The crisis generated by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the immediate future represents a social and economic disaster of global reach. Combining it with the precarious circumstances which affect Italy makes it extremely difficult but truly significant to consider this drama an enormous opportunity for rethinking the cities and the entire urban-territorial system of the country.
In fact, it seems reductive today to speak of a city without relocating it to a broader scenario that embraces the metropolitan territory, the infrastructures and the landscapes which the majority of Italian urban centres belong to.
Milan is the most representative reality that cannot be identified with the borders of the municipality, but which extends to the entire productive-agricultural-tertiary system that revolves around it and feeds it at the same time.
The connection of the city of Milan with the municipalities adjacent to its borders and the wider territory and that historically belongs to the whole ‘Po Valley’, makes it a territory of production excellence, of permanent innovation and with great human resources despite the industrial reconversion to the tertiary sector.
It is worth mentioning that the most important projects under construction are crossing the city borders such as the case of the EXPO site (today named MIND), which strictly interrelates with the Fiera area and the Cascina Merlata masterplan and is pulling together a partnership among the private stakeholders and the municipalities of Milan and Rho-Pero; or similarly the development of the Falck brownfield in Sesto and the Citta’ della Salute along the axis which connects Milan with Monza; and finally the project of Milano Santa Giulia in the south-east perimeter that together with Porta Romana and several other projects will foster the Milano-Cortina duo for the Olympic games of 2026.
These projects highlight the importance of creating clusters of specific competencies that go beyond political city boundaries, and where cooperation among businesses, entrepreneurs and companies in the same sector, established in the metropolitan area of Milan corresponding to the industries of ‘life sciences’ and healthcare, of Universities and Scientific research, Internet-Technologies and Artificial-Intelligence, can produce effects of scale thanks to the proximity of the entire supply chain and the exchange of research, innovation and production. This is the case of the fashion and footwear industry (design, production, sale) which extends to Varese and the whole of Brianza; of the mechanics and electronics industry spread out in the north-east area of Milan that reaches Bergamo and even Brescia; of the biotechnologies-agriculture-food segment which is located in the east-south area of Milan, and finally of the design and furniture industry that rotates around the whole Milan region.
In such a dynamic and fragile context, which today shows huge instability, it is essential to strengthen regeneration processes that make the urban and territorial system more resilient, as well as procedures that reinforce the environmental, social and economic structure, in order to update a historical-cultural heritage that is a vital resource for our country, but above all to reconvert a post-industrial apparatus close to town centres, by renovating infrastructures and establishing a constant dialogue with the environment and the surrounding landscape.
This renewal should be led by strategic interventions at the territorial scale, embracing the entire country, where the real estate world engages with the new physical, technological and IT infrastructures necessary to make the urban machine work better, with greater attention to social-economic sustainability and energy supply.
The projects developed in Milan in recent years represent a virtuous example of dialogue between public administration and the private stakeholders involved in the city regeneration procedures that have also included citizens, aiming to design a sustainable and less polluted city, with new public spaces, parks and infrastructures, which will make Milan more efficient and liveable.
The pulley effect generated with schemes designed by international firms has drawn the attention of the debate to the real estate sector, which has primary importance in the economy of our country, showing that the quality of architectural projects is fundamental to attracting foreign capital, and can generate great benefits for the community as well.
The outcomes have been affecting the city on many levels starting with the candidature of Milan for Expo 2015 in 2009. The city since then has pursued a course of regeneration that has involved the water canals and the dock in Porta Genova, as well as many other brownfields. In fact, with a series of proposals, Milan has triggered a complex strategy of urban regeneration, which is touching central areas, the railway belt and the train stations, as well as suburbs born along the historical axes of city expansion.
This vision aims to decongest a municipality that is still strongly monocentric by developing new multifunctional poles. This goal has been partly achieved with the construction of the Porta Nuova and CityLife districts. The regeneration of these areas, begun in 2005, has clearly produced a positive effect on the surrounding neighbourhoods. The most striking one is visible in the Isola district, turned from a ‘red district’ into one of the most attractive areas, full of retail shops, and has seen housing prices increase by more than 32% since 2014, as also happened to the Arona/Losanna neighbourhood where prices rose by 29%.
Porta Nuova and CityLife, have carried out a new approach to urban development that distinguishes them from previous projects constructed in Milan in the last decades. First of all, the city space becomes the generating nucleus of the project: the square creates the urban-ness necessary to make a place public and attractive for citizens, and the buildings which rise around it host the commercial functions that contribute to the vitality of the place.
Both the schemes concentrate density in a few high-rise buildings, freeing the space on the ground level to develop a new urban park, a unicum green field that links the project with the rest of the city.
This choice becomes one of the main keystones of the architectural competitions concerning all the railway stations, a green park to be designed on each brownfield site around the rail belt to form a system, on an urban scale, able to establish relationships that go beyond the single plot of land but that involve the entire city. The green park is asked to maintain its unity, identity and solidity in all the new projects (railway stations)) where the green areas should cover at least 50% of the surrounding surface.
The public green space also becomes the main feature of many other projects such as Cascina Merlata, Santa Giulia and San Siro, peripheral areas which offer a greater degree of liveability thanks to the amount of vegetation, services and larger spaces pertaining to residences.
The challenge launched by all the new projects on the margin of the city, including the Falck areas, it is to generate a new lifestyle that is more sustainable and technological without forgetting the most vulnerable people, while reinventing the urban-ness typical of cities with an environment- friendly approach but maintaining a pretty high density.
The peripheral areas will no longer be ”another city”, but a real alternative to an increasingly less attractive and congested centre.
The new "rules" of the Milan ”PGT”, will make use of adaptable and innovative principles for management of the city. The commitment made to specific "special" redevelopment and the improvement of the railway network will be the challenge Milan is going to face in coming years in order to improve its position in the European ranking of the most liveable and sustainable metropolitan areas.
In order to achieve this target, the policies implemented by the Lombard capital in recent years will certainly have to be extended to an interregional scale, in order to build geographical and economic synergies with the wider region as is happening already for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
But the changes generated by the pandemic will require additional efforts: to work on a scheme of lighter and safer infrastructures that needs to be capillary; to develop a system of transport that is more synergistic and able to process data in real-time so that it can grow in efficiency in order to manage flows of people and materials in an intelligent way and distribute them throughout the day.
Flexibility in the labour sector will have to embrace private individuals as much as institutions responding to citizens’ needs.
Cities like Milan will undoubtedly have a dominant role in the future of humankind, but will have to build a network that brings value to the surrounding towns of small and medium size that revolve around them.
It will be important to establish stronger relationships and build a strategic vision to manage the metropolitan region with the other urban centres by constructing faster and more technological infrastructures (i.e. cross rails) bringing them closer within 45 minutes’ distance and even going beyond national borders.
The currently fragile and precarious ecological systems will need to be re-established alongside health organizations to work coherently on a much healthier lifestyle that is monitoring and supporting individuals on a daily basis, rather than reacting only to emergencies.
This is a difficult but necessary path to follow to let the metropolis of the future be truly sustainable, safe, efficient and inclusive for all groups of people.