Although Rome is no longer the head of an empire, plenty of roads still lead to it. Many of its streets are now getting swept up in a radical redesign of the city’s urban fabric. As cars and scooters are slowly exorcised from the city’s center, tire-friendly asphalt is replacing the historic sanpietrini, or cobblestones, on major traffic arteries. The old sanpietrini will be used to resurface streets and piazzas that will be handed over to pedestrians at the project’s end.

Moskow Architects’ 9/11 Memorial at Logan Airport, in Boston

One of Rome's new pedestrian-only zones.

Mayor Walter Veltroni outlined the “restyling” plan at a press event earlier this year. Areas throughout the city center—most notably the roughly 1⁄4-square-mile triangle-shaped area bounded by Via di Ripetta, Via del Babuino, and Via dei Condotti—are slated to go pedestrian-only. Once all the new pieces are in place, visitors will be able to access the cobblestone streets by foot, bicycle, bus, or taxi. Those who choose to drive will be required to leave their vehicles in a newly created 700-spot parking lot by the Pincio Hill, which began construction in June.

To support this massive pedonalizzazione, or pedestrianization, some streets will be designated for various forms of public transportation. This summer, for instance, the busy Via Nazionale is becoming a smooth ride, with buses relegated to its middle lanes and other traffic flanking them to either side. Other changes are also afoot. This spring, the city began installing 36 new nasoni, Rome’s ubiquitous large-nosed drinking fountains, whose design dates to 1874. It is also rebuilding the minute sidewalks along many asphalted streets—this time wide enough to be walked upon.

In a city built on layers of competing histories, change can be a complex, contradictory process. For some, modernizing Rome’s roads involves removing a crucial part of history and an integral part of the city’s chaotic livability. But for many others, pedonalizzazione represents a dream come true. Tourists, architectural historians, and locals craving a good long look at Rome’s legendary architecture will finally be able to study it without that speeding Vespa in the back of their minds. It took more than a day to build Rome—several centuries, in fact—but pedonalizzazione is expected to be complete by December 2009 at a cost of $267 million.