Although we appreciate, even adore, the wines and the fungi referenced in this story, it is worth reading for a look at practical issues facing aging towns that possess world class patrimony:
SAN GIOVANNI D’ASSO, Italy — Two small towns in southeastern Tuscany, one famous for red wine, the other for truffles and organic grain, are considering a municipal marriage of convenience that could blur their cherished identities, separately formed over the centuries.
With a population of just 853, San Giovanni d’Asso can no longer deliver basic services to its citizens on a daily basis. Left with only three town officials to do the work, something as simple as getting an identity card drawn up and stamped requires making an appointment days in advance.
So the town’s mayor, Fabio Braconi, picked up the phone back in 2014 and sought help from a neighbor, Montalcino, 10 miles to the south across rolling wheat fields.
Home to the famous Brunello red wine, Montalcino is more prosperous and considerably larger. But as its population of 5,070 declines, it is also likely to encounter trouble delivering municipal services.
So San Giovanni d’Asso and Montalcino are considering an option for both to disappear legally by merging into one brand-new town.
It is a choice that towns across the country are facing. For years, Italy, made up of 8,000 tiny, medium and large towns, has been pushing its smallest communities to join forces.
To curb expenses, towns with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants have been required for years to share services with neighboring communities or to merge into one larger town, and they are limited in hiring new employees until they combine. To further encourage towns to merge or share services, the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi passed legislation in 2014 offering economic incentives and simplified hiring procedures for towns that do so.
While such mergers hold the prospect of improved services, many communities also see them as a loss of local identity, a sentiment that is crucial to many Italians — especially in rural Tuscany, where the landscape sometimes still resembles that of the Middle Ages.
“I am attached to my coat of arms, don’t get me wrong,” Mr. Braconi said, referring to the town’s emblem, while sitting in his office, which is nestled in a 12th-century castle overlooking the wheat-yellow hills.
“But I knew we needed a more radical project,” he said, one that would let the town offer administrative services every day of the week.
San Giovanni d’Asso had tried before to share a police force and public transportation with partner villages. When those arrangements lost their appeal for their partners and ended in 2014, the town found itself isolated, Mr. Braconi said, with a declining population and fewer municipal employees.
For decades, the rural community had increasingly lost residents, schools, and health and transportation services as people moved to major cities.
The town is not without considerable assets. It still has a countryside with enviable agricultural resources — truffles, grapes, olive oil and a large production of organic grains — and tourism has flourished, with 38,900 visitors in 2015.
“We need to build the future here, or even our children will leave us,” said Mr. Braconi, who has a daughter in her 20s. “We can’t keep staring at our past.”
To discuss the possible merger, Mr. Braconi had several meetings with the mayor of Montalcino, Silvio Franceschelli. The two also met with the regional government of Tuscany and with residents…
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