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New mayors of old cities meet over common problems

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Eric J. Lyman

ROME, July 23 (Xinhua) -- New York mayor Bill de Blasio started off an eight-day visit to Italy with a stop by the Campidoglio -- Rome's city hall -- where he met with Roman counterpart Ignazio Marino in a kind of bilateral mayoral summit experts say will, and should, become more common in the future.

De Blasio's 48-hour stop in Rome was not part of any kind of formal capacity: the newly-elected New Yorker came to Italy as part of a family vacation that included visits to the two southern Italian towns where his maternal grandmother and grandfather were born.

But in a statement, the two mayors said they did discuss important work issues during their first-ever meeting, including strategies to combat urban poverty, ways to reduce automobile traffic in the city, improve air quality, and improve waste management -- an increasingly prickly problem in both cities.

Rome is suffering from crumbling infrastructure and cash problems nearly as severe as the ones that drove New York to fiscal collapse in the 1970s.

According to experts, the meeting was likely useful for the two leaders, both of whom are relatively new to their jobs.

"The big cities of the world are like small, autonomous entities with economies the size of small countries, and it's absolutely useful for their leaders to meet and share strategies and experiences," Francesco Mattioli, a sociologist with La Sapienza University in Rome, told Xinhua.

"It's a complicated job and there's every reason for them to try to learn from the other," Mattioli continued. "Big cities even have a kind of foreign policy role that is helped by this kind of encounter."

Giorgia Fanari, the Rome correspondent for "Eco dale Citta," a publication that focuses on issues related to environmental protection and sustainability, agreed.

"The cities themselves, New York and Rome, have little in common, but there are still benefits," Fanari said in an interview. "There is the public relations aspect of casting both mayors in a kind of international light and to know how their cities are seen. And in terms of best practices, there's nothing wrong with copying in one city what works elsewhere."

Giorgio Piccinato, an expert on urbanism at Roma Tre University, said a spread of the kind of public-private initiatives like the one between Rome and fashion magnate Diego della Valle to clean and maintain the Coliseum could be used in other cities.

"It is inevitable that these kinds of projects will become more common," Piccinato told Xinhua.

Another thing that is likely to become more common is this kind of bilateral meeting between big city mayors. Though various associations of mayors have existed for many years experts say it is likely that smaller groups or one-on-one meetings like the one between Marino and de Blasio may prove more likely to yield results.

"Nobody will understand the challenges of one mayor as well as another mayor," Mattioli said.

Corrado Salas, a retired urban planning consultant from Venice, said these kinds of informal discussions will likely become increasingly common.

"In may ways, running a big city today can be as complicated as running most countries two or three generations ago," Salas told Xinhua. "These complex problems are always better solved by a couple of smart people than by a big meeting."

For his part, de Blasio cited another advantage: the 53-year-old said he is inspired by Rome and the country of his grandparents' birth.

"Italy has challenges, and I think it must be difficult for people in the middle of those challenges to see their greatness and understand what they have done to inspire the world," de Blasio said after his meeting with Marino. "They have certainly inspired me."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/xinhua-news-agency/140723/new-mayors-old-cities-meet-over-common-problems