I’m in Locri. This is the south of the south of Italy. It’s hard to get here. My plane came from Rome and late in the evening it arrived in Reggio Calabria. Beautiful view from the air. Sicily and the Etna on one side, lots of boats in the sea below us and the airport on the other side of the sea, in Calabria.
The A3 is the main motorway that is connecting the South with the rest of Italy and Europe. They say it has been under construction for more than 40 years. On the map you see a double blue line. In reality you have to drive two hours to get from Reggio to Locri. The motorway is one lane and most of the time the speed limit is 40 kilometers per hour. My taxi driver tells me that after Berlusconi succeeded in taking out some of the maffia bosses here in the south, things started to get a little bit better. The constructors are now from the North and some progress is being made. The landscape is so tough, that large stretches of the road are tunnels. They hope to have this road ready in three years.
The next morning I wake up early to the sound of the birds. The sun is shining and I walk to the beach. There’s no one there and I sit down to think about my talk that I will do later that day. How can I speak about cities in such a remote place? This is the area that is in danger when all talent is leaving to live in cities. What is its future? If the only thing going on here is tourism, how can this region survive? And what kind of tourism are we talking about? There seems to be almost nothing here. Or is that just the thing that makes me happy?
Wherever I go, I want to talk to young people. People that are in the defying stage of their lives, when they’ve finished their studies and have to make their choice where to live. What brings them here? What makes them go? This is where we have to find our answers on what to do. They are the ones that can tell me what makes a place or an area attractive, or not.
Before giving my speech, I talk to Annamaria, a girl in her twenties. She studied business and economy in Siena. Now she lives with her parents again, here in the area. Her father has his own company so she can work there. She’s back because she was born here, she says, has her roots here, her family. But there are no other jobs. And like so many others, she wants to travel. We discuss the idea to start her own company here. The mentality is not right, she says, people do not like young women to do something like that.
I decide to talk more about these issues in my speech. What can cities and areas do to be attractive, to connect to talent so that young people want to settle there? Most politicians talk about big schemes and bigger investments. New roads, airports, business districts, things like that. But the future of most of our young people does not depend on infrastructure. We tend to forget that infrastructure works both ways. It makes it easy to get there but also easy to go away. The future of most of us is no longer with the big companies that some of people think will once come to save us and give us a job. The truth is: if you need a job, fight for yourself, create it yourself. There is no one who’s going to solve your problem.
With the numbers of young people without jobs especially in the southern parts of Europe, one starts to wonder where our money and energy should go. Is it really the education that is lacking? This girl speaks perfect english, she has a degree in economics. I don’t think so. Many very well educated young people are without a job. The big infrastructure can be build. But the simple infrastructures to start ones own business is simply not there. Too many of us are still in the world of big companies and big investments. And this is why a whole generation is left without a future.
My idea is that in an area like this there is no other choice than acupuncture. Simply start somewhere. Stimulate networks of young, creative and well educated people. Invite them to the area. Open up one of your derelict old factory sites, invest in it and make it possible to work there. Make it a place where you can meet other people that are also looking for a network. Stop investing in these old school business districts. What we need are new school working areas. Where we can do what we like and work with people that think like us. If we want to make apps we make apps. If we want to make computer games lets make computer games. If we want to invite people from all over the world because we feel pride in what we are doing, let’s invite them. Give young people their own responsibility. If we don’t do that, they will go out and get it themselves. But probably not here.