In Italy, changing the city by and for the inhabitants

3435 France - Last modified by the author on 11/04/2023 - 09:01
In Italy, changing the city by and for the inhabitants


It is difficult to change urban spaces without the consent and participation of those who experience them on a daily basis: the inhabitants. This is what several Italian cities have understood, which have succeeded in transforming their streets thanks to the most interesting citizen participatory processes. Analysis then illustrations by example to fully understand this phenomenon.

"The challenge of the metropolitan city is to go beyond the state apparatus, considered in its static relationship represented representatives, beyond its politico-administrative gravity, by basing its action in the communities", Beniamino Caravita, Professor of Law public at the University of Rome.

What role do citizens have to play in decisions made about where they live? To what extent and by what means can they be actors of the changes inherent in the city where they are installed? More broadly, what governance is implemented in urban planning policies at the present time in Italy, and who is legitimate to make these decisions?

It is often customary to think that only the State, the mayor, elected officials and other local authorities have the power to change the city. But this is without counting on the users of these urban spaces, who, all professions combined, may want to make their voices heard on these subjects. “In terms of urban planning, the notion of “urban project” would thus be as much a means of communication and negotiation as a tool of regulation” (Summary of the XXXII National Meeting of Urban Planning Agencies in Paris in 2011).

Also, in Italy, several examples — which we will detail in the second part of this article — demonstrate that the participation of the inhabitants has been a fundamental element in the process of transformation of cities and their streets .

Putting people back in the city

"If, in the 1950s, the watchwords were urbanization, the construction of infrastructures and the production of services for an ever-growing population, today the objective is to combat poverty and social inequalities. , to promote economic development, environmental protection, anti-identity inclusiveness, preservation of living together", Christian Lefèvre, Professor at the Paris School of Urbanism, Paris-Est University and member of the executive committee from the European Urban Research Association (EURA), 2009.

There are just over 8,000 municipalities in Italy, a state in which the issue of housing today is brought to the fore , especially for social reasons. On this level, tensions remain strong in the country: one thinks for example of the historical dissensions between the regions of the North and those of the South. Moreover, social housing represents only 4% of the Italian housing stock (this is much less than in France, with a share of approximately 16%), and there is strong segregation between the city and its outskirts. This set of factors may explain why Italian citizens wanted to take up the issue of housing and the place to live by actively participating in the development of certain cities.

Turin reinvented by its inhabitants

Population: 886,837 inhabitants

Return to safety

In Turin, a city marked by an increase in the population living below the poverty line (+80% since 2008), the inhabitants were invited to reclaim a city in which they no longer felt safe, in particular because of the lack of services and night activities.

thetarget="_blank"> ToNite project , launched in September 2019 for a duration of 3 years, focuses on two specific areas of the city, near the Dora river. It brings together several fields of action, including ethnographic studies where citizens are directly questioned about their perception and their feelings about the city, day and night . More specifically, 36 in-depth interviews were conducted with a panel representative of the population of the two neighborhoods targeted by ToNite. An online questionnaire was also launched, as well as "exploratory walks" with residents of Turin, who were able to show in the field the difficulties identified in the surveys.

Thanks to ToNite, around thirty new local services have emerged in the city during the night.

Cooperate to review mobility

Another project implemented by the capital of Piedmont by a municipal decree dated 2017, the launch of an advisory commission on mobility by bicycle and on the moderation of traffic to fight against poor outdoor air quality and the congestion of the streets. This citizens' consultation, comprising 1 representative of 17 Turinese associations (in the environment, mobility or public space sector), had the function of sharing their observations and proposals on a change in mobility in Turin with of the various departments of the town hall.

Among the results of this consultation, we note the gradual creation of axes for cycle mobility and micromobility along several service roads in the city, with a speed limit of 20 km/h, but also the establishment car-free streets in front of schools or the pedestrianization of certain neighborhoods.

Color your neighborhood

Events such as Graphic days, organized in 2020 in Settimo Torinese, are another example of citizen participation in the transformation of the city : areas with colored markings on the ground (which can be painted by the inhabitants themselves) to create life in the streets and encourage citizens to reclaim urban space in a different way, signage and interactive posters to appeal to passers-by and create a link between them... Every Turinese was invited to take part in this project.

In Milan, change the city via your mobile

Population: 1,352,000 inhabitants

The SharingMi mobile application , launched in February 2019 as part of the Sharing cities project (which concerns Milan, London and Lisbon), aims to allow Milanese to participate in the exemplary development of their city directly via their phone. The principle ? On the app, each user can earn points for taking a virtuous action such as taking a bike ride instead of a car ride: these points are then converted into user-neighborhood-wide rewards, such as as vouchers or discounts in certain local shops, for example.

Challenges and other events to develop areas of the city are also organized via SharingMi, following specific themes: for example, "My ideas to reduce the amount of plastic in Milan" . Finally, the platform also serves as a place of exchange between citizens, who can share their ideas and their actions in favor of the city :the most active become “eco-influencers” encouraged online by other members of the community, thus creating a virtuous circle of good collective behavior.

With these different features, SharingMi not only encourages ecological reflexes, but also helps Milanese to get to know their neighborhood better, reclaim it and develop interesting local initiatives.

In 2021, SharingMi had over 2,100 users, with over 6,000 stories shared and 72 rewards distributed. The main difficulty in fully deploying this project remains related to the publicity that is made of it. Indeed, communication must be optimal to bring SharingMi to the attention of all Milanese, which is not the case today.

Bolzano, precursor of soft mobility

Population: 106,951 inhabitants

The city of Bolzano, in South Tyrol, is exemplary in many respects. It has several “school streets”, closed to cars because they pass in front of schools. It is also the first city to have introduced this concept, in 1989 . More generally, soft mobility is widely developed there with electric charging stations, shared cars, a speed limit of 30 km/h in many urban areas, self-service bicycles, the expansion of cycle paths, etc.

To succeed in its conversion into a virtuous city, the involvement of citizens was decisive: a working group was created by the town hall to think about the energy transition of Bolzano, and all the municipal services are involved in it. Each inhabitant can benefit from free advice on the topics of energy and climate from the University of the city, and regularly, events and other events on these subjects are organized to raise awareness among the population. To encourage the use of public transport, leaflets are distributed on cars (moreover encouraged to park outside the city centre). Finally, a “climate-air-energy budget” per inhabitant of €6.50 has been defined, again demonstrating that every Bolzanian counts in this energy transition of the city.

Naples, when public space becomes common property

Population: 954,244 inhabitants

Italy is a pioneer in terms of co- management of spaces and goods between the municipality and the inhabitants , a particularly advanced form of citizen participation in the city. For example, in Naples, an abandoned building destined to be demolished, the Asilo, was finally negotiated with the municipality as common property, which could make it possible to experiment with a form of participatory democracy in the field of Culture. Thus, several communities and groups of people (ecological activists, researchers, etc.) can make use of the Asilo, to install artistic works or carry out various projects there. So, when will whole streets be co-managed by Neapolitans?

Here are several examples of citizen participation in Italian cities, which illustrate the link between urban spaces and those who occupy them. Thatleads us to rethink the way we have to live somewhere. Far from being simple passenger spectators of places, we can, if the means are given to us, be actors in their transformation and thus obtain virtuous results for each party. A form of governance that finds its full meaning in the current context of global energy transition and progress towards exemplary city models.

An article written by Amandine Martinet - Construction21

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Amandine Martinet - Construction21