By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- Italian cities are increasingly faced with the dilemma of developing tourism for revenues or offering its residents a high quality of life. Data show that they cannot have both.
Tourism is a major industry in Italy, which contributes to a steady growth in an otherwise slow economy. Italy is the world's fifth most visited country.
According to analytics firm Statistica, tourism today accounts for around 11 percent of Italy's economy, a figure expected to rise to around 15 percent within a decade. It is therefore a much-needed source of tax revenue for a perennially cash strapped Italian government.
But the impacts are not always positive. Latest ratings of Italian cities and towns on the basis of quality of life continue to illustrate a trend, that the municipalities with the best results are small and wealthy, with few tourists. Meanwhile, the country's main tourist centers, led by Florence, Rome and Venice, fare poorly.
The rankings are based on 84 different criteria, including environmental health, cultural offerings, infrastructure, crime and corruption, employment rates, traffic, and health services.
Complied by news outlet "Italia Oggi" along with La Sapienza University in Rome, the rankings show that Florence fell 17 places from last year to 54th, Rome slipped 18 places to 85th, and Venice retreated 21 places to 62nd.
Those cities are the three most important destinations in Italy's 200 billion euro (around 230 billion U.S. dollars) annual tourism industry, one of the biggest in the world.
And the top cities on the index for quality of life turned out to be Trentino and Belluno, both in northeastern Italy. Neither is a popular choice for tourist guide books.
"Once the number of tourists grow to a certain point, there isn't a way to cater to them and provide quality services to residents," said Mariarita Signorini, president of Italia Nostra, an organization that focuses on protecting Italy's artistic and cultural heritage, to Xinhua.
"Tourists produce garbage and add to traffic, but don't pay for the infrastructure to confront those issues," she went on. "They force governments to focus on the parts of the city that attract tourists at the expense of the periphery of the cities or on areas like health care or air quality."
Signorini comes from the northern city of Cremona, one of the highest-ranked Italian cities in terms of quality of life, but now lives and works in Florence, a city straining under the stress of too many tourists.
"Florence is a city of 350,000 residents that attracts an unsustainable 20 million tourists a year," she said. "The gap in the quality of life where I'm from and where I live grows every year. All of the so-called 'cities of art' in Italy are in steep decline. There is no easy solution."
Giuliano Nuvolati, a sociologist specializing in environmental and urban issues at Milano Bicocca University, noted that cities that focus on the needs of tourists over their residents risk becoming open-air museums.
"As businesses focus on high profit services for tourists, it raises the cost of living and creates incentives for residents to rent their apartments to tourists and move somewhere with a better quality of life," Nuvolati said in an interview.
The Italian city that has done the best job at managing the needs of visitors and residents is probably Milan, the country's capital of finance and fashion, second in population only to the political and tourist capital of Rome. Though Milan, where Nuvolati works, is still ranked in the middle, it differs from Florence, Rome and Venice in that it has climbed up slightly in the latest rankings, moving up two spots to 55th.
Though Milan is not much of a tourist attraction like the other cities, it does draw millions of visitors a year, many for business reasons. With a high tax base, it has been able to afford investments in waste disposal and infrastructure, while maintaining green areas -- unaffordable options for many other large cities. But even Milan is struggling to maintain the quality of life for its residents.
"Every city that seeks to attract tourists will eventually face the same challenges," Nuvolati said. "Some may delay a crisis through good management. But none can avoid the problems."