Memories of a place I’m missing

Surfing through the Internet a little ago, I found out that a gigantic (well, at least for Italian standards) skyscraper has mushroomed out of a disused industrial area in Torino, Italy. The area, known as ex Fiat Avio (Fiat Avio, an aerospace company, is now part of GE, has rebranded itself in Avio – engineers aren’t famed for marketing flair, after all – and moved to the south of town) borders another large, former industrial site in the city, the Lingotto. Reading the pages of comments about this new project I couldn’t avoid feeling, well, a little bit jealous and left out. You see, I used to live there until 5 years ago, and I witnessed the changes that the area went through, from industrial wasteland to restoration to the Olympics craze to, unfortunately, a bit of abandonment and decay as the credit crunch bite and post-Olympics projects hesitated, faltered and then failed altogether. Now things are changing again, for the better, and my mental image of the place won’t be as its reality anymore.

So, here’s what I used to see. God knows how it’ll look like in five years’ time.

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This is the Lingotto’s test track. Until the mid ’80s this used to be a car factory (click here for its English Wikipedia entry), built in the 1920s according to the latest theories about industrial production coming from the States. In a nutshell, raw materials arrived downstairs and were slowly assembled into new, shiny FIAT cars. The same cars would then be driven along the two spiral ramps (one existing at each end of the building) for a spin on the test track. Improvements in automatization made the factory obsolete, so the last car – a Lancia Delta, apparently – rolled out of here in 1982. Architect Renzo Piano masterminded a recovery project that transformed the factory in a series of offices (FIAT is still headquartered here), a museum, hotels and a shopping centre dear to the heart  of the city’s chavs. You can walk on the track when you visit the museum or use it as your jogging circuit if you stay at the NH hotel below. The ‘bubble’ and helipad are used by FIAT’s top brass and all the local pensioners know how to spot the helicopters landing: which one is FIAT’s, which one is Ferrari’s and which one is neither and must be the Americans’ (or so they say).

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This view looking south has now changed dramatically. On the left there’s, now, a 200-meters tall skyscraper. Quite a change from these vaguely Soviet-looking council houses built to house the million or so immigrants, almost entirely coming from Southern Italy, who came here to work for FIAT.

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This is one of the largest, or at least most visible, legacies of the 2006 Winter Olympics that revived the city. The Passerella Olimpica, or Olympic Walkway. A nice footbridge laid out above the large trench where the Genoa-bound train tracks pass, linking two different neighbourhoods, Santa Rita and Lingotto-Millefonti. It’s been built with the specific intent of linking up the Lingotto shopping centre to the Olympic Media Village, built in the old wholesale vegetables market, and the Athletes’ residences. The media village is now virtually abandoned, mainky due to the City’s stubborn refusal to rent it for anything less than the astronomical lease they’re asking, and the walkway is being neglected, covered as it is in tags and graffiti left by the aforementioned chavs walking to the shopping mall. But, despite all its shortcomings, it’s still a nice place to walk to on an early morning, when the rising sun is painting the Lingotto’s “bubble” gold.

 

 

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