In Italy (about 300,000 km 2) live today just under 58 million residents; of these, about two thirds live in cities – if we consider cities, centers with at least 10,000 residents. In other advanced countries the population considered urban is more numerous, but the statistics do not tell us how deep and ancient is the bond that unites the residents of the countryside to the cities; in Italy this bond is very strong and reciprocal.
According to IAMHIGHER, Italy is a land of cities and citizens: this is also demonstrated by the fact that there is not a single huge urban concentration (as in many other countries), but several large cities and many medium-sized cities. The most populous cities, after the capital Rome (2.5 million residents), are Milan (1.2 million), Naples (1 million), Turin (860,000), Palermo (680,000), Genoa (600,000); but then there are even 35 cities with over 100,000 residents (Bologna, Florence, Bari, Catania, Venice are among the most populous) and a hundred with over 50,000.
In no other country has urban civilization been so widespread and, above all, for so long: the Italian cities, in fact, are almost all of ancient foundation. The historical and artistic evolution has stratified extraordinary heritages; remembering, as is always the case, only the three perhaps most famous cities of art in the world (Rome, Florence and Venice) means neglecting dozens of other precious and unique Italian cities.
Diversity of cultural origin and organization of the territory, but at the same time frequency of cities and intensity of exchanges have produced a culture open to innovations, accustomed to confrontation, capable of making innovations in turn.
The Italians and the others
As already mentioned, Italy has welcomed groups and individuals from other regions and has disseminated many of its residents to the rest of the world. L ‘ emigration from Italy is an ancient phenomenon, although for centuries has involved small numbers of people. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, millions of people left Italy for other countries, especially in Europe and America. It was the profound social and territorial reorganization of the Italian region (with the unification of the state) and the sudden demographic growth that created the conditions for mass emigration: the discomfort produced by these phenomena pushed many people to try to improve their own conditions by going elsewhere. It is estimated that in the world today there are about 60 million descendants of Italian emigrants.
People emigrated from Italy due to problems related to the distribution of wealth, social relations, cultural and political stagnation, and underdevelopment. Furthermore, the Italian population experienced a sudden and rapid increase: the 26 million at the time of unification had doubled after the Second World War, and in this period it was not easy to guarantee all residents an adequate amount of resources (work, services and so on).
Subsequently, socio-political and economic conditions also changed profoundly, and in the 1970s they stopped emigrating from Italy. Almost simultaneously, the country instead became a land of immigration. Immigrants in Italy come from many countries: Morocco and North Africa, Albania and other Eastern European states, the Philippines, South America, China and many others. In total, this is about 2.5 million people: a modest amount, if compared with that of other European countries, but vital for many sectors of the Italian economy and also for rejuvenating the population.
The old and the young
The constant demographic increase has stopped due to a sharp decrease in births; at the same time, the lifespan has been extended due to the great advances in the hygienic and sanitary fields. Today Italy is among the countries with the lowest birth rate and the longest life span.
Consequently, however, the share of elderly people in the total population has increased, becoming much more numerous than the percentage of very young people, and the Italian population would decrease, year after year, were it not for the contribution of immigration. It is estimated that by the middle of the 21st century, Italians are expected to drop to around 50 million – unless immigration increases sufficiently.
The decline in births, the aging of the population and immigration are phenomena known in all rich countries: in a certain sense, they signal the wealth of a country. Even in the Italian territory they are distributed in a different way, precisely on the basis of wealth. The decline is greater in the North and less in the South: in certain regions of the North (especially the North-East) and of the Center, among the richest in Italy, the birth rate is lower, the population decreases and immigrants are more numerous than in the South. It is logical that immigrants go to areas (cities, above all) where the demand for workers is greatest – because many are the elderly and few are young – and where therefore production and wealth are greater.
The same logic applies to ‘internal’ migratory movements: until a few years ago many left the countryside and small towns (especially in the South) to go to live and work in the city; in Italy it is a very ancient phenomenon, which had a phase of great intensity in the middle of the twentieth century.
Lately, however, the reverse is taking place, and from the cities we move towards the smaller centers, perhaps continuing to work in the city and making the ‘commuters’, because the crowding of the big cities causes very annoying problems (pollution, noise, high prices and so on).
The roots of wealth
Italy has been among the richest countries in the world for at least 2,500 years, and Italians are part of that 10% of the world population that produces, uses and consumes 80% of the Earth’s wealth. We can also be dissatisfied with our living conditions, but it is good to keep in mind that for 90% of humanity they are a very distant and enviable goal. The first roots of this wealth are in agriculture, varied and productive, which has been practiced intensively in Italy for about 5,000 years. Today agriculture is still important, both for certain productions – especially those of quality, which are based on traditional ‘vocations’ – and above all for the safeguarding of the territory, which is almost entirely ‘domesticated’ and must be carefully looked after; left to itself landslide, as in fact unfortunately happens, natural parks and reserves (which today cover more than a tenth of the national surface). But agriculture today gives a living to very few Italians – often, in fact, they are part-time farmers, who carry out another main activity – more in the South, much less in the Center and North.
From an economic point of view, more than agriculture, between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries industry became important – primarily textiles, mechanics, chemicals – developing in several phases (at the end of the nineteenth century, during the First World War, after the Second World War). The factories were initially concentrated in the Turin-Milan-Genoa ‘industrial triangle’, then spread throughout the North and most of the Center; much less in the South. Italian industrial production is now carried out by a large number of small and very small companies, as well as by some large companies, and gives rise to very significant exports.
The spread of well-being
The industry has developed even if Italy has no raw materials, but has been able to take advantage of ancient artisan and manufacturing traditions – for example in weaving – which have been updated and exploited from an industrial point of view. There is nothing miraculous in this, even if in the 1960s there was talk of an “Italian economic miracle”: in reality, human capital (in particular, the basic culture and technical skills of the population) is the material first main and more ‘flexible’ country – for this reason education and scientific research are important and should be promoted more and more – and in Italy human capital was not lacking and not lacking.
The economic activities that employ the largest number (two thirds) of Italians, and that circulate most of the wealth, are however those of the tertiary sector: administration, commerce, transport, education, health, banking and so on. In Italy, domestic and international tourism services (such as hotels and restaurants) have a particular weight, but all advanced countries have a consistent service sector. The basic function of these activities is the exchange: of goods, services, ideas. To exchange it is necessary to communicate, therefore communications and telecommunications also belong to the sector. The Italian economy depends heavily on trade, both internal and international: on imports and exports, on the possibility of circulating national products from one region to another, workers from one place to another, tourists from one destination to another. In an increasingly integrated system like the contemporary one, especially in the European Union, communications and services are fundamental and destined to increase even more in importance.