The Municipality of Reggio Emilia is one of the cities that have raised the level of civic collaboration the most in the past decade. It has embraced the principles of the city as a commons and the quintuple helix approach applied to public administration, producing as an outcome the new Regulation on Democracy and Urban and Climate Justice in Reggio Emilia. It is now about to be completed with a new Title, concerning the implementation of collaborative strategies through multi-actor partnerships, called Partnership for sustainable development and innovation, the text of which was discussed at a conference held at Luiss – Guido Carli on February 22.


co-city, urban justice, climate justice, Reggio Emilia, multi-actor partnership


The Municipality of Reggio Emilia is one of those cities which have given rise to a regulatory practice oriented toward collaborative management of urban development, which has developed locally in Italy as well as in other European and non-European cities[1]. In Italy, in particular, starting with the Bologna experience, and shortly thereafter also Turin, Naples and other cities, this has been done first of all through the regulations on the collaborative management of common goods, which Reggio Emilia already developed in a singular way back in 2015: the idea, in fact, was to replace the administrative districts, eliminated by the law[2], with new infrastructures that would give voice to the neighborhoods.

At the time, this was achieved through “citizenship agreements,” but in 2022, the new Urban and Climate Democracy and Justice Regulation was passed, establishing Neighborhood Councils as a new structure for listening to the local communities. The main outcome is the provision of a co-planning phase, where neighborhood and municipality develop the policies, and a subsequent co-design phase, aimed at implementing the planned policies through Partnerships for Sustainable Development and Innovation.

The European Framework

At the European level, Reggio Emilia – in partnership with Luiss – Guido Carli, and the LabGov research group – is involved in the Horizon 2020 “EUARENAS – Cities as arenas of deliberative democracy”. In particular, it is a pilot city of the European project through the strategy on Neighborhood Councils, applying also the “Tech and the City” approach to urban and climate justice goals.

In developing this strategy, Reggio Emilia made use of the City Science Office, an organizational unit consisting of one employee and industrial PhD students from Luiss Guido Carli University, which serves as a center for research, development and support for the experimentation of innovative public policies; this tool is also part of a European framework, that of the City Science Initiative[3], to which the European network of City Science Offices belongs.

The Regulation on Democracy and Urban and Climate Justice in Reggio Emilia

Also thanks to the aforementioned project path in EUARENAS.EU[4], as mentioned above, and the cooperation among the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, the City Science Office, the Law Department of Luiss Guido Carli and LabGov ETS, the Regulation on Urban and Climate Democracy and Justice in Reggio Emilia[5] was finally approved in September 2022.

Its most relevant and innovative provision is the creation of deliberative citizen assemblies called Neighborhood Councils, which – through a process of co-planning municipal public policies – draw up a document called the Neighborhood Pact, which becomes part of the whole municipality’s urban planning.

It is inspired by the principles of deliberative and collaborative democracy, which also find recognition in the Italian Constitution, and pursues a strategy of participatory administrative planning in order to achieve a sustainable, equitable and inclusive model of urban development, according also to the goals set by the Next Generation EU, the 2021-2027 EU Cohesion Policy, as well as the new Horizon Europe research and innovation program.

The new Title: Partnerships for sustainable development and innovation

In supplementing the aforementioned Regulation, it emerged that the regulatory framework should be completed through the provision of a new Title, concerning a co-design process involving all urban actors – according to the quintuple helix paradigm[6] – and concluding with a mutual assumption of binding rights and obligations[7].

This instrument, which aims to put into practice what was previously designed at the policy level, has been called Partnership for Sustainable Development and Innovation (or Neighborhood Climate Contract if it is entirely focused on climate and environmental issues), which is a multi-actor partnership that is negotiated and, as a result, broad and non-standardized, in order to offer solutions consistent with the policies, the outcomes of which are evaluated in terms of impact.

The drafting and subsequent application of such an innovative document, however, raised questions of the most importance, with regard to the form and the conditions that would justify the adoption of a multi-actor partnership instead of more traditional procedures, the possible implementation tools (of which a toolbox was drawn up) and, above all, the impact dimensions through which the effectiveness of each partner’s action should be assessed.

This led, on February 22, to a seminar at Luiss Guido Carli, entitled “Neighborhood, Common Good: Democracy and Urban and Climate Justice in Reggio Emilia. An integrated public policy to achieve urban co-governance as a function of sustainable urban development,” where some extremely competent authorities on the subject gave their views on the progress of the new part of the Regulation.

Davide Testa

[1] P. Chirulli, C. Iaione (eds.), La Co-città, Napoli, Jovene, 2018; S. R. Foster, C. Iaione (eds.), Co-Cities, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2022.

[2] L. 23rd December 2009, n. 191.

[3] A. Jeanneau, ​​The City Science Initiative: strengthening science and research for urban policies Tech and the City – Reggio Emilia, Labgov.city, 2020, <https://labgov.city/theurbanmedialab/the-city-science-initiative-strengthening-science-and-research-for-urban-policies-tech-and-the-city-reggio-emilia/>.

[4] EUArenas,  https://www.euarenas.eu/.

[5] Regulation on Democracy and Urban and Climate Justice in Reggio Emilia, https://www.comune.re.it/documenti-e-dati/atti-normativi/regolamenti/regolamento-sulla-democrazia-e-la-giustizia-urbana-e-climatica-a-reggio-emilia.

[6] E. G. Carayannis, T. D. Barth, D. F. J. Campbell, The Quintuple Helix innovation model: global warming as a challenge and driver for innovation, Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, n. 1/2012; C. Iaione, E. De Nictolis, La quintupla elica come approccio alla governance dell’innovazione sociale, in F. Montanari, L. Mizzau (eds.), I luoghi dell’innovazione aperta. Modelli di sviluppo territoriale e inclusione sociale, Torino, Fondazione G. Brodolini, 2016.

[7] C. Iaione, Urban Sustainable Development and Innovation Partnerships, Italian Journal of Public Law, 2/2022.