The urban regeneration of Palermo to win the battle against the mafia

The city of Palermo in Sicily reached a crisis moment in the 1990s, when the mafia took over control of the city. Many thought Palermo had reached a point of no return, but instead it was able to bounce back and transform the mafia battlefield into a cultural capital. Mayor Orland decided to take a firm stance against the mafia. Special laws were passed, penalties and prison conditions were made more harsh, encouraging former gangsters to collaborate with the police and become informers. This led to a large number of arrests, including the head of the Sicilian mafia and many of his collaborators. But this was not enough to make citizens of Palermo feel safe. The wounds inflicted by the mafia were visible in the city’s architecture. Hundreds of desolate, block-like and grey apartment buildings scarred the suburbs and areas previously owned by the mafia were left deserted. This encouraged the council to provide public funding to bring old buildings and public spaces to their former splendour. As a result, in 25 years, more than 60% of the city’s historic buildings have been renovated. An undisclosed portion of the seizure of goods and property from Sicilian mafia bosses, worth an estimated total of €30bn (£25bn), was invested in new social, environmental and cultural spaces in the city. For example, a villa in the countryside once used as a meeting place and business hub for local gangsters has been repurposed into a local Scout movement headquarter. Although the city still has a long way to go in terms of toppling the mafia completely, the urban developments that followed its crisis made the city a much better place to live in.