business, something has to give.
Florence is by no means the only European city struggling with intense tourist pressure. But like Venice, which has resorted to installing seasonal gates at the city’s busiest points of entry, its layout makes things notably harder. The city’s core is a dense, irregular grid of streets with no green space—exactly as you would expect in a town that took shape behind city walls in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. As a result, the congestion isn’t entirely visitors’ fault. Without a fair walk, or knowledge of the city’s quitter more secret spaces, there aren’t a lot of places for them to enjoy their takeaway sandwiches. Even larger squares tend to be busy and not especially well furnished with benches, so it’s no wonder that visitors tend to eat where they stand. Still, if this habit is now going to come with a potential €500 surcharge, visitors may soon change their stripes.