Giarre offers the extreme form of a condition found in most cities, making it a parable of urban planning. It is the epicenter not of merely an Italian but a global phenomenon of accreted unfinished visions. It is also a good place to think about how we live with the layering and churning of the city. Being surrounded by the sawed-off ends of the utopian plans of once-powerful people can be liberating, as it subverts the professional’s claim on the city; the architects, politicians, and planners all stand defeated, incapable of molding place to their will. Yet if this is a victory, it is a hollow one, for we are all left picking our way through the pieces. A more profound consequence is that we disconnect ourselves from place: provisional and incomplete hometowns inspire provisional and incomplete loyalty. In tumbling together half-realized projects at an ever greater speed, the city of incompletion disrupts the possibility of people building up a relationship of care, knowledge, and trust with the place they live in.
The artists who guided me around the Archaeological Park of Sicilian Incompletion are attempting to find a new and challenging way to reconnect people with place by embracing this sense of disconnect and tumult. It is a paradoxical project, both subversive and conservative, mocking the failure of effective governance in Sicily while suggesting that vaguely futuristic ruins can be the basis for a novel type of geographical allegiance. “The sum of these relics of never-attained futures,” they write, “is so vast that it can be considered as a true architectural and visual style, representing Italy and the age in which they were produced.” Incompletion comes to represent “the speculative munificence of Sicilians and all other Italians” and, even more grandly, the invention of authentically modern “places for spiritual habitation and contemplation” that are also “places of existential awareness, embodiments of the human soul.”
The idea of rebranding the modern ruins of Giarre as the Archaeological Park of Sicilian Incompletion is an attempt to reclaim the contemporary landscape, to allow us to find within its spectacular bleakness both beauty and drama. While the aesthetic of ruins that this argument relies upon looks beguiling as a set of black-and-white photos, on the ground it soon gets wearisome. After I visited a few of the chosen remnants, they all started to look the same and I gave up. I’d learned that being a tourist of incompletion has diminishing returns, but I’d also been reminded that cities of incompletion are places that I have spent a lot of time traveling through. In some cases, I've even called them home.
This post is adapted from Alastair Bonnett’s new book, Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies, to be published July 8 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the United States and Aurum Press in the United Kingdom.