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main index    © Jeff Matthews  entry Oct. 2003

Illegal Building

Maybe this one wasn't illegal, but it should have been. It sits on the Vomero hill overlooking the bay and is called the "Great Wall of China" by locals.


UOSAE is the acronym for Unità operativa speciale antiabusivismo, the special police unit that combats illegal building. Such construction includes items such as an extra balcony put on a house, an entire floor added to the top of a building, an entire house, and even, in some cases, a gigantic luxury hotel on some bucolic coastline that was supposed to be protected from the encroachment of “wild cement,” as the Italian term has it. 

The police unit has a tough job. Their successes are spectacular, as in the case of the recent demolition of a hotel along the Amalfi coast. UOSAE reports, however, that in the summer of 2003 there were twice as many cases of illegal construction (300) in Naples than just a year earlier. Of more concern than just the numbers is the kind of building undertaken without a permit. Most cases used to involve the clandestine garage or maybe an additional balcony out back and away from the street. Now, entire houses are going up, and they are not always that easy to spot. Much of the land considered ideal for a house or villa is along the Posillipo coast and hill or on the Camaldoli hill in back of the city, territory that is still off the beaten track and hidden away from public view. The city of Naples already employs squads of volunteers to walk around and report back on what they find. The city now plans to employ satellite technology—high–resolution spies in the sky to spot offenders.

The problem is obviously not limited to the city of Naples. Quite the contrary. Those with the money to do so might choose to build way out in some God–and copforsaken, serene bit of wilderness. Who wouldn’t want to live amidst the natural splendor of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano national park, for example? Stopping “wild cement” from spilling into that marvelous area is a new concern, as the newspaper reports today.

It certainly isn’t a new problem. You can stand and look at Corso Umberto, the street that was the centerpiece of the risanamento—the decades–long splurge of urban renewal in Naples at the turn of the 20th century (see next entry)—and notice something odd. Almost every one of those buildings along the entire mile of avenue on both sides of the street has an added floor. What started out as a four-story building turned into a five-story building in the years that followed. Some of it was done after WW1 and some after WW2. Some of the added stories were done well and are not easily distinguishable from those of the original building. A few are sloppy and stand out. I can’t believe they were all built legally.

Another problem is the legal item called a condono—amnesty, pardon. After the earthquake of 1980, there was such a rush to make sure that people had places to live that the city legally forgave an awful lot of unnecessary and illegal construction. That legal machinery is still in place, resulting in the existence of skeleton buildings in various places in the city, structures that were left half-finished, but which cannot be demolished because the legal battle over a condono is still going on.

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