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Point of view: The mountains, a safe place

Vanda Bonardo, President of CIPRA Italy.

During the lockdown due to the corona pandemic, mountain areas have gained in importance as places of retreat. In order to be able to fulfil this role better in the future, they must be strengthened and digitally networked, demands Vanda Bonardo, President of CIPRA Italy.

Since it has become clear that crowds of people are hardly healthy, the city is no longer the safe place it once was. People want open spaces, air to breathe and nature to live in. During and since the lockdown, Italy’s mountain areas have been literally overrun, by people either looking for a safe place to retreat or for a second home to rent or buy. These flows are often difficult for local institutions to control. For mountain areas to be able to provide such a service, they need to become aware of their new role and find the framework conditions they need to fulfil it.

Mountain areas have always been less densely built up and utilised. The diverse mountain landscape is the result of a millennia-old interplay between human activities and nature. Ideally, it reflects the search for a balance between people and the environment – from both an ecological and a health point of view. A well-equipped and comfortable home for living, studying, learning and working has proved essential in the lockdown. This need can also be met by upgrading inner-Alpine regions. If we look at the problems involved in reaching or leaving these places, we find that here too, a change that was hardly conceivable until a few months ago has taken place. Thanks to the push for digitisation, it is now possible to stay in touch with the rest of the world from home.

The epochal shift towards digitisation triggered by the lockdown has opened up unimaginable new horizons: we never thought that everyone, even the oldest and most reluctant, would use digital systems. The coronavirus has left us with a legacy that may radically improve the lives of all those people who have chosen or will choose to live and work in inner-Alpine regions. The condition is that this trend is accompanied by the necessary measures to develop ultra-broadband technology and the telephone and television networks. In these places it is essential to develop access to information and communication technologies in order to bridge the digital divide that exists there when compared with large conurbations.

The situation created by corona is very difficult and worrying. However, as in all periods of transition, new balances and therefore new opportunities will be created. In this respect, it will be important to understand how mountain areas can once again become more firmly established as pivotal points, as has been repeatedly called for by many voices over the past few years. As such, they provide us with support and are at the same time a testing ground – not only for climate and socio-economic change, but also for mitigation and adaptation to coming pandemics.