Don't Eat on the Street in Florence or You Might Get Fined €500

CC BY 2.0. Daniel Enchev

A controversial new ordinance tries to deal with another consequence of mass tourism.

The city of Florence is cracking down on pesky street-eaters. Earlier this month, mayor Dario Nardella announced a fine ranging from €150 to €500 for anyone caught munching while sitting on a street curb or sidewalk. The fine zone covers four streets in the city center that are often full of tourists -- via de' Neri, il piazzale degli Uffizi, piazza del Grano and via della Ninna. It is also where a famous delicatessen, All'Antico Vinaio, is located.

The city council's concern is that the streets are already narrow and congested to begin with, and when people settle in for meals in large numbers, it slows the movement of pedestrians, cyclists, and emergency vehicles even further. There have been numerous complaints about people's eating behaviours, as well. From a Florence-based news source, translated from the Italian,

"The problem is that there is always that percentage of peasants and rude people: they seat themselves on the sidewalks, toss the rest of their sandwiches to the pigeons, pull out ingredients and throw them in the street. These people need to be better managed."

The hefty fine will be laid only during mealtime hours, which in Italy is 12 to 5 pm and 6 to 10 pm. Shopkeepers will put up city-issued signs in both Italian and English, explaining the new ordinance. There are promises of new maps showing where one can find a quiet place to eat a meal on the go, as well as the imminent installation of new benches. The fine will remain in effect until January 6, 2019, at which point the city council will reassess the situation.

Critics point out that the fault lies not so much with hungry tourists as it does with poor city planning. As one would expect from a Renaissance-era city built within walls, there is very little green space available for people to lounge, nor are there many public benches available. Sidewalks, doorsteps, and curbs are often the only place to take a rest after wandering the streets for hours.

It's a complicated situation, without a doubt. The Italians are fussy about mealtime decorum at the best of times (I know this from having lived there) and like sticking to firm rules about what, where, and when to eat. For example, my Florentine friends have told me in the past that "only tourists eat pizza for lunch," and don't even think about ordering a cappuccino after breakfast! This seems overly detail-oriented to us North Americans who are used to whatever we want, whenever we want. It also puts disproportionate pressure on more budget-conscious travellers who cannot afford the sit-down restaurant meals that would get one off the sidewalks to eat.

But when you're dealing with the kinds of numbers that Italy is -- 52 million visitors in 2016, almost as much as its own population -- drastic measures like this may be required. It will be interesting to see if and how this ordinance affects things over the next four months.