«Regaining Spaces and Territories. Reflections about the blank side of Italy»

Giovanni Campagnoli and Roberto Tognetti. Tafter Journal, num. 90, September/October 2016

«Introduction: People Without Spaces Vs. Spaces Without People

»Just few years ago, Italy was a Country with more people than spaces. Nowadays, we’re living the opposite conditions: Italy is a Country full of spaces but without people. In Italy we build 8 meters per second, the urbanization rate grew of the 400% between the Post-War period and the 2000, in the same period, the population grew only of the 27%.

»Depreciation of real-estate goods, due also to the increment of the supply-side of the market, generated an over-production crisis that, as occurred in Spain and in US, has been the origin of other and more complex difficulties of the entire economic system, generating other structural crises.

»It is not a case, thus, that this economic phase is lasting since 2008 and that today in Italy we have more than 6 million real-estate goods that are unused or underused (that is two times the city of Rome completely uninhabited).

»These goods are residential buildings (5 millions), public, semi-public and private buildings as, for example empty factories or abandoned industrial buildings, abandoned schools, buildings owned by mutual aid societies or People’s House cooperatives, Winemaking Cooperatives, colonies, and other closed spaces owned by municipalities (hospitals, neighborhood branches, schools and other spaces donated by private citizens as e. g. bequests), abandoned rail stations, buildings confiscated to the mafia, ghost towns, unused road worker’s houses, and many other cases could fill in the list of the parts of Italy that we let go.

»Italy and Its Non-Acted capital

»Based on data expressed in figure 1, the Censis (the Study Center for Social Investments) states that Italy represent a country with a non-acted capital, because Italy monetizes just a very few part of its Cultural Heritage ( about EUR 330 billion). Furthermore, we have to add the money-value of the assets that public and charity institutions could inherit by 2020 (almost EUR 105 billion) from 340 thousand families that have no sons, relatives or cohabitants.

»Nevertheless, today the availability of spaces is increasing also due to changes and transformation of productive processes, prompted by new manufacturing models, which underline that the productive system that ruled our economies during the last 60-70 years is neither the only possible choice nor the more efficient one.

»These evidences are signals of an economic transition, which points out the end of a society based on the binary logic that counterposes the supporters of a public-oriented approach to the supporters of a private-oriented paradigm.

»This remodeling action of the current economic paradigm, implies a diverse conception of the cities and of the inhabiting. Today, more and more proposals relate to “hybrid spaces” that, until recently, were conceived as marginal sites or “historic memories”. These proposals are a clear proof that today we’re making the future, and that this future is made by innovation, micro-enterprises and creative talents, as well as by the engagement and the active roles of the communities.

»These experiences have cultural, innovative or creative vocations, and they’re often represented by participative-bottom-up experiences. No matter in which geographical areas they’re located nor the initial intended use of the spaces involved. What it really matters is that the objective of these experiences is to fill those spaces with passions, ideas, talent, and competencies. Starting from the peripheries.

»Figure 2 confirms that today, the topic of the re-use or the regeneration of spaces, is a topic that relates particularly the urban territories, above all medium and large cities, where the empty-spaces’ phenomenon is well perceivable because of its dimension and its spread. In small cities and towns, the topic, even assuming reduced dimensions, represents an interesting opportunity.

»This is proved also by the number of participating projects to the Culturability call for proposal: 522 submitted projects and one third were located in Puglia, Sicilia and Campania. Furthermore, data about the previous edition underlines that the 40% of the submitted projects were located in small towns.

»Other confirmations come from the ministerial call for proposals: Giovani per la valorizzazione dei beni pubblici (Youth for the valorization of public-owned goods), which was aimed at re-using common spaces located in the regions of the “Obiettivo Convergenza”. The participation has been enormous: 590 submitted projects and 66 of them have been funded.

»Filling the blanks with talented people

»The re-use and the valorization of empty spaces is a phenomenon that, in most of the cases, grows spontaneously, more and more starting from the private initiative of citizens, often young pioneers and other teams composed by cultural and social innovators.

»These emerging actions remain out of the spotlight but, thanks to the relevance of the initiatives that take place in this spaces, the awareness that this process could represent a new economic model, based upon new values and paradigms, is increasing.

»In the same way we assist to the birth of new “knowledge factories”, co-working experiences, start-up incubators and accelerators, green building projects, new places for the arts and the culture, new welfare hypotheses, sharing economy forms (where the usage prevails over the property), strategies of valorization of intangible assets (starting from knowledge and training), renewable energy, urban regeneration and social innovation actions.

»Added to this, it is useful to remember that the implemented re-used experiences, have transformed underused buildings in common spaces, and that the projects that embraced club or private logics, are very few.

»By analyzing these experiences, we can underline that most of the cases are built upon cooperation and the sharing, as well as an interdisciplinary approach in problem-solving activities, where knowledges are preceived as a tool and not as a goal.

»These experimentations give rise to these new places that represent new Botteghe di Mestieri e di Professioni” that we could compare with the “renaissance workshops” that contributed to the exit from the economic crisis of previous era (the Middle-Age) and built a class of innovators, artists and inventors of such a relevance that today we’re still talking about it.

»In a more recent period, a “bottega” has been the garage of Steve Jobs in Palo Alto, with his LPs of Bach and Janis Joplin, the books about hippies and the zen culture, a place that he shared with other colleagues and from where he started his great adventure. As well as a “bottega” have been the Andy Warhol’s Factory or the Beatles practice room, etc.

»The difference is that, during those years, many were looking for exclusive spaces, while today these projects are looking for shared spaces. The relevance of this sharing attitude is crucial, because it is for this attitude that new experiences are able to face several and more complex issues. These projects attempt to re-using and renewing empty spaces, proposing a multi-dimension and deal with culture, arts and creativity, innovation, social impact measurement, welfare, networks development, economic sustainability, youth employment.»

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