Urban Renewal

City of Turin > urban regeneration > urban renewal

Urban Renewal

In the mid-nineties the City of Turin started to cope with the issues of urban redevelopment and urban regeneration, implementing in the last ten to fifteen years a set of policies, tools and processes in the framework of two key factors either exogenous and endogenous affecting the transformation of the city.

On one hand, the crisis of Fordism which left more than six million square meters of dismissed industrial areas, imposed to re-consider not only the city identity, after being a factory-city during all the twentieth century but also to re-think about the large urban emptiness left which could be transformed - as the 80% of urban areas in Torino – and included in the Objective 2 of the European Structural Funds.

Moreover, investments for 2006 Olympic Winter Games gave a further impetus to urban transformation. A huge amount of national and transnational resources, both public and private, landed in Turin and major projects of urban transformation were developed. The core idea being, at that time, that the urban development plan was an instrument for managing and transforming the city: new districts and new urban centralities were created, such as the transformations of the “Backbones” of the city and the re-use of a massive number of large dismissed industrial sites.

On the other hand, over the same period, an urban crisis appeared, involving the dense, built up and inner areas: historical neighbourhoods like Porta Palazzo and San Salvario became stereotypes of conflicts, and citizens’ demand for security broke in the local political agenda often with an adversative and claiming approach, particularly regarding the new comers (migrants above all).

In those years, therefore, many diverse urban recovery and regeneration processes were launched in combination with integrated projects aiming to reinforcing the social texture, either in urban semi-central neighbourhoods such as Porta Palazzo and San Salvario, or in public housing blocks (by the means of Urban Recovery Programs, Neighbourhood Contracts and Local Development Actions). Since 1997 the city has used a big amount of regional, ministerial and European resources with the purpose of intervening on the “extraordinariness” of urban regeneration which was seen crucial for the re-composition of social cohesion in those city areas which were not affected by the major urban transformations.

Today we are at a stage where it is essential to move from a perspective of extraordinary interventions to ordinary ones, not only because the extraordinary resources are over, but also because it is essential that the extraordinary resources are useful to contaminate the culture of urban planning, and then used to improve the ordinary approach on territorial development issues.

The urban question requires a complex thought: we need to look at the city from a different perspective for acting on its structures, on its hardware. But often professionals involved in social work do not consider hardware as significant as it is, nevertheless the hardware could change people's lives. In the meantime it is essential to invest resources, energies, identities and conflicts which represent the software of cities. Similarly, the habit of those involved in infrastructures realisation consider software ancillary, not significant. But only the combination of hardware and software allows the city-factory to change, transform and become more cohesive.

The contemporary city unhinges the hierarchical design of centre and periphery, of what happened before and what will happen after, of the material and nonmaterial: invisible cities, submerged and hidden cities, cities that are in the interstices of the visible city, not necessarily at the borders but hidden, underground ones. So there is a need of a careful complex thinking able to offer elements for intervening on the complementarity of all the players for the achievement of common goals.

"Making the city" means to undertake strategic development visions that affect residents’ lives. If it is true that modernity is social mix rather than ethnic and cultural hybridisation, it is equally true that in the interstices of suburbs’ disorder and conflicts, languages, cultural forms, habits and identities are contaminated. These are places of extraordinary creativity, because on one hand there is a strategy of adaptation but, on the other one there are also creative responses that have to be accompanied and supported, but also read. The suburbs are the urban areas where the disagreeable, contradictory and distorted takes shape, a new meaning of city where local conflicts become explicit. We need to know that there are no shortcuts, there are no simple solutions and the responsibility we have is to understand the phenomena, acting to drive them.

The city then is a complex organization that needs area based projects for regenerating districts urban fabric. The city is already inhabited, and it is vital to work on "second generation" policies addressed to housing ensuring residents’ living quality and achieving an urban quality standard made of services, mixity, connections. It means offering secure and supportive policies in situations of social vulnerability, encouraging policies on social proximity, in order to establish networks and seek to ensure - as do fish nets at sea - that those who are heavier do not sink. The nets do not only fish, but they can maintain, keep up, lead to the surface.

Territories are made of complex layered forms, with spatial conformations that can not change and we have to take into account that they include spatial, economic, political and social organisations. We have to be aware that there are ongoing relations of power among different players, diversity and plurality of functions, uses and forms of living, of coexistence, conflict and social contamination. So the areas of our cities are places that, when you photograph them, are already obsolete, as rules and relationships among people, as well as problems are constantly changing.

Territories need external relations, involving the wider area as they can not be read only as a slide in the microscope, looking at their micro-situation. The matter is about transforming with the city and not transforming the city, having clear with whom we act, with whom negotiate the rules for an inclusive use of public spaces to generate opportunities within the city. The historical cities are born identifying spaces devoted to relations: squares, markets, parks which thus are the elements which formed the arena of residents’ relations.

The contemporary city has privatised public spaces standardizing and regulating their use: here children can play, elderly can stay there, down there you can go shopping. Often, new citizens - migrants - burst in public space breaking these rules: they use sidewalks, squares, parks and they may create conflict, disorder, noise. In fact, the negotiation of the rules re-affirm that public space belongs to everyone and therefore can be regulated, but only if all the involved actors can sit around the same table (i.e. seniors but also Bangladeshi or Pakistani kids playing cricket in the squares or Peruvian women cooking on Sunday in public parks for their fellows countrymen). To acknowledge the right of socialization in public space means to highlight the primacy of the city and stating the right to assemble in the public arena.
Providing tools to local communities, networking cultural and economic resources means to take the issue of social sustainability of urban transformation. Any process of urban regeneration contains the risk of gentrification, of the expulsion of the most vulnerable population. We must protect those residents providing tools to increase their quality of life, while maintaining the connections of proximity, working on the development of local identity, memory, history. Working to settle the changes. These processes need mid to long range timing and time is not an independent variable.

It is thus necessary to adopt:

  • A comprehensive approach looking at the city as a whole, improving the quality of life and promoting a cross-cutting approach in order to integrate qualified players and overcome the sector-based attitude by the fields of competence, to renew the systems and styles of work;
  • A territorial approach linking general policies to specific areas, mobilizing energies and social resources as well as local institutions, enhancing the specificity of each territory;
  • A project framework that includes participation, association and partnership not to be built in an abstract way but using a project design process where players can really exchange their points of view.

Today we think it is necessary to implement ordinary instruments and actions in order to include the processes maintenance, widening the meshes of public policies not only to those facing risks but also to those living at the edge, encouraging mixity to avoid that discomfort, dependence and passivity become chronic. For achieving this I think it is fundamental to strengthen citizens’ trust on governance.

Governance authority is the ability to take responsibility upon ourselves, weighting people’ words, including differences and being able to choose and listen to.
I believe that the authority of public and private governance, as well as the one of those who have a collective responsibility is crucial to put in the middle the long term actions.
And, if not now, when?

Ilda Curti Deputy Mayor
Integration and Urban Regeneration Policies