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  • Writer's pictureIHS Alumni

Public spaces in transition: the Spazi Centrali project in Milan

Milan, Italy, is currently a city recognized as a word capital in luxury, fashion and design. However, this was not always the case as during the twentieth century the character of Milan was mainly industrial. This transition resulted in the presence of vacant buildings in the city center, vast abandoned industrial spaces such as factories, aging infrastructure like viaducts or train rails spreading through the everchanging urban grid. As in other cases this change from an industrial city to a world capital led to the loss of some of the typical neighbourhood vitality.

Trying to revive these “brownfields” and their surrounding public spaces, the vision for the city unfolds around the concept of “Public city”. It arises from the observation that the city of Milan has limited necessity for physical expansion, as it is marked by the presence of many vacant locations with the potential of regeneration. Therefore, the “Public city” vision is underlined by the idea of a polycentric network of public spaces. To implement this vision, the challenge is to transform these abandoned spaces by integrating social and economic considerations into the spatial sphere, creating places for people. In order for this aim to succeed, it is necessary to involve the actual users of the spaces, make sure that their needs and ideas are met, and create a sense of ownership.

Snapshots of the areas along the viaduct of Milan’s central railway station

A concrete example of such an area can be found in Milan’s Zona 2, where the central railway station of the city is located. Currently a black spot between the neighbourhoods of Greco, Rovereto, from a physical point of view, the railway viaduct of Stazione Centrale represents a strong barrier bisecting the neighbourhood and limiting the flows and interactions between the areas adjacent to it to four tunnel connections. From a social point of view, the decline of the economic activities taking place in the aging arches has created a deserted place with limited flexibility for social and economic interactions. Due to the advantage of being easily accessible from the central station of Milan, the potential of the area has been recognized by the city and entrepreneurs. As a result, in the coming years it will be attracting investments aiming to redevelop the existing, decaying infrastructure into a major shopping and cultural hub for Milan. But is this good or bad news?

As in most major urban transformation, this process is likely to bring about both positive and negative effects to the local communities. What is key is to understand how the transformation will reflect on the lives of the residents and users of the area. And, as part of our work as urban professionals, to make sure that in the end, benefits will outweigh the negative impacts. A way to do so is to involve local communities in the process from the very early stages, supporting them in expressing their opinions, ideas, needs and dreams for the redevelopment of the most vital commons of our cities: public spaces.

In this context, Associazione 4 Tunnel and I Am My City joined forces for the “Spazi Centrali” (“Central Spaces”) project. The project aims to initiate and facilitate a process that will layout the circumstances for a co-created neighbourhood, along the exits of the railway viaduct tunnels. The intention of the Spazi Centrali project is to create an impact, rather than the specific outcome: initiating a long-term process of creating social bonds, introducing the community to the potential of their neighbourhood, raising awareness for the spatial, social, economic and institutional aspects of city-making, spreading the ideas of participation and co-creation of our urban future. Our local partners (and team member) are our important allies on this mission, making it possible to connect our ideas directly to the context of the area.

The project is implemented as part of the “Open Call Sfide Urbane” that was launched by the Dutch diplomatic missions in Italy within the semester of the Dutch presidency of the EU, which sees the urban dimension at the core of the political agenda. The Spazi Centrali workshops will take place between 6-8 May in Milan. If you would like to stay up-to-date with our activities, you are welcome to visit our website or like our facebook page. And if you are around Milan at that time, you are more than welcome to join us!

I am my city is a platform for the facilitation of urban processes, focusing on all dimensions of urban public space. To check it out, visit the I am my city website and facebook page.


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