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Italy without Urban ‘Sprinkling’. A Uchronia for a Country that Needs a Retrofit of Its Urban and Landscape Planning


Abstract and Figures

The research presented in the work is linked to important production of data over 10 years of activity that allowed us to trace the configuration of Italian urban settlements in the 1950s. Starting from this information, the paper puts forward a uchronian reconstruction of the physiognomy of the national territory asking if-instead of the weak urban development policies implemented for over half a century-a more purposeful method of planning and designing settlements had been chosen in the Sixties to favor their aggregation and protect the country's huge landscape heritage. From the model used, important indications emerge for control and management of retrofit (de-sprinkling) policies of which the need has been felt in recent years, as suggested by repeated messages from European bodies, the scientific community, associations and some politicians. The uchronic scenario is constructed starting from the settlement configuration of the 1950s, developing a model of maximum aggregation for the urbanized parts that were intervened in between this period and 2000, simulating a geography that maintains the quantities of soil transformed over the last 50 years. It emerges from the processing of the data that the Italian territory would have retained its low settlement density areas almost intact at the same level as in the 50s, that is to say 73% of the entire peninsular territory. It would also have preserved a large part of its free peninsular and insular coastline at about 60-70%, against the present day 45%.
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Italy without Urban ‘Sprinkling’. A Uchronia for a
Country that Needs a Retrofit of Its Urban and
Landscape Planning
Bernardino Romano * , Lorena Fiorini and Alessandro Marucci
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of L’Aquila, 67100 L’Aquila, Italy; (L.F.); (A.M.)
Received: 27 May 2019; Accepted: 20 June 2019; Published: 24 June 2019
The research presented in the work is linked to important production of data over 10 years
of activity that allowed us to trace the configuration of Italian urban settlements in the 1950s. Starting
from this information, the paper puts forward a uchronian reconstruction of the physiognomy of the
national territory asking if—instead of the weak urban development policies implemented for over
half a century—a more purposeful method of planning and designing settlements had been chosen in
the Sixties to favor their aggregation and protect the country’s huge landscape heritage. From the
model used, important indications emerge for control and management of retrofit (de-sprinkling)
policies of which the need has been felt in recent years, as suggested by repeated messages from
European bodies, the scientific community, associations and some politicians. The uchronic scenario is
constructed starting from the settlement configuration of the 1950s, developing a model of maximum
aggregation for the urbanized parts that were intervened in between this period and 2000, simulating
a geography that maintains the quantities of soil transformed over the last 50 years. It emerges from
the processing of the data that the Italian territory would have retained its low settlement density
areas almost intact at the same level as in the 50s, that is to say 73% of the entire peninsular territory.
It would also have preserved a large part of its free peninsular and insular coastline at about 60–70%,
against the present day 45%.
Keywords: land use change; land take scenario; urban growth
1. Introduction
What would present-day Italy be like, if instead of implementing scarcely supervised procedures
fostering fragmentary settlement growth, dierent decisions had been adopted in the Sixties favoring a
form of territorial governance that was more mindful of public interests and not driven by ultra-powerful
building sector enterprises? What would it be like in 30 years’ time if, instead of continuing as it has,
territorial governance took a dierent direction and territorial planning were strengthened significantly?
Numerous international studies and articles have shown in past years that Italian urban settlements
follow one of the most dispersive models in Europe entailing extremely disparate and severe issues [
As is well known, many northern European Union (EU) countries are aected by extensive forms
of sprawl [
], but in Italy’s case, a dierent pattern has been described, called “sprinkling”, much
more finely dispersed and spontaneous, scarcely regulated by territorial planning tools and almost
lacking in preventive urban planning [
]. This is the substantial dierence: sprawl implies “patchy”
growth, while sprinkling is “finely dispersed” growth. Built-up land (Figure 1), including the dense
road network, covers almost 10% of the national territory in Italy, equal to the surface area of Belgium.
Of course, both the “sprawl” and the “sprinkling” are forms of low-density urban expansion on
very extensive territorial surfaces, but sprinkling cannot be considered a particular case of urban sprawl,
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469; doi:10.3390/su11123469
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 2 of 16
because the two structures have a dierent origin that depends on very dierentiated approaches
to urban planning, housing culture and building/territorial policy. In fact it is quite dicult to find
mixed models in the same countries, at least as far as the settlement developed in the most recent
decades is concerned: sprawl and sprinkling represent “signatures” of very clear settlement behavior
in the contemporary urban landscape of the various countries, at least European. Regarding the
issues and pathological aspects of these configurations of urbanized areas, it is possible to consult the
numerous works published over the past decade that have also involved European and international
institutions [1014].
Even the events that caused the current Italian settlement model, starting from the Marshall
Plan after World War II [
], have been described in detail by the authors of this paper in some
other previous articles [
] to which reference is made for further details. This paper puts forward a
uchronian reconstruction of the physiognomy of the national territory, if—instead of the weak urban
development policies implemented for over half a century—a more purposeful method of planning and
designing settlements had been chosen in the Sixties to favor their aggregation and protect the country’s
huge landscape heritage. This is not an exercise of inferential simulation of urban development, widely
used in international literature for years [
], nor fantasy urban planning. The uchronia produced
may be useful in understanding the severe degradation caused by over half a century of low territorial
control. It can also serve as a starting point for the development of retrofit (de-sprinkling) policies of
which the need has been felt in recent years, as suggested by repeated messages from the scientific
community, associations and some politicians [2527].
Figure 1.
The characteristic pattern of Italian urban “sprinkling” in a flat area between the regions of
Lazio and Abruzzo (central Italy).
2. Methods, Data, and Study Area
Why did we use a uchronian method? As is well known, this is a theoretical development
hypothesis, diering from what has actually occurred. However it plots a course that would actually
have been possible and, therefore, not merely imaginary. The main goal of the uchronia, in this
case, consists in analytically proving, through the use of specific indicators, that an alternative
development of the geographical distribution and density of Italian urbanized areas could have been
achieved using an appropriate methodological approach and the necessary political ability. Proving
the possible implementation of this alternative hypothesis and its advantages helps show that today
it is still possible to work using a better method, whilst gaining awareness of the mistakes made
according to the lesson-learning criterion. A critique that could be made of the uchronian hypothesis
is that our present-day, more advanced cultural vision allows us to perceive issues dierently and
implement solutions using tools there were not available 50 years ago. However, in the case of
settlement physiognomy this argument is not sound, since in the years in which Italian cities and
infrastructure grew at a fast pace, the same occurred in other northern European countries, but using
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 3 of 16
more ecient town planning governance criteria and modalities that have led to far better results from
numerous viewpoints.
We extended our study to the entire national territory using 3
3 km (9 km
) plots. On the basis
of these plots, we calculated urbanization density in the 1950s and in the post-2000 period.
The data used for the chronological section of the 1950s come from the 1: 25.000 cartography
by the Italian Military Geographical Institute (IGMI) between 1949 and 1962 and the methodological
aspects have been repeatedly emphasized in other articles by the same authors [
], to which we
refer for details. In these articles, however, the data on historical urbanization have been used only
for the comparison with the current settlement situation to analyze and diagnose the evolutionary
dynamics of urban growth, while the objective of the present work is to design an alternative model of
settlement development starting from the same start condition of the 50s.
The results obtained from the study on 1:25,000 maps were then compared with those of urbanized
areas available in vector format from regional maps generally derived from photo interpretation on
a nominal scale of 1:10,000 or 1:5000. All Italian regions have produced land-use maps (LUMs) or
regional technical maps covering the entire territory, almost always available on institutional geoportals.
These maps allow you to select urbanized surfaces of various sorts. Although the level of accuracy of
surveys is very high, there is an issue regarding the heterogeneity of data, both in terms of acquisition
techniques and updating dates. The scale of detail is fairly standardized and generally of about
1:10.000, while the updating interval ranges between 2001 and 2012. Nine regions out of 20 have data
dating back to around 2000, another nine updated their data around 2007, while only two (Liguria
and Basilicata) have more recent data, ranging between 2012 and 2015. At first glance, a time interval
over 10 years might seem too long to define the physiognomy of “post 2000” settlements uniformly.
However, most changes in Italian urbanized areas occurred between the ’60s and the ’90s, while in the
following years their growth slowed down considerably, especially in more saturated areas or areas
having limited economic dynamics. In this regard, the comparison made using Corine Land Cover
(CLC) data shows that between 1990 and 2000 urbanized areas grew by 10%, while between 1950 and
2000 they grew by 270% [28](Büttner et al., 2004).
More up-to-date and ecient data were produced from 2015 onwards by the National
Environmental Research Institute [29].
For this study we chose to use regional LUM data and not the ISPRA data updated in 2017, since
the latter also include surfaces covered by some categories of interurban roads (not separable) and,
therefore, cannot be compared with the ’50s data that did not include these elements. The urbanized
areas surveyed by ISPRA [
] exceed those of regional LUMs by approximately 260,000 ha. This can
be ascribed, in part, to the increase that has occurred over the past 10 years, but also largely to the
inclusion of the road network amounting to almost 200,000 km out of the approximately 870,000 total
in Italy comprising all categories (railway, highway, motorway, primary, secondary, tertiary, residential)
extract by
This concept can be translated using the following equation (Figure 2):
S0050 =Xm
S00-50 =Su00 Su50 (2)
Si (3)
Si =plot surfaces making up the analysis grid
Su00 =Urban area Noughties
Su50 =Urban area 50s
di=Urban density of i-teenth plot
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 4 of 16
where mis the minimum number of plots which, with urban density in decreasing order, reaches the
void density threshold (cut odensity-dco) equal to S00-50 (Table 1).
Figure 2. Diagram of the surfaces considered in 3 ×3 km plots.
We performed our simulation using the same demographic growth and the same urbanized
surfaces, considering those listed in our Introduction. We included areas classified as such in the
functional meaning of the term, like public parks, private gardens, squares and ancillary areas. The
results obtained did not postulate vertical construction or volume increase scenarios, thus keeping the
following parameters constant at regional level:
Supc =Su
UDreg =Su
Sreg (5)
Us =S0050
Supc =Per capita urbanization (m2/inhab)
Su=Urbanized area (ha)
ninhab =Number of resident inhabitants
UDreg =Mean regional urban density (%)
Sreg =Regional area (ha)
Us =Mean urbanization rate (m2/day)
t=50 years (18.250 days)
3. Results
Between the ’50s and the year 2000 Italian urbanized areas, defined as mentioned previously,
increased by almost 1.5 million hectares. This is equivalent to a three-fold increase compared to the
immediate post-war period, exceeding 7% of the entire national territory and reaching 10%, if we
include all road surfaces too. However, some regions, such as Puglia and Tuscany, have witnessed
five-fold increases, with profound changes in their landscape and territorial physiognomies. This has
also been the case in Lombardy and Veneto, the Italian regions with the highest urban density, now
at 14%. By applying function (1), we were able to develop a countrywide simulation of the extreme
compaction of urbanized parts over the past half a century, maintaining their overall value (1.5 million
hectares) as an invariant. Through the curves shown in Figure 3, we obtained the cutourban density
) for every region, where d
is the urban limit density above which the uchronic model foresees the
filling to receive all the urbanized surface realized from the 50s to 2000.
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Figure 3.
Curves for the determination of cutourban density, with the indication of the d
(ha–y-axis) values in ha for each Italian region (only Lombardy has a dierent scale on the
y-axis for reasons tied to its size).
In other words, this threshold includes the minimum number of 9 km
plots that would have to
be 100% saturated to contain all “new” urban areas in the region, thus avoiding the distribution of
these transformed surfaces over large sections of farmland and semi-natural/natural areas. From this
definition of the d
we are able to deduce that a low d
threshold is obtained when a limited urban
increase (
) intervenes in a territory that previously had a high level of dispersion. However,
at the same limited
value, if it intervenes in cases of greater historical urban concentration,
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 6 of 16
it corresponds to a high d
value, and in determining these conditions geo-morphologies, types of
economy and, consequently, the historical development of the settlement in the various regions.
This classification emerges from Figure 3, in which various appear homogeneity in the latitudinal
areas of the country: values above the national mean d
occur mainly in northern Italian regions and
are higher in smaller and morphologically harsher territories (Valle d’Aosta, Friuli V.G. and Liguria),
as well as in some central and southern regions, such as Marche, Umbria and Campania. There have
been high urban concentration levels in interstitial valleys and lowlands in these areas since the ‘50s,
while given its size Campania has witnessed a rather significant increase in
. The remaining
central and southern regions have increasingly lower values that drop below 3% in mountainous or
smaller regions (Abruzzo, Molise and Basilicata), or regions with vaster lowlands and relatively high
settlement dispersion already in the ’50s (Puglia, Tuscany and Emilia Romagna). All regions are far
from the national mean d
value with a rather high standard deviation of 60% compared to the mean.
Based on these considerations, from Table 1we may deduce that of the 11 Italian regions having a
>0.065 (above the national mean, Figure 4) almost all, excluding Veneto and Lombardy, owe their
high cutovalues to relatively limited urban growth in the time period considered. By contrast, of
the nine regions with a d
<0.065, at least 4 (Puglia, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Lazio) owe their
low cutoto a relatively significant
increase. At any rate, Figure 3shows that d
values dier
greatly from region to region: values range between 2% and 14%. Table 1and Figure 5, highlight that
the most significant correlations are tied to regional urban density and size of the same regions: the
smaller the regions, the higher the threshold, which however rises slightly in the case of very vast
regions. Therefore, we can confirm that d
depends mostly on mean regional urban density in the ’50s,
but also on size and morphology of regions, as well as urban growth in the time period considered.
Figure 4. Mean dco value for Italy.
Figure 5.
Correlation curves between d
and mean regional urban density in the 1950s (
) and regional
territorial size (b).
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 7 of 16
Table 1.
Summary of the indicators used and their latitudinal breakdown in the country (N-North,
C-Center, S-South).
Region Regional
Area (kmq)
Mean Urban
Density 50s (%)
Urban Density
50s-2000 (%) S00-50(ha) dco (%) Latitude
Valle d’Aosta 3260.92 0.070 0.007 2438 0.148 N
dco >6,5%
Friuli V.G. 7859.92 0.043 0.046 36470 0.143 N
Liguria 5405.9 0.024 0.033 17780 0.109 N
Umbria 8461.07 0.019 0.018 15448 0.102 C
Campania 13670.59 0.024 0.046 62315 0.100 S
Piedmont 25387.07 0.035 0.055 138599 0.089 N
Veneto 18415.46 0.037 0.080 147009 0.081 N
Marche 9727.7 0.017 0.034 32715 0.075 C
Lombardy 23863.86 0.040 0.103 246323 0.073 N
Trentino A.A. 13604.72 0.008 0.013 17591 0.070 N
Sicily 25832 0.013 0.036 93719 0.068 S
Puglia 19533.85 0.011 0.054 104801 0.050 S
dco <6,5%
Sardinia 24083.61 0.005 0.025 61321 0.040 S
22123.24 0.015 0.079 175122 0.039 N
Calabria 15221.61 0.009 0.042 64515 0.034 S
Abruzzo 10826.99 0.007 0.028 30169 0.033 S
Tuscany 22986.58 0.009 0.050 113866 0.030 C
Molise 4461.03 0.005 0.021 9351 0.025 S
Lazio 17206.403 0.015 0.066 113908 0.023 C
Basilicata 9986.27 0.002 0.016 16227 0.021 S
ITALY 301918.793 0.018 0.050 1499686 0.065
This independence in land transformation is very evident even in the diagrams showing settlement
scenarios tied to the uchronian simulation (Figure 6).
The curves in Figure 6were plotted by placing on the x-axis the six urban density (UD) ranges
of the 3
3 km plots corresponding to the following urbanization threshold levels: irrelevant (<2%),
rural (5%), peri-urban (10%), semi-saturated urban fabric (25%) and saturated urban fabric (50%).
On the y-axis we have the percentage of plots in each region corresponding to the six dierent UD
ranges. The three plotted curves show the situation in the immediate post-World War II period
(‘50s), in 2000 (Noughties) and in the hypothetical uchronian scenario of maximum compaction of
urban growth. If we focus our attention on the curve of the first time period (‘50s), we see significant
dierences in the three latitudinal areas of the country: North, Center and South. In the northern
regions, the rate of virtually undisturbed plots (UD <2%) was predominant and nearing 100% in
territories having a mountainous morphology, such as Valle d’Aosta and Trentino A.A., while it
was still high (>75%) in Liguria (this region too is very small and has an unfavorable morphology)
and Emilia Romagna (a region having an almost entirely rural economy). The regions that already
had industrial production sites and extremely dispersed settlement forms had far lower rates of low
urban-density plots, amounting to 50% or less. Excluding Umbria, Marche and Campania, which are
peninsular, hilly regions historically marked by significant settlement dispersion, all the other central
and southern regions had extremely high values (still nearing 100%) in the territorial sections with a
UD <2%. Even the national mean (Figure 7) is in line with the mean of southern regions of around
75%. The situation changes radically after 2000, when this dispersive model spreads to all regions,
leading to a significant drop in non-urbanized territorial sections (UD <2%) that are halved almost
everywhere. Only mountainous regions in the North (Valle d’Aosta and Trentino) and Basilicata in the
South dier from this generalized phenomenon. The previously undisturbed parts of the territory are
filled in part with buildings and urbanized surfaces that increase the intermediate density categories,
i.e., those ranging between 5% and 25%, but, excluding Lombardy, never reach major saturation levels
(UD >25% and UD >50%), underscoring the finely dispersed territorial distribution of settlements
well represented by the “sprinkling” model. After 2000, less than 50% of the country (Figure 7) remains
practically free from forms of land transformation for settlement purposes, but this is largely accounted
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 8 of 16
for by vast mountain areas in the Alps and Apennines, in addition to some more intensive farming
areas. Most of the coastal lowlands and inland valleys are covered by more or less dense/dispersed
urban sprinkling, depending on mobility infrastructure configuration and morphology. As mentioned
in our Introduction, the Italian configuration of urbanized areas in the last 50 years is extremely
finely dispersed and is the product of well-known settlement growth processes. The model has been
described using the Italian geographical sample and the major dierences with sprawl highlighted.
For many years, this term was used in national urban planning culture to define Italy’s finely dispersed
urban development. However, “sprinkling” seems to be more suitable to represent the configuration of
Italy’s urban constellations, present in other southern European countries too and in other continental
areas, albeit with varying physiognomies, such as the Balkans, Greece and Portugal, or China and
Japan. These examples may include various prevailing dispersion geometries, including the “linear”
or the “urban dust”, but more frequently they are mixed (as in Italy) with the distribution of tiny parts
built on very large territories.
Figure 6.
Curves showing variations in the six urban density categories assessed using 3
3 km plots
in the ’50s, the year 2000 and the uchronian scenario.
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 9 of 16
Figure 7. Figure 6diagram for Italy.
If sprawl means “the spreading of urban developments (such as residential and commercial areas)
over undeveloped land near cities”, “sprinkling” expresses “scattered drop- or speck-like distribution”.
Sprinkling is a type of settlement that has already been experimentally classified using ad hoc indicators
too [3135]
The initial third of the uchronia scenario curve overlaps with the one of the ’50s in almost
all regions, providing a picture of the conservation of lower UD (<5%) areas. In the hypothetical
aggregation that this curve expresses, even intermediate-density plots (from 5 to 25%) decrease, while,
of course, territorial sections saturated above 25% and 50%—absorbing all settlement growth between
the ’50s and 2000—increase. This is clearly an extreme simulation, the overall eects of which are
shown in Figure 8, that would have undoubtedly required profound urban planning and design rigor.
However, it would have helped preserve vast expanses of natural, semi-natural and rural landscape
from irreversible and spatially pervasive degradation. The national landscape physiognomy would
have been radically dierent, especially in some areas profoundly altered by soil sealing, such as
lowlands and coastal strips.
Figure 8.
In this graph, with the regions arranged in North-South latitudinal order, the arrows show
the contraction in regional rates of 3
3 plots having an urban density below 5% between the 1950s and
2000. The vertical segments show rate levels that would have been reached through the implementation
of the uchronian scenario of aggregation, which are very close to or match post-war levels in all
the regions.
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 10 of 16
Such a scenario would have required a robust urban plan to compact covered surfaces and
appurtenances and produce an urban fabric that is more similar to the international standard of
“sprawl”, instead of the aforementioned “sprinkling” model described for Italy.
The results of the aggregation expressed by function [
] are shown in Figure 9(for the entire
peninsular territory) and Figure 10 for some regional samples. The maps have been drawn by
graphically representing the urban density ranges d
in actual (9a) and uchronian (9b) conditions,
while in the case of the samples in Figure 10 densities in the ’50s, today and in the uchronian scenario
are compared.
Figure 9.
The configuration of the six urban density categories assessed on the basis of 3
3 km plots
in 2000 (a) and in the uchronian scenario (b).
In this scenario, the Italian territory (Figure 9a), would have preserved its low settlement density
areas (UD <5%) intact at the same level as in the ‘50s, that is to say 73% of the entire peninsular territory
(Figure 9b). It would also have preserved most of its peninsular and insular-free coasts at about 60–70%,
compared to the present-day just over 45% [
]. However, this model of extreme dispersion has led
to the unrestrained road network growth with significant consequences for the fragmentation of the
country’s ecosystems that contain biodiversity of worldwide conservation interest.
Analyzing the eects on some categories of significant environmental, landscape and productive
value, such as lowlands, hills and coastal strips, protected natural areas and habitats of European
interest censused as Sites of Community Interest (SCIs) Natura 2000 (Figure 11), the implementation of
the uchronian scenario would have left the rate of plots unaected by settlements at the same level
as in the ’50s in all the territorial units considered, with peaks of 60% and even 70% of free areas.
In reality, areas having a low-density dispersion (2–5%) have grown in the post-2000 years across all
categories, excluding coastlines, where they have remained unchanged, and lowlands, where they
dropped by 10% and have been transformed into higher density plots (5–10%). The uchronian scenario
slightly reduces the number of low-density areas (2–5%) compared to the ’50s, as it uses them in part
for compaction, given that in various regions the d
has a cutoranging between these two values
(Sardinia. Emilia, Calabria, Molise, Lazio, Abruzzo, Tuscany and Basilicata).
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 11 of 16
Figure 10.
Some regional samples comparing distribution variation across the six urban density
categories in the ‘50s, in 2000 and in the uchronian scenario.
Figure 11.
The rates of irrelevant (<2%) and low (2–5%) urban density areas corresponding to seven
environmental and morphological units characterizing the country’s landscape quality and perception
in the following time periods: ‘50s, 2000 and the uchronian scenario.
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 12 of 16
4. Discussion
Is the scenario outlined in this paper thought-provoking? Yes, certainly. The hinterlands of main
historical conurbations (as shown by regional examples in Figure 10) would have been saturated. This
might suggest major degradation of important cultural and artistic heritage. However, most of what
actually happened, in the absence of adequate urban planning, has produced severe aesthetical and
functional alteration even in major historical city centers. Today, these are engulfed in the patchy
and fragmentary matrices of very heterogeneous settlements in terms of type and functions. The real
dierence would not have been made by a dierent model of aggregation of surfaces or volumes, but
by “plans” and “projects” that were drastically lacking in their more ecient forms.
Rural and natural landscapes of all sorts would have been less “under siege” by urbanization and
the proliferation of roads. Indeed, one of the direct eects of urban aggregation is low infrastructure
rate in territories, expressed as km of roads/km
, with increased eciency of public transportation and
significant reductions in ecosystemic fragmentation of habitats. Several studies have shown [38] that
Italian protected areas and habitats of community importance are currently surrounded by considerably
high settlement densities, even though within them there has not been any significant increase.
The fabrics of numerous major Italian towns include broad green areas, often of high landscape
and historical-monumental worth and the idea of actually replacing them with building clusters
would clearly be absurd and unacceptable. However, these invaluable places worth preserving would
be unaltered in the uchronian scenario, given our previously mentioned definition of “urbanized
areas” referring to functional and not only physical aspects. All the same, a systematic, eective and
advanced urban development plan would have prevented Italian settlements from literally exploding
in surrounding rural hinterlands, i.e., that highly protected countryside in northern European cultures,
which in Italy too is marked by very high-level landscape, ecological and functional physiognomies.
What has been and is still lacking is urban and territorial design, as the subsequent phase to planning
expressed through municipal urban development tools. Furthermore, over the years the latter have
increasingly lost their regulatory strength and have not even succeeded in controlling the spatial
balance of planned urban development. It is sucient to consider that 20% of the peninsular territory,
having 10 million inhabitants, is managed by means of urban development plans dated over 25 years
ago. This is the case of 300 municipalities in the North (1,000,000 inhabitants), 215 municipalities in
Central Italy (1,800,000 inhabitants) and as many as 920 municipalities in the South, with 6,700,000
inhabitants. This form of territorial planning can also be defined “molecular, as it is managed and
applied by municipalities having on average a size of 36 km
, and in some very extreme cases 1 km
Furthermore, it lacks strategic frameworks for content mosaicking, as this had not been provided
for by legislation in this field, falling under regional competence. Our remarks convey the idea of
Italy’s diculty in implementing ecient forms of territorial planning and help clarify the reasons
for the current situation. Furthermore, the anomalous dispersion of built/urbanized areas in every
territory has been undoubtedly aected by illegal building, sadly known as an Italian peculiarity even
among the international general public. However, the more severe eects of land degradation and
uptake should be ascribed to the insucient level of supervision of extremely weak executive planning.
The data processed to develop the uchronian scenario described in this paper—where the country
would have retained its urban expanse comparable to the size of the whole of Belgium—suggest
that a dierent course might have been possible, even though it would not have had the extreme
physiognomy described in this paper. Nevertheless, from the more recent Sentinel high-resolution
remote-sensing datasets processed by ISPRA, we know that the Italian territorial governance bodies,
both at the national and local level, have not learned the lesson of the past 50 years yet. Indeed, in
recent years, the phenomenon of land uptake persists with the same dispersive criteria used between
the post-World War II period and the year 2000, although mitigated in terms of absolute magnitude
from one region to the other.
Sustainability 2019,11, 3469 13 of 16
5. Conclusions
The present-day economic conditions of the country and foreseeable conditions in the mid and long
term clearly do not suggest the resumption of uncontrolled urbanization of the territory, comparable
to what occurred in the second half of the 20th century. However, the studies conducted for over a
decade have shown that compared to the “amount” of newly urbanized areas, what is more important
is “how” this urbanization is distributed and, therefore, designed and planned. So, in the future, it
will be very important for the country to adopt settlement growth models to compact and aggregate
built-up and transformed parts, and carefully avoid further dispersion in all its forms.
This is not an easy task, since domestic politicians are still unprepared to tackle issues of this kind
and tools such as “building amnesties”—the most recent of which is dated 2018—are still preferred.
The responsibilities of the critical national condition of urban settlement can be attributed to all
administrative levels of the country. After 1942, the state no longer legislated on the transformation
of the soil; the regions have produced many laws, up to recent years, but increasingly weakening
strategic control over the activities of the municipalities; the latter have, therefore, accentuated their
decision-making powers on the territories and favored a hypertrophy of urban expansions to increase
social consent and also the tax revenues connected to the construction of new buildings. Today, even
state bodies, such as the Ministry of the Environment or national research institutes, harshly criticize
local policies of disorganized urban growth, but no one manages to reorganize the subject to achieve
greater eectiveness and sustainability, also by reversing the trend.
On an international scale, urban compaction already oers many study experiences in the field of
“de-sprawling” [
] which are beginning to find their way into urban development tools in the
various countries that have suered this phenomenon massively over the past 50 years. However,
Italian dispersion, defined as “sprinkling”, is very dierent from the international model of sprawl,
both in terms of origin, land/property ownership regimes and functional types.
The calculations carried out and the indicators of the uchronian scenario show that it would still
be possible to further curb land consumption if territorial policies to this end were implemented.
In fact, the results that emerge from the proposed uchronic scenario show that an alternative
model to extreme dispersion is possible, provided that urban and strategic planning, with “horizon
scanning” [
] criteria, is able to exercise control over some fundamental parameters: these include the
cover ratio, the building density and the urbanization rate, introducing in municipal plans devices for
coupling between the future urban dimensions and the real demographic dynamics. This last aspect
also constitutes one of the requests expressed on the European scale in terms of land consumption [
For this purpose, as a future development, it could be interesting to assess the density of urbanized
areas in protected and hydrogeological risk areas, in order to understand how much of this urbanization
has taken place in compliance with regulations.
This would be a further “uchronian scenario in accordance with regulations” which, together with
previous ones, could be of support to territorial planning with a view to curbing soil consumption.
For further details regarding the features of the sprinkling model, in our paper there are many
references to already published scientific literature and some examples of methods on possible
de-sprinkling procedures have already been produced [26]. However, this is a fertile area of research
that deserves to be developed, as it will surely be a key aspect to be tackled in Italian territorial policy
in decades to come.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, B.R., L.F., A.M., Data curation, L.F. Methodology, B.R., Software, A.M.,
Supervision, B.R., Writing original draft, B.R.
This research was funded by Ministry of Education, University and Research, Basic Research 2017,
items 295-302, Low 11.12.2016, n. 232.
The methodology presented has been implemented in the research project and monitoring
supported by Umbria Region. We are grateful to Francesco Zullo, WWF Italia Onlus and Cheryl Di Lorenzo for
their collaboration.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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Land-cover based indicators assessing the effect of the magnitude and spatial patterns of the artificialization process, including urban sprawl, barely consider the impact of the discontinuous spatial distribution of the artificialized built-up areas. In this study, we propose a new urban dispersion indicator, which incorporates the characteristic dynamics of the discontinuous urban artificial land cover class, characteristic of scarcely populated and highly dispersed territories, such as is the case of Continental Portugal. The indicator is based on the premise that the more built-up area, the higher the uptake of constructed area in a discontinuous pattern and the more dispersed this built-up area, the lower urban sustainability of the territory. Given that the minimum cartographic unit in Corine Land Cover (25 ha) is typically higher than most of the discontinuous urban patches in these territories, in this research we used national land use data from Portugal with a minimum cartographic unit of 1 ha. The values calculated for this indicator show that the level of urban dispersion of continental Portugal increased by 14.2% in the 1990–2007 period. The artificialization process was geographically heterogeneous with notable differences being observed between regions and also along the urban to rural and coastal to hinterland gradients. The temporal changes in the indicator allowed the identification of distinct artificialization patterns: diffusion, sprinkling and coalescence, which were interpreted on the basis of the evolution of the artificialization process. The values derived from this indicator were related with two main environmental impacts associated with the artificialization process: the loss of arable land and the decrease in the carbon sequestration capacity of the territory. The proposed indicator can be a useful tool to monitor and evaluate the impacts of different public policies with a direct impact on land artificialization, as well as on the territorial and urban planning processes, whether at the national, regional or municipal level, allowing more detailed and consistent spatial analyses and diagnoses of urban sustainability to be undertaken.
Urban expansion causes negative environmental impacts that can be measured in terms of human benefits’ losses. Mapping and evaluating urban growth impacts on ecosystem services availability is still a challenging issue, and offers a valuable support to urban planning via enhancing decision makers awareness about the environmental impacts due to planning alternatives. The aim of this study is to highlight challenges and opportunities of mapping and evaluating ecosystem services, thus offering insights on how to ameliorate the incorporation of ecological principles in land use planning towards minimizing human impacts on natural and seminatural ecosystems. Through a downscaled review, the ecosystem services approach for reducing urban expansion and connected environmental impacts is analyzed and discussed. In particular, scientific articles and projects are deeply analyzed and discussed using Italy as a case study. Moreover, two innovative approaches for mapping and evaluating the impact of urban expansion on climate regulation and agricultural productivity are presented. According to main outcomes, the present study is expected to contribute to improve the implementation of sustainable development objectives, through giving suggestions to policy-makers and land planners on how to face (and cope with) environmental pressures given by land use changes and urban expansion from local to national scale.
The increase of artificial land use represents a relevant indicator in land management policies and practices. It is a useful tool in assessing the quality of settlement processes and the protection and enhancement policies in rural and natural areas. Over time land take processes have been caused by different phenomena: urban or industrial expansion, realization of infrastructures, the development or the productive exploitation of territorial areas characterized by the presence of specific resources (natural, mining, etc.). This phenomenon is no longer a direct consequence of a real need of new expansion areas throughout Italian national territory. In the past the phenomenon was mainly due to residential, productive or tertiary sector needs, and it was generated by demographic growth and the consequent urbanization process. In the last two decades land take is more and more related to a weak territorial governance, generally linked to an inefficiency of urban and territorial planning instruments and sometimes of speculative real estate initiatives. In this paper a spatial analysis procedure oriented to calculate indicators of urban fragmentation for Basilicata Region has been presented. Such indicators could drive to the identification of two phenomena: urban-sprawl and urban-sprinkling according to the literature classification proposed in several researches by Romano et al. The results represent a useful contribution in order to improve regional normative system concerning urban development. The research is part of a wider project on environmental and territorial indicators (INDICARE) promoted by FARBAS (Environmental Observatory Foundation of Basilicata Region) in collaboration with the University of Basilicata.
50 days free access Abstract The uncontrolled spread of towns and cities into their surrounding rural and natural land, and the consequent increasing demand for new natural resources are among the most important drivers of global climate and environmental change. This study investigated the loss of natural and agricultural land in Italy in the last decades, during which urban areas have undergone significant expansion. The study underlines the negative consequences of past uncoordinated urban and regional planning in Italy which often featured adaptive ex-post strategies favouring real estate market returns, rather than avoiding ex-ante the unsustainable threats. The aim is to show that only through a recalibration of priorities in planning, by adding policies that favour ecological conservation, it is possible to better foster sustainable land use practices. To this end, the research features a comparison of forecasts of land-use/cover changes (LUCC) corresponding to different policy-oriented scenarios, using a combination of multi criteria analysis and cellular automata modelling. In the planning literature there are many applications of land-use change modelling at the regional/local scale, however to the best of our knowledge, none does it at high resolution and at the full country scale. This sort of analysis is important for policy makers because it allows investigation of the combined relevance of local and global criteria in influencing urbanization for the future. Thus it couples locally relevant findings with a comprehensive vision of the phenomenon at a national scale. We conclude by discussing some critical socio-economic implications of the modelled scenarios in order to provide policy makers with useful tools and information to develop resilient and sustainable planning strategies.
Abstract As urban systems continue to grow worldwide, urban peripheries increase in number and typologies, which makes their planning a challenge for sustainable development. The aim of this article is to explore approaches and challenges related to the application of sustainable planning to urban peripheries. We reviewed the content of 102 papers related to sustainable planning in urban peripheries by applying a framework built on two main research questions that address: i) the type of peripheries and sustainable planning approaches considered; ii) the challenges and recommendations reported. The results show that urban peripheries are difficult to synthesize in operative classifications, and are not central in the discourse on sustainable planning approaches. The studies described are mainly context-specific and solution-oriented, aimed at responding to local socio-economic and ecological issues, and the analysis reveals uncertainties about their transferability to other geographical contexts. Few common trends can be highlighted, but many authors acknowledge the cross-cutting risks and trade-offs related to the complexity and dynamism of urban peripheries, which may eventually lead planning to unsustainable or unlivable outcomes. Integration among different scales and sectors emerges as a requirement for effective sustainable planning. We conclude with a remark on the underexploited opportunities offered by urban peripheries, especially with regard to ecological planning approaches.