On Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th September 2020, on the occasion of the European Heritage Days sponsored every year by the Council of Europe and supported by the Italian Ministry of Heritage, Culture and Tourism (MiBACT), Co-Rome together with the co-district community managing organizations, as for CooperACTiva and the Community for the Public Park of Centocelle (CPPC), organized two days of itinerant walks in the co-district Rome South-East, joining the initiative of the European Heritage Days 2020. The initiative has been supported by LUISS-LabGov.City, OpenHeritage.eu, Fusolab 2.0 and the non-profit organizations “Hermes”, and it is part of the Horizon 2020 “OpenHeritage” project activites.
The “Cyclo-pedestrian itineraries in the Agro Romano at the origins of the Pratone di Torre Spaccata and the Archaeological Park of Centocelle” two-days route will offer to the participants the possibility to get to know new places and to discover the cultural heritage of the South-Eastern Rome co-district. The route stages will lead to the discovery of the ancient Agro Pontino path, among abandoned farmhouses, prairies rich in historical vestiges and archaeological heritage mostly still unknown, crossing parks and green corners manned by active citizens.
The first free guided tour will begin on September 26th at 10 a.m., starting from via Giuseppe Micheli and will take participants to the discovery of the Pratone di Torre Spaccata, the Sisenna-Romanisti Park, the Tower of San Giovanni, up to the Pratone and Parchetto della Cultura in via Rugantino where it will end at 12:30 p.m.
For the day ofSeptember 27th, the second free guided tour will take visitors to admire beautiful sunsets from the Park of Centocelle, during a cultural and educational walk full of historical and archaeological cues in order to spread the history and cultural heritage preserved by Park. The appointment is at 5 p.m. in via Casilina, 712 (in the parking area, near the fountain). The day will then end in a gathering of the participants at the Fusolab 2.0., giving them the chance to attend a free musical event during the evening and provided by the kermesse “Effimera”.
On both days there will be the chance to rent bikes to move from one place to another throughout the route.
However, due to unstable weather conditions or to safety reasons, the calendar of events and the possibility of renting a bike for the tours may be affected.
In 2013, at the age of 31, Aja Brown (born Aja Lena Clinkscale) made history when she was elected as the youngest mayor in the history of the City of Compton. She immediately set to work on her ambitious New Vision for Compton revitalization strategy, seeking to paint a new picture of the city that has become notorious for gang violence and crime.
In the late 1980s Compton’s violent reputation reached national audiences when the failed ‘War on Drugs’ met the rise of local gangsta rap. Groups such as Compton’s Most Wanted and N.W.A. which made the city famous with their iconic album Straight Outta Compton. The mainstream media leaned into this identity, and the city became known for the turf war between the Bloods and Crips.
In 1992 when four officers in the Los Angeles Police Department were acquitted after a recording of their use of excessive force in the arrest of Rodney King was widely viewed across the country, riots broke out throughout Los Angeles and Compton. Exacerbated by the memory of the murder of Black ninth-grader Latasha Harlins by Korean shopkeeper Soon Ja Du, the riots disproportionately affected LA’s Koreatown and when they were over 63 people had been killed and over 12,000 had been arrested, while the reputation of Compton was solidified as a place of unrest and violence.
Though crime ebbed and flowed in Compton throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, when Aja Brown took office in 2013 she inherited a city with an infamous reputation, the violence of which was immortalized in albums, books, articles, and movies; as well as a $43 million deficit, an unemployment rate triple the national average, a school district with only a 57% graduation rate, and a spiking murder rate (with 2005 the deadliest year in recorded history).
Focused on 12-key principles centered on quality of life, economic development, and infrastructural growth; Aja Brown’s 2013 New Vision for Compton, was the jumping off point for her mission to rehabilitate her city. Through policy reform and strategic partnerships she has championed several initiatives to reduce crime, eliminate human trafficking, and put a stop to gang violence.
Notably, in 2014, Mayor Brown met with 75 local gang leaders and members to discuss how they could work together to create a more peaceful Compton. This meeting, in tandem with President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper, led to the launch of Compton Empowered a gang reduction intervention composed of numerous ex-gang members and fixtures of the community. Originally, the group met every other Sunday to coordinate cease-fires, resulting in a decrease in homicides of nearly 50% in the first six months of the programme. Now the group has taken on new life as the Compton city council implemented an official City Gang Intervention & Prevention Program, employing 13 ex-gang members that manage neighborhood peace treaties, create new opportunities for employment, and recruit at-risk youth to participate in healthy extracurricular activities. As a result of Mayor Brown’s holistic gang intervention policy and her community’s hard work, Compton has achieved record low homicides (a 64% reduction) without diverting any additional funding to law enforcement or policing.
Mayor Brown’s community-oriented leadership also extends to growing the economy as evidenced by her First Source Hiring Agreement – mandating 35% local hiring for city funded projects. These efforts have also reduced Compton’s unemployment rate by half – shrinking the 18% rate when she took office in July 2013, down to 9% by December 2015.
Overwhelmingly re-elected to a second four-year term in June, 2017; Aja Brown continues to move forward with plans to elevate and empower her city, launching a $70 million five-year infrastructure program in 2019. Awarded the John F Kennedy New Frontier Award in 2016, Mayor Aja Brown served on the California State Delta Stewardship Council prior to being elected. A champion for youth, women’s rights, and socio-economic equality; she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy, Urban Planning, and Development as well as a Master’s degree in Urban Planning with a focus on Economic Development. Her partnership with Girls Fly! continues to empower girls and young women by introducing participants to career opportunities in science, technology, arts, math, and engineering.
The basic right to food and the access to
alimentary resources has been widely challenged due to the recent COVID-19
pandemic in Italy. I myself have more than one time tried to analyse and
understand the difficult reality of food poverty and the inability or
impossibility to access these resources: it seemed that during the long and
strict lockdown Italy was going through, food was perceived not only as a
necessity that would require a trip into the outside, scary world, but also as
a distraction, a mean to lighten up people’s days while national media was
broadcasting the terrifying reality of a global pandemic. This was the case for
many of us, nevertheless there is a consistent portion of the citizenry that
did not have such easy access to food, and this poses a staggering problem that
exemplifies one of the many faces of urban poverty in modern-day Italy.
At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped
two of Italy’s most prominent and profitable industries: tourism and restaurant
businesses. Most of these activities suffered great economic depression due the
lockdown measures and are looking forward to recover amid the uncertainty of a
post-lockdown future. How can food policy help us respond to these critical
matters? The next few paragraphs will attempt to answer this question by
analysing firstly two best-practices for both the public and private sectors to
attract more and new customers, while the second portion of the article will
deal more in depth with the food poverty crisis that worsened during the
On July 23rd I had the pleasure to
attend Food Policy Milano’s webinar on Italian cities’ food policy and
gastronomy. This has been the third of a total of four events (all recorded and
available here) that aim at the disclosure and
popularisation of food policies across the country. Food Policy Milano operates
inside of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, a collaborative and innovative
initiative signed at Expo 2015 that works to widen and guarantee the right to
food for very citizen, while also designing processes that can tackle food
poverty at the urban level. At the time of writing this article, the Milan
Urban Food Policy Pact had more than 200 signatory cities that comprise over
450 million inhabitants worldwide.
The focus of the webinar was, as I mentioned
earlier, gastronomy and local excellence. The event provides us with two
examples that show possible responses to the emergent need to stand out in both
the public and private sectors, fostering the attraction of tourists, customers
A rather excellent example was brought to us by
the municipality of Alba, a true culinary and cultural gem nestled in the
region of Piedmont in Northern Italy. Alba is world renowned as the birthplace
of the white truffle, perhaps one of the most sought-after haute cuisine
ingredients worldwide, and has been selected by UNESCO as a Creative City for
Gastronomy in 2017. Alba capitalises on such illustrious assets by developing a
solid communication strategy that depicts the values and excellences of Alba in
the fashion of a metaphorical menu: the suggestive setting of the Langhe and
Monferrato vineyards and hills (which are too, needless to say, a UNESCO World
Heritage site), the rich selection of highest-quality local eno-gastronomic
products, the beauty of the city centre architecture and the presence of some
of the most famous and revered restaurants in the region all make the case for
the city of Alba. The case study of Alba is a perfect example of how local,
territorial, excellent and well-communicated food policy practices can create
real cultural, social and economic value.
A second example is that of the East Lombardy initiative, which was successfully
nominated European Region of Gastronomy in 2017. East Lombardy comprises the
four easternmost provinces in the North-Italian region of Lombardy and aims to
be a bridge that connects the produce, the restaurants and the consumers. In
this successful model, restaurants become an asset to bring about value to agriculture.
In the words of Roberto Amaddeo, City Councillor in Bergamo, the keyword of the
project is research: the bond of innovation and tradition. It is
noteworthy to mention that since 2019 Bergamo is too a UNESCO Creative City for
Gastronomy, and that the East Lombardy initiative is yet again a successful
example of food policy practices that work on a strong base of local and
excellent resources to produce valuable outcomes for the primary and tertiary
sectors of the economy.
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic aftermath
does not simply provide an opportunity for food policy relaunch: it is in fact
of vital importance to bear in mind the disastrous effect this crisis had for
the most fragile citizens of distressed urban areas. The strict lockdown measures
implemented by the Italian government have tragically resulted in thousands of
newly-impoverished and unemployed citizens, while recent forecasts predict a fall for Italian GDP at around -9.5% at
best. Even though the latest Istat report shows positive news for the 2019
level of both absolute and relative poverty, the recent study does only relate
to data from 2019: next year’s post-COVID-19 report will probably confirm the
widespread fear of surging levels of poverty, thus highlighting the need of
both emergency and long-term food policy strategies to tackle poverty and to
ease and guarantee access to alimentary resources.
The region of Piedmont in Northern Italy has
been one of the most hard hit areas by COVID-19, with more than thirty-thousand cases and
over four-thousand deaths. The municipality of Turin, Piedmont’s capital city, has decided to
tackle urban poverty by instituting the distribution of economic relief in the
form of food stamps to struggling families who successfully responded to the
application call. Needless to say, the response has been overwhelming, and the
project “Torino Solidale” has evolved into a larger, more encompassing reality.
As of this summer, the Turin municipality has set up a distribution of food
packs, so to ensure that families have a stable source of nourishment and has
identified several citizen associations as hubs on the urban territory. In the
district of Barriera di Milano, one of Turin’s most impoverished and troubled
neighbourhoods, there are three distribution hubs, among which is the
I have had the honour to meet with and
interview Sister Giuliana Galli and Francesca Vallarino Gancia, founders of
Mamre. Mamre’s expertise lies in the fields of mental health and ethno-psychiatry
in multicultural contexts: it is in these situations that Mamre works on
inclusion and cultural mediation. According to its founders, Mamre focuses on
the dimension of urban peripheries as a support for citizens in fragile
circumstances. Mamre is currently supporting six-hundred families out of the
one-thousand six-hundred families that have requested food packs in Barriera di
Milano. Through personally assisting and helping Mamre’s volunteers during
their job in the past weeks, I have therefore had the chance to witness and
understand more deeply how one of the key elements of emergency urban food
policy come to its final – and perhaps its most important – stage: enactment.
While discussing about food policy and poverty,
Sister Giuliana Galli stressed the importance of physical and face-to-face
connections “We need to make a distinction between institutional poverty
and existential poverty. It is often that we learn about poverty in
studies, articles and the literature: they narrate us everything about it, its
history, its statistics, its technicalities… but we need to take a look at the
qualitative side of research too: people in need show us their necessities in
different ways, and helping them out reveals us what they need”.
Moreover, Sister Galli also discussed the
relevant role of partnerships and collaborative processes: “The availability of
private citizens helps us in the response to the fragile citizenry. The lack of
a food source is the final stage of poverty, a physical, relational poverty,
the ultimate difficulty to utilise the tools and opportunities that have been
rendered available to the public. Partnerships make this connection possible,
and they help us break the cycle of said poverties. These very processes are
the defining mechanisms of true people-oriented politics. Some like to say that
everything we do is political: these circumstances make it so that the single
citizen becomes the principal politician in the urban territorial dimension, it
becomes the lever that can lift and move things around it”.
Finally, Sister Galli addressed one more time
the relevance of food policy measures that can serve the citizenry and at the
same time create a physical presence that can function as a base for urban
processes of poverty relief: “Making our very own spaces available to the
distribution of food packs is a basic yet explanatory practice that shows us
how to get in touch with citizens. It is this community care that
demonstrates one-to-one, on a personal level, that we are there for everybody.
These are our strengths: open doors, the acquisition of personal mutual
In conclusion, we can lastly answer the
questions we posed ourselves at the very beginning of the article: How can food
policy help us respond to the critical conditions dictated by the post-COVID-19
recession? What direction does food policy need to take?
It seems clear that different matters require
different answers. For what concerns the strenuous restart of the private
sector, Italy can count on its world-renown culinary tradition and excellence.
It is not a coincidence that tourism and gastronomy go hand in hand in the Belpaese,
and several best-practice case studies, not only those highlighted in this
article, will demonstrate the wide array of possibilities that private
investors and business owners can take advantage of to relaunch the economy.
The formula that we analysed appears to work like a charm: the valorisation of
local, genuine and excellent products, coupled with a custom-knit storytelling
strategy, generates opportunities and is sustainable on the market.
Finally, the delicate and tragic issue of urban poverty can have its approach broadened to encompass the personal, intimate and humane value that could be disregarded when tackled only from a statistical standpoint. The creation of multi-actor collaborative processes on the small, local and territorial urban level can enable food policy strategists to count not only on the support, but also on the first-hand experience of their territorial partners when it comes to the creation of counter-poverty plans that can finally guarantee the basic right to food and the access to food resources to every citizen.
Launched in February 2019 by the
European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) in collaboration with DG RTD
(now DG R&I), DG REGIO and the City of Amsterdam, the City Science
(CSI) is a pilot project as part of the Community of Practice on Cities. It aims at strengthening
the ways in which research and science can be used to address urban challenges,
thus developing a structured approach to evidence-informed policymaking at the
city level. Because most societal challenges in Europe are intrinsically urban
and can be addressed better thanks to science and innovation, the CSI precisely
tackles the need to consolidate the science and policy interface at the urban
level. Simultaneously, the initiative provides an opportunity for
municipalities, city networks, experts, DGs and services of the European
Commission to build a stronger cooperation. Indeed, it brings these
professionals together to work and explore ways through which research,
science, technology and innovation can inform city policies. This cooperation
enables to explore the needs and priorities of cities in terms of evidence-based
policy making, and in particular the potential of the European Commission to
support this effort. The creation of the CSI attracted much interest from major
European cities from the start. Thus, the initiative now promotes and
facilitates a European network of City Science Offices (CSO) sharing their
experience and good practices on the front of science and innovation for urban
Since the CSI has started, several meetings
have been organized, in Amsterdam or Brussels, to set up the initiative, and
then to reflect on the next steps. Under the leadership of five European
cities, the CSI is currently addressing five thematic urban areas from the
perspective of science-based innovation and policies. The city of Paris tackles
the issue of air quality and the city of Hamburg focuses on circular economy.
Mental health issues are addressed by the city of Thessaloniki and the city of
Cluj-Napoca’s working topic is sustainable mobility. The city of Reggio of
Emilia addresses Tech and the City through new forms of collaborative
management and co-governance of digital urban infrastructure with the support
of LabGov.City as City Science Office.
Since 2015, the city of Reggio Emilia has
initiated a policy strategy aimed at developing an inclusive, collaborative,
creative city by relying on the enabling features of digital tools and
infrastructures, which are key assets for sustainable urban development. This
approach, which has later been called the Tech and the City approach as part of
the CSI, builds on advanced theories of urban co-governance, the city as a
commons or “co-cities” theory. It is based on the cooperation of public,
private, knowledge, social and civic actors (the so-called quintuple helix),
established and regulated through public-community and public-private-community
partnerships agreements enabling sustainable innovations and scientific
experimentations in the city. The approach entails a strong focus on the
valorization of local know-how and the recognition of community stewardship
rights (rights of use, co-management, co-ownership) over urban critical assets
and infrastructure, the so-called urban commons. In 2015, the city of Reggio
Emilia implemented the “neighbourhoood as a commons” program, a policy tool
which inaugurated neighbourhood labs as co-design moments in social centres to
define urban innovation projects with the actors of the neighbourhood. The labs
result in the signature of citizenships pacts that sets terms, conditions,
investments to implement sustainable innovation projects. The scientific
methodology used in this program to put in place a wide variety of
community-based urban innovation and experimentation projects finds a
particular resonance within the CSI now. The most successful project developed
as part of the neighbourhood labs is the Coviolo Wireless initiative which has
successfully developed a broadband infrastructures in an underserved
neighbourhood, extending broadband access to city inhabitants. The CSI enabled
to scale up this approach and methodology in cooperation with LabGov.City as
CSO, in particular through the “Collaboratorio Reggio Emilia” process, a
city-wide innovation hub. It has the ambitious plan of setting up a
collaborative urban innovation program aimed at experimenting a model of
community-based sustainable urban development to address the challenges of
digital transition and climate change in the city.
In the unusual context of the COVID19 crisis, the city of Reggio Emilia has even further strengthened the commons-based approach and started to elaborate a strategic direction post COVID19, based on a large online survey called “Reggio Emilia, come va?”, (“Reggio Emilia, how are you doing?”). Answered by more than 5,000 city inhabitants between the 17th of April 2020 and the 12th of May 2020, this questionnaire has helped the municipality to understand how citizens have experienced the crisis, and what are their priorities the future. The municipality of Reggio Emilia made this instrument available to any local administration interested in using it, free of charge and according to the international criteria of the Creative Commons. The English version will soon be able for download here. The analysis of the results of the survey enabled the municipality to rethink access to digital tools and infrastructure and redesign services to help the production of social and economic value by adapting the scale of public policy intervention to the new needs that emerged during the health emergency.
Cities being in the front line in responding to
the challenges posed by the pandemic, the CSI took a key role to bring together
information on the policies and measures designed in this period, showcasing
the relation between science and policy. Virtual workshops were organized by
each of the leading cities on the thematic issues already mentioned. On June
22nd, 2020, the city of Reggio Emilia hosted the Tech and the City
present its approach and discuss with cities and key stakeholders how to
integrate science-based evidences and results, as well as R&I best
practices to provide a better policy framework for cities willing to invest on
public-community partnerships to tackle digital challenges through science and
innovation. The event was structured in three panels, the first one offering
science-based evidence from cities, the second one from European urban
initiatives, and the last one took the form of a roundtable discussion between
European stakeholders on the potential for a policy uptake on the evidence
presented. The discussion highlighted the importance of urban innovation
brokers such as co-laboratories or urban living labs for the development of
public-community partnerships. European stakeholders from various DGs of the
European Commission also emphasized the key role of the involvement of
community for good governance at the European level. Finally, a crucial point
that emerged from the workshop is the need to break down silos and build
bridges between European urban initiatives to grasp the opportunities offered
by the CSI in terms of experimenting innovative policy solutions for urban
“I’m not white, wearing black, funky glasses, tall or male. I’m none of the preconceptions of what an architect might be, and that means that every time I introduce myself as an architect, I have to push through the initial assumptions.” Yen Ha, founding principal of the New York architecture firm Front Studio explained in a recent interview with the NYTimes. Representation matters, and in an industry with so few visible women at the top, Marian Wright Edelman’s assertion that “you cannot be what you cannot see” could easily be the rallying cry for women in architecture and urbanism.
Despite a general global trend toward educational equity of the sexes in university architecture programs – a prevailing disparity is revealed when observing women in the workforce. Even though graduating classes are close to gender parity, in Canada only about 29% of practicing architects are female – and the numbers only get lower elsewhere. The share of practicing female architects is about 26% in the United Kingdom, 24% in the United States, 21% in South Africa, and less than 20% in Australia. Similar polling is taking place for the first time in the Middle East, where Suad Amiry, founder of the Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation, explains, “I taught architecture in Jordan and at Birzeit University in Palestine and I would say 60 to 70 percent were women, but when we go into the real world and begin to work, all of a sudden, we disappear…”
Unfortunately, the proportion of women visible in the architecture industry only gets more dismal when delving deeper into the management hierarchies of the world’s largest architectural firms. Dezeen’s 2017 study of the 100 biggest architecture firms in the world, found only three headed by women (Scandinavia’s Henning Larsen, Tengbom, and White Arkitektur), and only two that had management teams that were comprised of over 50% women (Tengbom and White Arkitektur). While just 1 in 10 of the top-level roles at the 100 biggest international firms are female, architect Dorte Mandrup, who runs her own studio in Denmark, responded to the findings: “It’s interesting too that there seem to be practically no woman holding creative director or lead designer positions…The women that are at top positions have administrative or CEO roles backing up a male star.” Thus, of the already small proportion of women practicing architecture professionally, only a handful of these women make it to the top, comprising only 18% of the top three tiers of management at the world’s 100 largest firms.
Though the numbers are harder to track – urbanism and urban planning too appear to have a gender parity crisis. Planetizen’s “Top 20 Urban Planning Books (Of All Time)” contains only three female authors out of the total twenty (Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction co-authored by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein). Additionally, the 2016 edition of the Routledge City Reader includes articles by 66 contributors, only 4 of which are women (6%). Meanwhile, Routledge’s 2016 Planning Sustainable Cities and Regions, contained 11 female contributors out of the total 52 authors (21%), better but still nowhere near equal representation.
Urban governance obviously plays an undeniable role in how cities are structured and serve their residents. While globally women are increasingly able to secure positions of authority, their representation in mayoral offices is still nowhere near equal to that of men. A survey of the fifty most populous cities in the world (according to data provided by the United Nations) shows that only ten of these cities are run by women, while forty men hold the mayoral (or similar) titles.
These numbers are particularly frustrating in that, when women have contributed to architecture and urbanism, their achievements have historically been miscredited or discarded. From about 3500 years ago when Egyptian ruler, Hatshepsut, had her name and buildings struck out of history by her successor – to 1991, when Robert Venturi alone was awarded the Pritzker Prize for his and Denise Scott Brown’s joint work– women’s achievements have been concealed or solely attributed to the men in their lives. The small proportion of women in the field and the erasure of their achievements paint revisionist histories of our cities, leading us to believe that women have only been active creators and influencers since the late 20th century. Women in the industry who have been able to overcome such obstacles are few and far between, creating a tokenism that makes finding role models difficult, and fosters the belief that in order to succeed one must be the exception. The disappointing absence of women in architecture studios, boardrooms, global summits, scholarly readers, syllabi, and classrooms led to the creation of Not Just Jane Jacobs – an ever-growing catalog of brief but scholarly biographies of the women who shape our cities. With a dual mission Not Just Jane Jacobs hopes to acknowledge women whose work was historically erased while also illuminating the numerous and diverse women who are currently contributing to the urban fabric.
In collaboration with the Urban Media Lab, Not Just Jane Jacobs seeks to act as a resource for women who may be looking for role models who look a bit more like them. Throughout this collaborative series we will be showcasing influential women who have had a profound impact on their urban surroundings through biographies, histories, and hopefully even an interview or two; seeking answers to the questions: What does it mean to have a male-dominated city in urbanism, architecture, and design? How can we design more inclusive cities? And who might already be doing it?
If you know of someone that you believe should be showcased, feel free to reach out directly, here.
Growing up and going through my teenage years in a small village in Northern Italy, I often felt trapped, too distant
from the places where everything seemed to be happening. Life was going on in
the city, and I was always a too long commute away from it. Years later, as the
lockdown froze many of us in unexpected circumstances and living arrangements,
I found myself back in the same village I had been trying to escape for years.
But things felt a bit different this time. As the city turned into a silent
concrete body, devoid of all the social and cultural life that made it so
appealing, the ‘boring’ countryside began instead to feel like an idyllic
location, with its greenery and outdoor spaces that made isolation seem a bit
This change in perspective wasn’t peculiar to my own life, but came instead at the centre of public discourse through the words of well-known architects, politicians and journalists, who began to emphasise the potential that the remote and isolated areas of the country have to be at the forefront in shaping the post-pandemic future. In particular, the words of archistar Stefano Boeri were often invoked in the past few weeks. The architect, known for his projects focused on sustainability and urban reforestation, reflected on how the pandemic influenced our living choices and urged many of us to leave the city to find refuge in scarcely populated villages. According to Boeri, this trend should be seen as an important opportunity for the country to rethink its urban development patterns and to save those areas that are today nearly abandoned. Along the same lines, many observers saw this crisis as a much-needed occasion to rethink tourism, reducing the pressure of over-tourism on cities and promoting new out of the beaten path experiences that could be beneficial for more remote locations.
But aside from temporarily coming under the spotlight, in Italy the question of how to deal with marginal and
fragile areas, better known as aree interne (inner areas), is one that
for too long has been left out from public debate and political agendas. The
past decades were characterised by an urban-centred approach to development, which led to a concentration of wealth, resources
and services in few urban areas, resulting in deep territorial inequalities. As
public and private investments kept flowing towards cities, the aree interne
– corresponding to 60% of the national territory and inhabited by almost a
quarter of the country’s population – remained untended. Local development
mostly took the form of residual or compensative policies, always too unsystematic and fragmented to actually
revert the trends of impoverishment and depopulation that came to be associated
to the aree interne.
If we broaden our geographic focus, we discover that the issue of
territorial disparity is not peculiar to the Italian context. Indeed, in most
countries around the world it is possible to observe a similarly stark divide
between few attractive cities on one side and a multitude of small peripheral
towns and villages on the other side. Experts even coined the expressions ‘left-behind places’ and ‘places that don’t matter’to refer to those
areas that are excluded from an increasingly tight network of global cities. As
stressed by Filippo Tantillo, expert of territorial development, the European
inner areas have a lot in common and are characterised by the same dynamics, to
the point that ‘Blanca, in Spain, is more similar to Faeto, in Puglia
than it is to Madrid’. Indeed, in
spite of being diverse in terms of geographical conformation, history and local
culture, such areas share a common fragility, determined by the scarcity of
services and opportunities that is slowly causing their decay.
In an attempt to close this gap, the European Union has been addressing the issue of territorial disparity through its cohesion policy. While the focus on European regional development is not new, the past few years saw an important evolution in the way cohesion is conceived and implemented. Indeed, a debate arose regarding the need to develop a place-based and place-sensitive approach to tackle territorial inequalities, both among member countries and within each of them. This approach was introduced during the last budget period, and will be put to further test through the 2021-2027 cohesion policy, which states among its aims that of ‘supporting locally-led development strategies’.
Among the promotors of this paradigm shift was Fabrizio Barca, former Minister for Territorial Cohesion, who was also behind the development of the Italian National Strategy for Inner Areas (SNAI) launched in 2014. A joint effort bringing together the Agency for Territorial Cohesion, several Ministries and all levels of government from national to local, the strategy has an ambitious goal. It aims to revert the trends of depopulation, impoverishment and isolation that came to characterise the inner areas as a consequence of decades of neglect. It sets out to do so in two ways: on one side it focuses on improving the offer of essential public services that are often lacking in marginal areas, while on the other side it promotes place-based solutions to place-specific issues, involving in the process local stakeholders, communities and policymakers.
A few years after the launch of the Strategy, it is still too early to
fully assess the effects of the policy. However, it is possible to take stock
of the first achievements, as the SNAI experts Fabrizio Barca, Filippo Tantillo
and Giovanni Carrosio do in this conversation. In the first place, the Strategy has the merit of having brought inner
areas back into the political debate after years of neglect. Together with
this, it produced an important change in the way such areas are perceived, both
by their inhabitants and by policy makers. It reactivated the energies existing
on the territories by enabling local actors to actually have a space to present
and discuss their ideas and to access the resources needed to develop their
projects. Furthermore, the SNAI introduced a new way to look at the Italian
territory that goes beyond the classic North-South and city-countryside divides
and brings the focus on marginality, access to service and opportunities. In
spite of such important results, there are still some obstacles to the
implementation of the strategy, which often clashes with the too rigid
structures of local, regional and natural authorities, that are usually
reluctant to change.
When we become familiar with the fragility and widespread decay that
still characterises the majority of inner areas, the return to the villages
imagined by many observers during the global pandemic appears in a new and less optimistic light. If we want to go beyond a fleeting interest in these
territories, if we want our inner areas to be more than a mere refuge, we need
to make them more attractive. This can be done only by ensuring access to basic
services and by creating new economic, social and cultural opportunities, so
that these territories can become places where people will want to remain. Now
that the virus brought our attention to the inner areas, we have to maintain
this attention and to work towards a more structural transformation. The SNAI represents a first fundamental step in this
direction, but it needs to be accompanied by a broader change in the way we look
at different areas and regions. We will have to overcome the dichotomy between
centre and marginal areas, to move away from a rhetoric of winner and losers
and to focus on how to develop a paradigm able to account for and build on the
diversity that characterizes our territories.