Small city, big heart: the story of Piazza Grande

When they launched Piazza Grande twenty-five years ago, 6000 copies got sold on the first week. This paper wasn’t just a normal one: if was co-written with perspective of, and sold by, homeless people. And it still is. About half of the office where this monthly magazine about Bologna is produced is composed of homeless writers. Everybody signs, but we are not told who has a roof above his/her head and who hasn’t.

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To celebrate its 25th birthday, the magazine that takes its name from the iconic Lucio Dalla‘s song has got a new, sleek design. It looks, how can I say, legit. And it is. It does not cover just the problem of homelessness, but a handful of topics that regard the city, from its vibrant, multicultural culture to new poverty and emerging problems. It features local stories, has a “letters to the editors” where also letters directed to other papers can be answered, features the occasional recipe and has even its own horoscope.

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«When I started directing Piazza Grande in the early 2000s – says the managing director – there was a big shift in what it means to be poor. Homeless people used to sort of come from a long history of marginality, while all of a sudden poverty became something someone could just slide into. Then there appeared also the other one, the new face of poverty, the one coming from migrations».

I know some of the faces of the people selling Piazza Grande on the street: because you can’t buy Piazza Grande at the newsagent’s, but mostly on the street, sold by these very same people it’s dedicated to and contribute to its contents. I know the face of Attilio, big man with a tenor’s stomach that shouts Piaaaaazzza Grande every saturday at Mercato Ritrovato and I know the small guy, probably from Bangladesh, I alway meet in Piazza Aldrovandi on weekend mornings, and I know the Roma guy who sells it in Via San Vitale. I always say hello to them, I know nothing of their story.

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Reading Piazza Grande is a way to contribute to a virtuous circle that not only empowers the more marginalized people by enabling them to write and to have a job as street vendors but also contributes to the bigger picture of Piazza Grande project. As a matter of fact, the magazine is just the tip of the iceberg, or the icing on the cake if you will, of a much bigger project that involves, still under the umbrella name of Piazza Grande, a dozen of smaller projects practically, individually and specifically committed to finding housing, shelter, work or at the very least hot beverages for the less fortunate. You can also visit Piazza Grande’s second-hand market (Mercato di Piazza Grande on Via Stalingrado) as well as the buzzing thrift shop La Leonarda (that, incidentally, ended up on the New York Times, as well as in this post of mine about fashion).

Also, reading Piazza Grande is a way to have some more information about what is going on in this city full of life, tourism and  never ending “food experiences”, where the less fortunate, those who have not a roof over their head, are getting kicked out of their improvised but kind of regular sleeping spots above the porticoes, and even get fined. Fined for being poor and homeless (look for the “daspo” law if you want to have some information about this issue).

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Finally, reading Piazza Grande is a pleasure, because it looks good, because it’s on paper, because the contents are interesting and the content editors anything but banal, because it’s that tiny sweet little link between Bologna and bigger realities like London (think of The big issue) and because it’s a way to be involved.   If you want to be involved, you can find the magazine on the street, plus wednesday afternoons at Labàs farmers’market, on saturday mornings at Mercato Ritrovato, and in a handful of places that, no big surprise, are super cool: tiny independent library and event factory Modo Infoshop, Bolognina’s heart of malt&hop Fermento Bolognina’s (again! It’s our Williamsburg after all) Kinotto, Senape Vivaio Urbano around the Pratello area and other hotspots.

 

 

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