Italy's Cement Stimulus

in what has to be Europe's most ill-considered stimulus plan yet, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recently proposed allowing owners to expand single-family homes by 30 percent, or 35 percent including "green" additions, with no need for approvals. No review by planning boards, by historic conservation types; no regulation in an age when regulation is coming back worldwide. Designed to inspire a free-market construction boom, the plan has been derided by critics as promoting the "cementification" of Italy and as bypassing restrictions that serve as tax checkpoints. Berlusconi has scaled back, but the plan still allows owners to add extra floors and balconies as they wish. Greens and historical preservationists fear concrete devouring the skylines of Florence and Sienna, and want more restraint. Berlusconi, a tycoon who is now renovating his own new home near Rome, has vowed that homeowners will be free.