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A new human mobility at the time of Covid-19 in the Rome Metropolitan Area

Une nouvelle mobilité des personnes en temps de pandémie de Covid-19 dans l'aire métropolitaine de Rome
Armando Montanari


Pendant longtemps, le phénomène de la mobilité des personnes pendant les siècles de développement industriel a été étudié en s’appuyant sur des modèles interprétatifs qui ont mis en relation les déplacements à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur des zones urbaines par rapport aux phases de développement économique qui se sont succédé. Plus récemment, l’étude de la mobilité a mis en évidence la corrélation de phénomènes jusqu’alors considérés comme étant distincts, tels que la migration alternante, le tourisme et les migrations. L’hybridation des phénomènes a requis une différenciation plus structurée : la mobilité issue de la production et la mobilité issue de la consommation. Les changements induits par les mesures introduites pour lutter contre la Covid-19 ont ensuite modifié les paramètres de référence. Cette phase nous permet de percevoir les prémices de ce que sera le développement de la mobilité des personnes à l’avenir. Il semble donc réaliste d’imaginer que les grandes zones urbaines ne pourront plus être considérées comme des zones de concentration et de chevauchement de toutes les activités humaines. Aussi est-il nécessaire de revoir les paramètres de la mobilité des personnes par rapport aux nouveaux paramètres relatifs à l’espace et au temps.

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1The concept of human mobility has been the subject of study and reflection for scholars of geography and the social sciences for at least half a century. It is a phenomenon that goes back to the age of primeval man, but has taken on a wider significance since the end of the Second World War, when new and improved means of transport and the greater possibility of crossing borders caused mobility to become a global phenomenon. Further changes have taken place more recently, with the parallel spread of ICT tools, the intensification of horizontal communication through social networks and the overlapping of interests and aspirations that have allowed us to overcome boundaries between different types of human mobility. It was no longer a phenomenon that could be defined purely as migratory, or as a distinct, tourism-related phenomenon, based on the time spent away from one's habitual abode. This is why at the beginning of this century some scholars identified the need to differentiate human mobility in terms of the objectives and aims of mobility, which were placed into two basic groups: production- and consumption-based (Montanari, 2005; Hall, Williams, 2002). Mobility is to be understood as the movement of people, but also of ideas, cultures, information, and also of goods and financial flows, and unfortunately viruses and pandemics. It was realised that all these different types of mobility were creating more problems than benefits in the absence of adequate policies. Apart from all the health-related problems and large number of deaths, Covid-19 has also contributed to giving us a quicker understanding of phenomena and, perhaps, solutions to related problems. The city of Rome had become the centre of such a large influx of tourists, about 37 million, especially from overseas, that it had become one of the many European cities afflicted by “overtourism”. Rome has always attracted people over the centuries, with its reputation, concentration of monuments, presence of the Vatican City and of major international organisations. Major mobility infrastructures for the city include Fiumicino airport, 43 million transit passengers, and Civitavecchia port, 2.5 million cruise passengers (Montanari, 2020). This state of intense human mobility mainly affected the city of Rome, while little attention was paid to the rural areas surrounding the city, especially along the North Coast (Castellano, Montanari, 2020). In these areas tourism was chiefly local in nature, involving local residents, mainly foreign immigrants as it is the case of VFR. The quality of the tourist offer in such areas was unable to attract demand from Rome (Gallo et al., 2021). The structure of the Metropolitan Area of Rome (AMR) had helped to form a high concentration of people, services, retail stores, cinemas and theatres in the city centre. Only 6 per cent of the AMR population actually lived in the centre of the city, where at least 25 per cent of public services, and an even greater percentage of theatres and cinemas, were located. The average annual occupancy rates for tourist accommodation facilities showed that 75 per cent of guests were tourists from overseas. In just a few hours, in February 2020, Covid-19 changed this situation completely. There has been a dramatic reduction in human mobility, while a model of short-distance mobility is becoming established among residents in the city of Rome who were no longer able to travel.

2To better understand these transformations, this paper refers to the main changes seen in the mobility phenomenon over recent decades. One year is too short a time to fully understand the changes that may occur in the future. The lack of official statistical data makes it difficult to hazard medium- and long-term forecasts. We do however have certain data on which to base our reflections. These refer to concrete choices that consumers are making when deciding on a purchase, be it a consumer product or a home. In the past few months people have been selling their homes and buying new ones, deciding to live in a new way and create a new lifestyle, without these changes being visible in registry office records. This paper analyses three historical periods, before the onset of Covid-19, the time of the pandemic and the prospects that will emerge once it has been possible to overcome the consequences and limitations imposed by the pandemic.

Mobility and the development of metropolitan areas before Covid-19

3In the industrial age, spanning the past two centuries, mobility phenomena were identified according to the time spent away from one's usual place of abode. Tourism was considered for absences of between one day and one year, migration for absences of over one year. With rapid economic development in the 1960s, private transport became available at affordable prices. It thus became possible to move to residential areas on the edge of urbanised spaces and live in larger homes, in green-rich neighbourhoods, where there was a more democratic distribution of living spaces, as opposed to densely built-up urban centres, which have always had a hierarchical structure. This was achieved by increasing daily commuting flows from the suburbs to central areas, where work activities were concentrated. The burden of commuting in terms of economic costs, time spent on daily transfers, levels of stress managing the needs of different family members, in turn prompted some households to return to urban centres. The process of urban cycles was identified in Europe as early as the CURB “Cost of Urban Growth” project promoted by the Vienna Centre. The results obtained by CURB (Van den Berg et al., 1982) led to further research and publications that have continued up to the present day. The first industrial revolution had taken work activities out of the domestic environment. Daily commuting from home to work had determined the territorial dimension of the Metropolitan Area (MA). European metropolitan areas added to complexity due to the overlapping of contemporary urban development and a pre-existing historical territory.

4The results of the empirical research of the URBINNO Project (Montanari et al., 1993) have highlighted (Fig. 1) that urban changes, and consequently also the flows of migratory flows on which they depend and of which they are the cause, are the result of economic innovations and transformations in administrative management. In turn, the same changes provoke profound innovations in the social organization and lifestyles of its inhabitants and contribute to new morphological paradigms (Drewett, Schubert, 1987). The URBINNO Project has also codified the phases from the general dimension to the local one through the perception of phenomena, their assessment, evaluation, and also how decisions are taken to make the changes and their implementation. The activities (Fig. 2) that take place at the local level then have a direct effect on the decisions and policies that will be taken at the global level. These elements can be taken as a methodological reference to anticipate the processes that may take place following the profound transformations due to the Pandemic.

Figure 1. URBINNO Project, urban change and innovation in a mutual feedback scheme, modified from Drewett and Schubert (1987).

Figure 1. URBINNO Project, urban change and innovation in a mutual feedback scheme, modified from Drewett and Schubert (1987).

Figure 2. Urban change, a decision theoretic framework, modified from Drewett and Schubert (1987).

Figure 2. Urban change, a decision theoretic framework, modified from Drewett and Schubert (1987).

5The term “human mobility”, coined to explain a phenomenon that had become increasingly complex and difficult to interpret, was introduced only at the beginning of this century. Urry (2000) examined the different forms of “mobility” expressed by human beings, goods, images, information and waste, their interdependencies and their social consequences. Urry argues that social mobility has so far failed to appreciate the intersections of social classes, genders and ethnic groups with regions, cities and towns, and proposes a new dimension of the social sciences, no longer anchored to the concept of human society, but seeking new paradigms, such as networks, mobility and horizontal flows. This theory has led to a wide-ranging discussion not only among social scientists but also among experts in the areas of geography, anthropology, architecture, urban planning, media and communications theory, art (Montanari, Staniscia, 2016). Looking at mobility for production needs, predominant activities are broken down by actions performed by managers, specialist technicians and manual workers. In the various stages of evolution, numerous levels of responsibility in the sphere of production can be identified. Then we have migrant flows, which can only be identified by their degree of administrative regularisation: the longer a migrant is present in a territory, the better integrated he is likely to be. Then we have fixed-term migrants, present in the country for a shorter period of time, combining impermanence with an unspecified regulatory and administrative status. Consumption-related mobility includes tourist flows, as well as hikers and local visitors. Commuting – a sort of recurrent and repeated mobility – is included in both the production- and consumption-related mobility category. In the production category, this flow indicates a shortage of workers in the urban settlement under review, but it could also mean a shortage of housing – in absolute or qualitative terms – forcing managers, technicians and workers to live in surrounding areas and undertake daily movements. A settlement undergoing renovation and growth cannot always provide newcomers with the facilities and services they need. In the early stages of this evolution there is an outbound form of commuting, searching for places for recreation, sport, leisure, shopping, but also for healthcare, training and education facilities. In more mature stages the settlement may offer to surrounding areas a larger number of services and infrastructures. The theoretical model of human mobility developed at the metropolitan area level (Montanari, 2013) proposes six stages of development of an urban settlement, considering the different ways in which people behave, moving for reasons of work, leisure, family life, migration and escape. Thus, independent types of mobility have re-formed the geographies of networks and travel in the first years of the 21st century. Figure 3 represents a very advanced stage of urban development as it could have been before the Pandemic in most of the European metropolitan areas. In these areas there is a large flow, in and out, of consumption led mobility. Flows of production led mobility are instead concentrated in daily commuting phenomena due to residents in peripheral areas, which are employed in central areas. Even immigrants, especially those not registered, live in peripheral areas. Where the cost of housing is lower and in correspondence with the accesses to the road and railway communication axes that easily bring them to the central areas where there is a greater demand for manual activities. All these types of human mobility with their various relations with the territory and its economic and social development have ceased at the beginning of 2020, or decreased, depending on the types of human mobility, due to the measures taken to limit the tragic effects caused by the spread of Covid-19.

Figure 3. Human mobility for production and consumption: Phase 6, technological innovation interventions.

Figure 3. Human mobility for production and consumption: Phase 6, technological innovation interventions.

The Metropolitan Area of Rome before Covid-19

6Between the end of the Second World War and 1971 the Metropolitan Area of Rome (AMR) underwent a period of urbanisation. This was followed, over the next two decades, by a phase of rapid suburbanisation, which slowly petered out by the end of the century, when a phase of re-urbanisation commenced (Montanari, Staniscia, 2006; Montanari, Staniscia, Di Zio, 2007). Figure 4 shows the AMR with its main components: the city centre, inner ring and outer ring, which have developed in relation to the presence of major rail and motorway connections. This has encouraged the flow of commuters from the suburbs, mainly residential, to central areas that are home to secondary and tertiary productive activities (Montanari, Staniscia, 2012; Salvati, Carlucci, 2016). Over the past decade population density has remained fairly stable, with higher values in the municipality of Rome, in the municipalities of the neighbouring “Castelli Romani” area and in some municipalities along the coast. Looking at net migration in the first decades of this century, there has been a greater influx of immigrants to areas outside the municipality of Rome. Data on the different types of settlement within the AMR indicate that the inner ring and outer ring areas remain largely rural in nature, with the presence of numerous agricultural activities, and where new housing developments, often speculative, have grown around historic settlements, with low cost housing for a mainly immigrant population, prepared to make the daily journey into central areas of the city of Rome in return for more affordable housing (Gallo et al., 2021). These rural areas have therefore grown without ensuring an adequate level of services, and with poor quality housing and infrastructures. Montanari and Staniscia (2011) analysed the phenomenon of human mobility during the global economic crisis in the late 1990s. While Leiser and Rötheli (2010) argue that economic global crises are now as inevitable as pandemics, adversely affect the levels of wellbeing and bring about a general sense of uncertainty in society, there are considerable differences between the economic crisis of 2007 and the current pandemic, having serious consequences for the economy in 2020. Thirteen years ago the crisis was the result of long-term loans granted for investments in real estate by individuals who were bound to have difficulty paying back the loan. As a direct consequence, financial institutions went into crisis, setting the stage for their bankruptcy and indeed that of the entire real estate sector. The consequences of the recession, the fall in production and exports, greater unemployment and depressed consumer confidence have also had an impact on tourism. The period of greatest crisis for international tourist numbers (-10, -20%) came between January and April 2009. According to Smeral (2010) there are many elements that indicate that domestic tourism, or international tourism not too far from one's home, have been more resistant to the crisis, since tourists have preferred to reduce risks in terms of cost and product quality. With the economic crisis of 2007 the conditions were created for a temporary decline in human mobility, for both consumption- and production-related reasons, while the pandemic of 2020, with a consequent and even more serious economic crisis, is expected to have long-lasting effects, and may be the cause of far more radical changes.

Figure 4. The Rome Metropolitan Area.

Figure 4. The Rome Metropolitan Area.

The Metropolitan Area of Rome, the global mobility crisis at the time of Covid-19

7In just a few days, in early 2020, the situation in Rome completely changed with the onset of the Covid-19 crisis (Montanari, 2020). It is still difficult to give a precise dimension to the consequences of Covid-19 on the health and deaths of those who lived in Rome in the years 2020-2021. The National Institute of Statistics (Istat, 2021a) to offer a more precise interpretation of the phenomenon of deaths from Covid-19 compared the number of deaths in the period 2020-2021 with the average number of deaths in the period 2015-2019. In the AMR in the period March-April 2020 the number of deaths increased by 418 units, equal to 6 percent. In the period August 2020-May 2021 the number of deaths increased 4218 units, equal to 12 per cent (Istat, 2021a). Figures high enough to arouse deep concern on the part of the population and to induce the Government to introduce severe measures to limit human mobility. During 2019, before the pandemic, foreign residents in the AMR had gone from about five hundred eight thousand to over five hundred nine thousand while at the end of 2020 the number of foreign residents decreased by almost five thousand (Istat, 2021b). In 2020 compared to 2021, 51,000 jobs were lost in the AMR (Istat, 2021c). Over the same period, the youth unemployment rate rose from 29 to 33 per cent

  • 1 is the site and App for home seekers and Real Estate professionals. Founded in 1996 as the (...)

8Even after the lockdown had been lifted, central parts of Rome were empty, due to the absence of international tourists and office workers, who were now engaged in working from home (WFH). The old part of the city was also empty due to the shortage of residents. They were expelled to replace long-term rents with more economically profitable short-term ones, such as Airbnb. Now, due to Covid-19, tourists were no longer coming to Rome. During the pandemic Trevi Fountain had taken on a very different look and sound. No voices of tourists and street vendors could be heard, only the sound of water gushing out of the marble sculptures. Even the colours, without the absurd din and swirling movement of the masses of tourists, seemed to be more subdued, inviting the visitor to reflection and contemplation. This seemingly idyllic situation conceals a “gloomy” outlook for tourism. In 2020 the number of tourists coming into the city were down by half, and revenue losses will probably be heavier than that. Some operators in the sector believe that the figures for Rome are plunging to levels last seen in the 1960s, and that the situation might return to 2019 levels only in a few years' time. In June 2021, the room occupancy rate in hotels was 28 percent. During 2021 EU tourists, especially French and German tourists, returned to Rome, while tourists from the USA, Russia and China were missing. The impact on the accounts of tourism firms and businesses engaged in all related activities, as well as on job levels, has been catastrophic. It is therefore believed that the phenomenon of overtourism will be a memory of the past, but also that not all elements of tourism should have to return to the way they were before Covid-19. The Covid-19 crisis could prove to be an opportunity to completely restructure the tourist offer, accelerating the changes that had been talked about before the lockdown. A new sort of tourism in urban areas should be based on: (i) environmental sustainability; (ii) customisation of the experience; (iii) the promotion of alternative destinations; (iv) authenticity of the offer; (v) uniqueness of the tourist product in order to avoid any form of artificial reproducibility; (vi) the digital transformation of supply and demand management. New urban tourism should reference the principles already widely developed and tried out for eco-tourism, or tourism in protected areas, whereby the individual wishing to visit needs to be suitably informed, educated and trained in order to be able to be an aware and knowledgeable tourist (Montanari, 2009). Urban tourism should thus: (i) produce a low impact on natural and cultural resources; (ii) contribute to increasing people's awareness and understanding of cultural systems; (iii) contribute to the preservation and recovery of cultural heritage; (iv) increase the participation of local communities in protection initiatives; (v) steer to the local community all the benefits of tourism activity; (vi) share with the local community the opportunity to visit and appreciate the cultural heritage of the site being visited. These transformations may be helped along through a more intensive use of Artificial Intelligence. A massive database needs to be built, containing data on: (i) the number of tourists; (ii) number of overnight stays; (iii) the nationality of tourists; (iv) favourite destinations; (v) authenticity of the product offered; (vi) quality of life of residents; (vii) quality of the tourist experience; (viii) value added generated by tourism. This constantly updated database should consist of quantitative values, statistical data and qualitative values, results of interviews with privileged observers and simple users. Topics addressed should refer to the perception of the experience on the part of residents, measurement of the presence and depth of the tourist's experience, and also value added in relation to the interest taken in tangible and intangible assets. According to Aeroporti di Roma (ADR) between October 2019 and October 2020 air traffic fell by 65.3 per cent, passenger numbers decreased by 84.3 per cent, and tons of cargo transported dropped by 59 per cent. During the lockdown, home-to-work commutes practically came to a standstill. In the following months about forty per cent of employees continued to work from home. This continued until contagion levels resumed in the autumn, when the Italian government asked to reduce to 25 per cent in-presence work in the Public Administration. The reduction in office numbers was also driven by the need to ensure the necessary social distancing, which made it impossible to use between 30 and 40 per cent of available surfaces. With the reduction in office work, commuting also fell proportionally, thus essential elements of the Metropolitan Area concept are no longer in place, since remote working has reduced people's daily commutes. Although it is too early to offer a revised view of the concept of AMR, it can already be stated that it will no longer be based on the extent and characteristics of home-to-work commuting. With national and international tourists and many of those travelling into the historic districts of the city centre for working needs now absent, only a small number of residents are left. This has resulted in a crisis for hotels, restaurants, trattorias, cafes, craft shops, as well as clothing stores and especially Airbnb structures depending on tourists, even at times when they were able to open. Of the 1,200 or so Roman hotels in existence in the spring of 2020, only 170 remained open, with room occupancy at 10 per cent, compared with a normal rate of 90 per cent in tourist seasons. At the beginning of 2021, 120,000 beds were empty in hotels. Airbnb structures are also empty. This situation has brought about a new phenomenon: the offer of apartments rented out for a short period, e.g., 4-5 months, and at a discounted price. A two-room apartment in the once sought-after Spanish Steps district, where it could once make €900 a day, was offered at the end of 2020 for 4-5 months at €900 per month and remained vacant. Many of the apartments that had been purchased only to speculate on the Airbnb boom have been put up for sale to free up capital that could no longer guarantee returns. The problem is that these apartments had been transformed to cater to tourists, therefore each room was equipped with a bathroom, a television hanging from the ceiling, and many other adaptations to turn them into “quasi luxury” hotels. The crisis has also affected the trading sector, with 25 per cent of shops and workshops failing to reopen, and a further 20 per cent planning to close permanently by the end of the year. A new situation has also emerged in the real estate market in both urban and rural areas. Potential buyers of homes in the city of Rome are looking for larger apartments, given the prospect of spending more time at home for both work and leisure needs. Estate agencies say that one-room apartments that were previously in great demand in Rome are no longer selling. The real estate market is still active, but buyers have different needs, i.e. larger indoor spaces, presence of outdoor spaces, gardens or terraces, to be able to spend more time in a home that no longer serves just for sleeping. According to the survey “The house I would like”, conducted in 2020 by the website, attracting 22,000 replies at national level, new types of demand have emerged1. Location-related needs include proximity to green spaces (60%), to a supermarket (58%), to shops and services (51%) and to public transport (48%). With regard to housing, there were preferences for a private garden (58%), garage for the car (51%), large kitchen (48%), terrace or balcony (47%) and a fast Internet connection (40%).

9These trends were also confirmed by the results of a research carried out by the Bank of Italy (Guglielminetti et al., 2021). During 2021, the search for luxury properties increased by 25 percent which in Rome is concentrated in the historic center, and even by 77 percent compared to 2019. In the Parioli, Flaminio, Olgiata Giustiniana, Cassia Flaminia, Prati, Trieste, EUR areas alone (Fig. 5), they generated about 75 per cent of the business volume of this sector. The real estate market was also conditioned by an international demand from the French, Germans and British, but also North Americans (+40%) and Asians (+80%) who have taken advantage of the favorable condition of property prices. According to Engel & Volkers (2021), which specializes in the sale and rental of prestigious residential properties, the scenario of the post-Covid-19 real estate sector will depend on the risk of political instability, on the control of the health situation, on the recovery of the particularly affected economic sectors. Tajani et al. (2021), having acknowledged the profound changes that the real estate market in Rome has undergone due to Covid-19, have developed a methodology for evaluating changes in the valuation of real estate due to intrinsic factors: internal surface area, floor level, number of bathrooms, presence and consistency of balconies and terraces, presence of green condominium area.

Figure 5. Rome Metropolitan Area, Core. 2021, Real Estate Market.

Figure 5. Rome Metropolitan Area, Core. 2021, Real Estate Market.

Elaboration by the author on data from Engel & Völkers (2021)

10The demand for rural housing around Rome increased by 37 per cent during 2020, while in the Tuscia region, north of Rome, the increase was 123 per cent. Out-of-town houses are in great demand, no longer as holiday homes but as a main home with large green spaces. Estate agents report that wealthier customers are asking for single-family (detached) home in a pleasant location, with the possibility of carrying out their profession remotely, far from the office. Real estate brokers gave a name to this phenomenon, “workation”, combining the words “work” and “vacation”. Over time this model has become increasingly attractive to employees, managers and professionals who are trying to strike a balance, in the era of social distancing, between work, leisure and family life. A way to do WFH throughout the year in places that can offer a state of physical and psychological wellbeing (Smace, 2021). The push towards housing in rural areas has driven up real estate values in areas along the coast north of Rome (Litorale Nord), where prices in 2021 have gone up to €2,500-3,000 per square metre, in line with prices in semi-peripheral areas of Rome. The above elements are concrete indicators of a situation that is changing radically, in terms of the relationship between cities and rural areas. But perhaps the most important consequence of the Covid-19 emergency is the way in which public opinion has assimilated the concept of “immobility”. Covid-19 has put us face to face with an existential question: were the frantic medium- and long-haul trips we were accustomed to a waste of time? And was the home-to-work shift that in a chaotic city like Rome took up a few hours of the day actually necessary? Many problems of daily work can be solved with a videoconference call, thus avoiding the need to travel to a location a few hours away. It is hoped that the inconveniences and restrictions of mobility can be momentary, limited in time. As if the concept of human mobility were like a boat, moored at a buoy, waiting for better times. The risk that many fear is that people who are momentarily immobile might realise that perhaps it is much better to live in a moderately mobile system, in which periods of mobility, where necessary, can coexist with periods of immobility.

The Metropolitan Area of Rome after Covid-19: towards a new residential and working model

  • 2 Nielsen Media Research is an American market information, data and measurement company. Nielsen ope (...)

11Although we cannot predict the pandemic's future evolution, it might be imagined that new remote working methods will become the norm, thanks in part to the continuous spread of ICT and the adaptation of infrastructures. According to the WHO (2020), people began suffering from “pandemic fatigue”, stress resulting from the reaction to the problems created by policies introduced to deal with the spread of the pandemic. This refers in particular to chronic stress due to social isolation, anti-contagion restrictions and prolonged lockdowns. All these measures have helped to change the relations, no longer based on proximity, but rather on distance and isolation. Even when the most acute phases of the pandemic are over, we will continue to maintain social distancing for a long time by virtue of continuing health security measures, as well as practices acquired during the months of the pandemic. These effects may be more psychological than real, but they will certainly affect the habits, lifestyles, working patterns and attitudes to human mobility. A Report by Nielsen2 (2020) considered WFH in the USA before the onset of the pandemic by interviewing those who had already experienced remote working. About 56 per cent of respondents said WFH was generally convenient in managing working hours, relations with colleagues, family and the local neighbourhood. About 44 per cent of respondents appreciated the flexibility of a work schedule that involved being in the office only 1 or 2 days a week, or in any case a few times a month. 25 per cent replied they appreciated this form of work that meant they were no longer daily commuters, and did not have to spend one or two hours travelling. The investigation conducted after the first lockdown, thus listening to those who, for the first time, and because of the pandemic, have had to work from home, firstly highlighted the advantage of not having to go to the office daily, and therefore avoiding the fatigue and costs of commuting. Respondents also expressed appreciation for having more time to spend on other activities, which might include sports, greater participation in the local community, a greater chance to devote oneself to local trading. A survey of this type has not yet been done in Italy, but it seems plausible that the answers would be similar, especially with regard to home-to-work commuting and a different relationship with the territory one lives in. Data recorded in Italy by Google Trends (2021) in the period February 2020-February 2021 show an increase in “close to me” searches, with 73 per cent of users doing local searches. In particular, users performed searches on fishmongers (+4,650 per cent), gluten-free pizzerias (+4,500 per cent) and restaurants with home delivery (+3,600 per cent). In short, it is expected that with regard to commuting mobility, there will be a tendency to transfer one's residence further from the workplace, acquiring larger apartments with spaces for WFH, remote studying for the children, and spending more time in one's home. Once the acute phases of the pandemic are over, it is likely that workers will physically go to the workplace only a few days a month, and even schools will alternate periods “in presence” with periods at a distance.

12All of these situations may have a number of consequences: (i) reduction in commuting flows and drop in demand for public and private transport; (ii) rise in demand for housing far away from central areas, in rural areas and existing small towns; (iii) reduction and diverse use of office buildings in urban centres; (iv) demand for short-term accommodation in urban centres, for this demand dwellings used only for tourism before Covid-19 could be used; (v) the need to modernise services and infrastructures in new areas of residence; (vi) improvement in services, which may favour up to now peripheral tourist areas tourism. In 2019 the first country for the number of tourists visiting Italy was Germany with about 59 million visitors. In the year 2020, the number of tourists was reduced by half and of these, forty-seven percent were from Germany and mostly used cars (Istat, 2020). A survey conducted by ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club), Europe's largest motoring association, on a sample of 5,000 Germans, shows that people are still wary of travelling and booking holidays (Trout, 2021). Most respondents are waiting for vaccines to take effect, and for emergency situations to be a thing of the past. Germans want to go on holiday just as they did before, but are worried about a situation that is not yet under control. If the situation does improve, they say they would prefer to stay in apartments and small hotels to avoid situations of dangerous crowding. The choice of means of transport also depends on the possibility of effective social distancing. Between 60 and 70 per cent say they would travel by car, almost twice as many as before the crisis. It should also be considered that the measures introduced to combat the pandemic have limited the crossing of international and, in some cases, even domestic borders between regions. The cruise sector that had had a very difficult 2020 year has begun to recover and is expected to soon be able to return to pre-Covid-19 levels. 2021 is expected to close with around 20 percent of passengers in 2019. In response to the pandemic and the serious crisis that has afflicted the tourism sector, the competent Italian administrations have acted mostly using temporary redundancy measures for tourism recovery, and have failed to put in place training tools or offer any prospects for change. The president of the Italian Federation of Spa Industries said this was tantamount to humiliating workers and punishing businesses. In order to successfully overcome the problems posed to tourism by Covid-19, the tourist offer needs to be completely restructured. Public administrations and the mass media have expressed the hope, at least until the early months of 2021, that we can quickly return in tourism to the situation enjoyed prior to the emergency. The terminology used has helped to communicate this position. The European Commission has prepared a €750 billion package of interventions to support the post-Covid-19 recovery economy and has called the fund “Next Generation EU”, a title that portends a move towards new models of development. As the weeks passed, this fund was called ”Recovery Plan for Europe” in Italy. This was to stress the need to recoup things from the past rather than provide an incentive to anticipate the future.

13Contrary to what government policies had been until early 2021 were studies results to identify a predictive model for labor market trends in Italy over the next ten years, bearing in mind the radical changes caused by Covid-19 (EY, Pearson, Manpower, 2021). The greatest growth in job numbers will come in professions associated with technology, culture, communication, personal care services, teaching and training. It is expected that more than half of existing professions will change in a non-linear way, with the merging or splitting of skills. Other professions will become “hybrid”, acquiring certain subsets of skills from other professions. In view of the above predictions, tourism operators and businesses involved in other activities relating to human mobility will require a range of skills and profiles that can make the best use of ICT tools. To achieve these results it will be necessary to reconsider current “linear” learning systems based on long-term cycles that are unsuited to preparing for flexibility and hybrid skills. Considering the dramatic situation experienced since 2020, WFH must be seen as an opportunity for profound organisational transformation, for a growth in management culture, business processes and employee motivation. It may also facilitate the adoption of more flexible working methods, better suited to the digital revolution, and thus more efficient in fostering innovation and engagement. In Rome, where the majority of civil servants are located, 700,000 employees returned to work in the office in October 2021. In many public offices, the return is conditioned by the priorities of health and safety. In some cases, a maximum capacity has therefore been defined for the branches with forms of WFH on rotation. The Poste Italiane Group has invited its employees to return to the office starting from 4 October 2021 but identifying the maximum daily capacity at fifty percent.

14During 2020, one third of AMR employees were in WFH, a value about ten times greater than what they had been in 2019 (Istat, 2020b). 97% of people who were in WHF were employed in large companies, 94% in the Public Administration and 58% in small and medium-sized enterprises. In the second half of 2021, in a situation of greater control of the effects of the pandemic, people in WHF are about 30 percent but in large groups such as the post office and banking groups this percentage reaches 60 percent. It will also facilitate the adoption of more agile ways of working, more suited to the digital revolution, and therefore more efficient to foster the capacity for innovation and involvement. In this situation, hybrid work is emerging, which consists of the combination in WHF and face-to-face work in order to balance the needs of productivity and competitiveness with a satisfying private life. For now, companies operating in Italy have begun to experiment with two alternative methods, the “remote-first” in which the presence in the office is occasional, and the “office-first” in which the office remains the center of the work activity. It is clear that the two models could have a very different impact on human mobility and on the types of settlements. In the first case, there is a preference for homes far from inhabited centers, a reduced commuting dimension, and the use of urban para-hotel structures to spend only a few days in the vicinity of one's office. The sign of this dualism can occur with companies that have completely abandoned or drastically reduced their offices, and companies that have redefined spaces in relation to anti-pandemic regulations.

15All of this will obviously have consequences on human mobility for a long time. However, we can imagine that the effects of the huge funding provided for Rome by the Italian Government for the next few years on the basis of the Next Generation EU, the Holy Year 2025 and the candidacy to host the EXPO 2030 could be positive.


16The negative effects of the pandemic will be felt for a long time, even though anti-virus vaccines are now being administered. The need for social distancing, both at home and at work, will remain with us for years, as will the psychological effects of measures taken to keep the pandemic under control. We have learned to forego daily habits, our desire to travel, putting everything back to a time that will surely come, but we do not know when. Under these conditions it is difficult to make precise plans for the future. The result is a society with lower expectations and little enthusiasm, blocked by stress. If these physical and mental conditions persist, it is easy to predict that the reasons for reduced human mobility will remain. Daily commuting from home to work is set to fall dramatically. This will be possible thanks to the spread of remote working. A consequence of this will be a different way of considering the size and location of one's home, and at the same time the reorganisation of workplaces. All the parameters and models that have been used in recent decades to define the characteristics and dimensions of metropolitan areas will therefore have to be reviewed. With the phenomenon of intense daily commuting no longer present, the definition of “functional area” as we have known it over the past seventy years will no longer be valid. Peripheral areas, generally rural areas and small towns in the Apennine hills, may take on this new role, but to do so they will need to be endowed with the necessary ICT infrastructures and services. The qualitative reorganisation of non-metropolitan areas within the territory will also be an opportunity to foster a proximity tourism that might in part replace long-distance tourism, which will need more time to return to pre-2020 levels. It will no longer be possible however to return to mass tourism, the result of industrially organised production in which competition is based more on prices than on the quality of the offer.

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1 is the site and App for home seekers and Real Estate professionals. Founded in 1996 as the first Italian site to connect those who sell and rent with those looking for a home. is today one of the leading platforms of digital Real Estate in Italy.

2 Nielsen Media Research is an American market information, data and measurement company. Nielsen operates in over 100 countries and employs approximately 44,000 people worldwide. The data published here coincide with what is presumed to be the result of a similar research carried out in Rome.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. URBINNO Project, urban change and innovation in a mutual feedback scheme, modified from Drewett and Schubert (1987).
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Titre Figure 2. Urban change, a decision theoretic framework, modified from Drewett and Schubert (1987).
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Titre Figure 3. Human mobility for production and consumption: Phase 6, technological innovation interventions.
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Titre Figure 4. The Rome Metropolitan Area.
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Titre Figure 5. Rome Metropolitan Area, Core. 2021, Real Estate Market.
Crédits Elaboration by the author on data from Engel & Völkers (2021)
Fichier image/png, 513k
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Armando Montanari, « A new human mobility at the time of Covid-19 in the Rome Metropolitan Area  »Belgeo [En ligne], 3 | 2022, mis en ligne le 26 octobre 2022, consulté le 28 novembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Armando Montanari

Sapienza University of Rome, Department of European, American and Intercultural Studies,

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