Culture to Regenerate the City: An Urban Smart Mix

Marino Cavallo

This topic was discussed in the Smart City Sofa Summit 2020 on 16th June 2020 by the speaker Marino Cavallo, European project officer - Metropolitan City of Bologna

Another idea of Smart City concept

We owe to Richard Sennett the enlightening distinction between cité and ville (Sennett 2018). The first is structured and defined by the buildings, the streets, the connections between the different neighborhoods. The second is created by its inhabitants, it is nourished by the relationships between people and heterogeneous social groups that shape and transform it incessantly.

Plan the functions of the city from above is difficult, better to understand its key and characterizing aspects: the city is crooked – adapting the famous Kant’s quote: the “crooked timber” of humankind - it's open and it's modest (Sennett 2018). Consequently, it is necessary to follow the bumpy paths that make it grow and learn from the odds. It is not enough to mechanically replicate pre-constituted formulas good for every context, abstract rationalist forms planned in theory. Over time the deepest and most profound and relational meaning of cities has been lost, especially in the formulations very popular these days of “Smart Cities”: places defined by technologies and functional reductionism rather than by shared planning and listening to the energies that pass through people's living spaces.

Perhaps this technocratic drift stems from the strong role that large IT corporations have played in the diffusion of digital services for cities and territories. And this strong simplifying characterization is destined to be accentuated with new “smart technologies”. Big data, sensors, Internet of Things, virtual environments, redesign functions and services in hyper-connected metropolises; reconfigure territorial hierarchies and concentrations of opportunities and innovation (Castells 2017).

However, another idea of a city is possible, closer to the relational city of Sennett than to the business focused approach of IBM, CISCO, Amazon, and other software and ICT giants who immediately pledged to provide digital solutions for cities and urban areas. There is an alternative Smart city model, which is laboriously shaping up. It is supported by experiences of participation of the population, urban regeneration processes, and paths of citizen involvement in local development choices, creative use of technologies to support community processes of activation of new services (Bria e Morozov, 2018).

Bologna as “Smart creative city”

Cities like Amsterdam, Madrid, New York and Seoul, or, in Italy, Milan are trying to take different and original ways to draw the contours of a smart city more linked to participatory processes than to the pure and simple business of digital services. Or other cities, for example Bologna, are trying in these years to critically rethink the concept of “creative city” proposed by Richard Florida (Florida 2014). Cities that support the local youth cultural production rather than simple pre-packaged business models (designed to be able to attract mainly investors and venture capitalists).
Bologna may be defined as an "enabling platform" and a "port of entry". With more than 1 millions of inhabitants, its metropolitan area represents: a strategic hub for freight and human flows; a global reference for the cooperative movement and civic engagement; a business ecosystem with highly-competitive enterprises and international-wide research institutes; a cultural centre of excellence thanks to the presence of one of the most ancient and prestigious universities in Europe.

The City has been able to adopt policies of "smartness" based on a sustainable and shared paradigm of Smart City, for the enhancement of common goods and collaboration between citizens, businesses and the public administration. The ultra-wideband spread throughout the territory a civic network of public eService (one-stop-shop) for the reduction of bureaucratic procedures and tools for the civic collaboration that support social innovation and the development of the City in a Smart City perspective.

The combination of these factors has created the conditions for the development of its potential and for its configuration as a “creative city”
Bologna as “creative city” can count on the immense contribution represented by its “roots” (the “cultural heritage”) and “cultural vibrancy” (the “cultural and creative vitality”) as a lever for development and urban regeneration.

Thereby the City is trying to critically rethink the concept of “creative city” boosting the concept of “creative atmosphere”.
As a matter of fact, it is now clear to decision makers that attracting talent and encouraging creative classes is a privileged way to make urban areas alive, seductive, and competitive.

Places full of energy and ideas capable of depowering all those phenomena of gentrification of neighborhoods, which progressively - but inexorably - marginalize the settled social systems, the residents of the first hour, the native innovators.

The same technologies that in the near future can allow the overcome of our societal challenges are only a tools and not a result to aim at. Without sensible cultural policies technologies will remain merely techniques. An alternative Smart city model is possible thanks to a creative use of tech-solutions for boosting the civic engagement experiences of the population.

The way in which the different parties perceive each other is a key point and an urban regeneration processes shall foresee: paths of citizen involvement in local development choices; support community processes of new services (conceived by the users themselves) activation; different approaches for the construction of urban cultural areas.

As we have seen, so far smart cities have been conceived mainly as containers of advanced e-service: smart mobility, domotics, ultra-fast networks, cyber security, and remote control networks. Most of them are systems managed by new generation computer interfaces equipped with artificial intelligence, able to process sophisticated user profiles through the use of big data, develop advanced networks connected to bidirectional sensors that generate continuous feedback, design interactive objects thanks to microprocessors and digital connections.
However, there is an alternative direction that can be explored and create innovation and creative development for cities and metropolises. These are the projects that go in the earlier direction of the cooperative and open smart city, outlined by Sennett as an alternative to the closed and self-referential smart city (Sennett 2018). Sustainable, dialogic, interactive Smart Cities, capable of fostering and encouraging participation and learning from the energies and spontaneous and informal life practices of its inhabitants.

The Urban Regeneration Mix European project and the S3 Strategy of Emilia Romagna region

A project that seeks to disseminate such an approach is "Urban Regeneration Mix" (URM). The Metropolitan City of Bologna is participating in its consortium with the aim of improving the social dimension in process of urban re generation. The good practices developed within will be transferred in a network of six European cities (Łódź, Baena, Birmingham, Zagreb, Braga, Toulouse) fostering their equal involvement and strengthening the relations between the main stakeholders of the urban regeneration processes.

Concerning Bologna, project's interventions mainly focuses on spaces within the "Manifattura delle Arti" area for its culture-based regeneration (DAMSLab area in Bologna).

Culture is being used as an engine for growth in urban peripheries or areas with low rates of opportunity and citizen involvement to address these challenges: making the area more attractive for new inhabitants; increasing cultural and creative opportunities; working on spaces and potential capital; stimulate greater collaboration between cultural institutions, the public-private, young people, students, the city centre inhabitants; promoting entrepreneurship and creative work; develop greater opportunities in terms of social inclusion and innovation, to reduce the distances between citizens, city users, inhabitants, students, associations and neighbourhood associations.

The main aspect of URM project could be found in its actions for providing researchers and practitioners with information about the presence and role of arts and culture in communities and how arts and culture affect neighbourhood conditions and community dynamics.
Information that can be synthesized into four variables: (i) the presence of opportunities to participate; (ii) participation in its multiple dimensions; (iii) existing support systems for cultural participation; (iv) societal impacts of arts and culture.

The tasks described are also aimed at achieving concrete synergies with important guidelines issued by the Government of the Emilia-Romagna region. Our ambition is promote a pathway from projects to new policies based on culture: as a perspective of regeneration; as contribute to a better living environment; as a lever for tackle inequality and gentrification.

This governance for urban regeneration through the culture wants overcoming of the apparent dichotomy between culture and economy leading a culture-driven urban regeneration balanced with inclusive measures aimed at safeguarding the socio-economic diversity of the renovated neighbourhoods. In this way, we hopefully demonstrate that intrinsic values (culture) and instrumental values (economy) are not separated. The “arena” where we're going to play this game is the “Orange Economy”. This is the definition of “Cultural economy” provided by Smart Specializations Strategy of Emilia-Romagna region (S3 Strategy).

“S3 Strategy” uses research and innovation to connect the production system and the knowledge system. Thanks to its potential in social innovation, one of the emerging areas with high potential for expansion identified was the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCI). “S3 Strategy” defines this “Orange Economy” that includes: i) the core businesses creative and cultural industries (cultural heritage, multimedia, performing arts...); ii) the traditional enterprises «culture driven»; iii) cultural and sustainable tourism.

So far, an important direct support has been granted to the CCI for the implementation of “S3 Strategy”. Today, our biggest commitment is that this support continues to address unsolved problems and key issues i) the impact of the crisis and the effects of the corona virus on the cultural products consumptions; ii) alternative way to finance the cultural and creative industries iii) a stronger role of the crowd funding and innovative use of alternative finance and fundraising.

The challenges ahead of us are very difficult but the stakes are too important for us: the possibility of being able to keep on saying Bologna, ma belle ville!


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Author: Marino Cavallo

Mr Cavallo designs and co-ordinates economic research for the Industry, Trade and Craft division, and, since 2010, the research and innovation activities for the Economic Development Department of Bologna Metropolitan City. His activities include interventions in areas relevant to the production system such as the environmental qualification of industrial productive settlements, logistics improvements in businesses, social responsibility of companies and forms of accountability and innovative procurement. Partners of the recent research carried out include University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Trinity College of Dublin, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies (Pisa), Luiss University of Rome, Bocconi University of Milan, Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, IRS Institute for Social Research, ART-ER (Emilia-Romagna Joint Stock Consortium for the region’s sustainable growth by developing innovation and knowledge, attractiveness and internationalization of the region system), ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development) and the ITL Regional Institute for Transport and Logistics (founded by Emilia-Romagna Region, Provinces, Universities of Emilia-Romagna).

Mr Cavallo has presented at major conferences at international, national and regional levels on economic development, eco-innovation and design of new services for businesses. He is adjunct professor at the University of Bologna. He is a journalist and collaborates for the Italian online Journal “Smart City & Mobility Lab”. Mr Cavallo has been local project co-ordinator of different inter-regional co-operation projects funded by several European Programmes (Interreg VIC, Interreg Europe, Interreg Med, Interreg Adrion, Interreg Central Europe, LIFE+, ERASMUS+, URBACT III, Horizon 2020). He also represents the Metropolitan city of Bologna in international urban cooperation projects (IUC) for the implementation of the European Union's long-term strategy to promote sustainable urban development in cooperation with both the public and private sectors (interchanges between cities on the environment and urban resilience).

- N. Bellini, M. Cavallo, G. Lazzeri (edited by) (2019) Smart specialization: reappraising the local dimension, Franco Angeli
- M. Buemi, M. Cavallo, S. Pedrini (edited by) (2019) Communicating and Promoting Alternative Finance in Central Europe, Franco Angeli
- M. Cavallo and S. Spillare (edited by) (2018) Metropolitan agriculture and nature-based solutions, Franco Angeli
- M. Cavallo and D. Cencioni (edited by) (2017) Circular economy, benefits and good practices, Edizioni Ambiente
- M. Cavallo and E. Supino (edited by) (2014), Easy eService essence. Proceedings of the International Conference, Tipografia metropolitana Bologna
- M.Cavallo (edited by) (2014), Sustainable Consumption and Production in the Mediterranean Area, Bononia University Press.
- M. Cavallo and P. Parmiggiani (2013) Macro Benchmarking Study: Practices in Promoting Sustainability in the Small and Medium Enterprises and Exiting Gaps, Franco Angeli.
- M. Cavallo, P. Degli Esposti, K. Konstantinou, (2012) Handbook of Green communication and marketing, Franco Angeli

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