In recent years, some of Italy’s biggest cities including Rome and Milan have instituted strict restrictions and called for all-out bans on vehicular traffic. While commendable and appropriately aggressive, these efforts haven’t packed quite the smog-busting punch that officials — officials tasked with doing something about the country’s notoriously poor air quality — had hoped for.

This all being said, you know that things are really bad when the use of wood-fired ovens is limited in the birthplace of pizza. Like an Italian street devoid of exhaust-sputtering Fiats, an Italian town — a Neapolitan town, to boot — where traditional pizza ovens have gone cold doesn’t compute — it just doesn’t make any sense. But whereas the former scenario is actually nice, the latter one is downright tragic.

And that’s the scene (but not really, despite what the headlines may say) playing out in smoggy San Vitaliano, one of the 92 municipalities that comprise the city of Naples’ sprawling metro area. Here, within the ancestral home of pizza, Mayor Antonio Falcone has issued a ban on wood-fired ovens in direct response to worsening air quality levels brought on by a hot summer, lower-than-normal wintertime rainfall totals and a longstanding national love affair with diesel (the fuel, not the jeans).

Needless to say, Falcone’s emergency restrictions, which were instituted in late December and apply to both homes and businesses operating wood stoves not equipped with special emissions-curbing filters, haven’t gone over so well.

As reported by the New York Times, the pizzeria-impacting (there’s about six pizza joints in this town of roughly 6,000) ordinance has been met with public protests and widespread consternation. Residents of San Vitaliano have even called for Falcone’s resignation, stopping just short of running the poor man out of town by way of an angry, breadstick-waving mob.

“I became the anti-pizza mayor,” Falcone tells the Times. “I am responsible for the health of the citizens of this town. We had to start somewhere.”

To outsiders, focusing on wood-fired pizza ovens seems a somewhat logical choice for San Vitaliano, a small town where there are no large industries to speak of but where Beijing-compared air pollution levels have exceeded the allowable limit 114 times last year. Big, busy and factory-ridden Milan, by comparison, exceed the limit 86 times.

Pizza ovens aside, Mr. Falcone said the main causes of San Vitaliano’s air pollution remained a mystery. Traffic can be intense, but the town, about 15 miles northeast of Naples, is quite small, he said, and there are no major industries.

The town, however, abuts a highway cloverleaf, and is part of the densely populated Naples area, in a region known for illegal incineration of toxic waste by organized crime.

So there’s that. Chemically treated wood stove pellets have also been fingered as a contributor to San Vitalino’s particulate matter problem..

From the sounds of it, many, if not most of, San Vitalino’s restaurants, bakeries and pizzerias have previously fitted their ovens with the required filters and, furthermore, aren’t directly impacted by Falcone’s eyebrow-raising edict. (And if they don’t, they have until March 1 to install them in their ovens risk being slapped with a 1,032 euro fine).

Still, locals, including those who craft wood-fired pizzas and those who scarf them, have been rubbed the wrong way and feel unfairly singled out. Many feel that focusing solely on the pizza-producing ovens of San Vitalino — the only town in the area with a municipal air quality monitor, apparently — is ultimately a fruitless effort and that the air pollution-halting efforts, pizza-centered or not, should be focused on larger towns, including Naples proper.

“We can’t be the cause of the smog. Naples has many more pizzerias than San Vitaliano but doesn’t have the same pollution levels,” complained a resident to Corriere del Sera. “It’s clear that they don’t want to pinpoint the real cause. This order is a very costly mistake for us.”

Another resident, this one a pizzeria owner, reacts: “Shocking, it’s so ridiculous. They don’t want us to make pizza? We make about 34 pizzas a day, how do they think we are responsible for the pollution problems around here?”

The moral of the story?

Even when your town faces an air pollution crisis that, in the words of the mayor is “an anthropological disaster” in the making, don’t you dare bring pizza into it.

Via [NYT], [The Independent]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Italian mayor puts kibosh on wood-fired pizza ovens
Neapolitan pies are served with a hint of smog in San Vitaliano.