Abstract and Figures

This paper discusses the topic of urban and spatial planning in Italy where decision-making is left almost exclusively to the innumerable, small municipalities present in the country and totaling almost 8,000 in number. Projects and actions to transform built areas, infrastructure and welfare services of all sorts and purposes in a national territory of over 300,000 km2 are supervised by countless Mayors and Municipal Councils and Boards that govern plots of land corresponding to polygons of a few kilometers per side. This is generally achieved by means of town plans developed outside of any general rule or protocol, the contents of which are often ignored as a result of national legislation that weakens them and sometimes makes them uninfluential essentially. This is a European example of urban planning mismanagement that deserves to be brought to the broader attention of the European technical and scientific community, also because the debate developed so far on this topic - even by eminent and authoritative urban planners - has been published almost entirely in Italian only. Public and political attention towards this issue is extremely limited, although the severe effects of “molecular planning” are beginning to be perceived: unjustified overurbanization and highly patchy, energy-intensive urban patterns that are destructive for ecosystems and at odds with public interests regarding environmental and urban quality. In this paper we make some comparisons with other European countries and outline some directions – certainly very difficult to follow – to reconsider and recover from the adverse effects produced to date.
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sustainability
Article
Molecular No Smart-Planning in Italy: 8000
Municipalities in Action throughout the Country
Bernardino Romano * , Francesco Zullo , Lorena Fiorini and Alessandro Marucci
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of L’Aquila, 67100 L’Aquila, Italy;
francesco.zullo@univaq.it (F.Z.); lorena.fiorini@univaq.it (L.F.); alessandro.marucci@univaq.it (A.M.)
*Correspondence: bernardino.romano@univaq.it
Received: 19 October 2019; Accepted: 15 November 2019; Published: 17 November 2019


Abstract:
This paper discusses the topic of urban and spatial planning in Italy where decision-making
is left almost exclusively to the innumerable, small municipalities present in the country and totaling
almost 8000 in number. Projects and actions to transform built areas, infrastructure, and welfare
services of all sorts and purposes in a national territory of over 300,000 km
2
are supervised by countless
mayors, municipal councils, and boards that govern plots of land corresponding to polygons of a few
kilometers per side. This is generally achieved by means of town plans developed outside of any
general rule or protocol, the contents of which are often ignored as a result of national legislation that
weakens them and sometimes makes them uninfluential essentially. This is a European example of
urban planning mismanagement that deserves to be brought to the broader attention of the European
technical and scientific community, also because the debate developed so far on this topic—even
by eminent and authoritative urban planners—has been published almost entirely in Italian only.
Public and political attention towards this issue is extremely limited, although the severe eects of
“molecular planning” are beginning to be perceived: unjustified overurbanization and highly patchy,
energy-intensive, urban patterns that are destructive for ecosystems and at odds with public interests
regarding environmental and urban quality. In this paper, we make some comparisons with other
European countries and outline some directions—certainly very dicult to follow—to reconsider
and recover from the adverse eects produced to date.
Keywords: planning tool; molecular planning; land take; planning strategy
1. Introduction
This paper analyzes the phenomenon of the virtually utmost autonomy that Italian municipalities
enjoy in the management of urban and spatial planning, without being subject to almost any higher
strategic supervision, highlighting some of the most glaring and negative consequences and putting
forward a course for at least partial recovery. This condition has gradually worsened amid generalized
indierence in the course of some decades, but its pathological aspects have been seized only recently:
unjustified overurbanization and highly patchy, energy-intensive, urban patterns that are destructive
for ecosystems and at odds with public interests regarding environmental and urban quality. Actually,
some evidence of the ineciency of Italian planning had already emerged in the 1980s, thanks to
eminent and farsighted academics, but unfortunately almost all the literature produced is in Italian
and therefore in our references we have included many titles, although we are fully aware that they
may be dicult to consult.
Although Italian historical city centers preserve significant landscape and architectural quality
acknowledged and appreciated worldwide, the urban fabric developed over the past 50 years probably
has on average the worst distribution, construction, and formal features, at least in Europe. It is
certainly true that the Italian urban planning law dated 1942 (Law no. 1150 dated 17 August 1942,) was
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467; doi:10.3390/su11226467 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 2 of 16
one of the first and most innovative, as it introduced multi-level planning and urban development plans
extended to entire municipal territories and limited the building activities of municipalities lacking
urban development plans. However, it is also a fact that many of these noteworthy contents, amongst
which the power of public expropriation in expanding areas, have either never been implemented at all
or have been, but through modalities that have lost regulatory strength over the decades. After 1942,
Italy failed to enact national laws on urban development or land transformation and starting from
the 1970s, lawmaking in this field was delegated to the 20 regions present in the country. Although
very intensive over time, this activity has been marked by significant inhomogeneity and once again
weak strategic regulatory capabilities, thus gradually easing existing forms of supervision and leaving
decision-making more and more to municipalities, however small and demographically irrelevant
they may be [14].
A completely dierent conduct was adopted by other European countries, such as France,
Germany, and Great Britain, that since the 1970s, have implemented national planning policies and
enacted legislation favoring forms of strategic approach to planning [
5
8
]. In these countries too, there
is vertical/hierarchical supervision of decisions concerning land transformation, construction, and
infrastructure (very similar to what has been theoretically in place in Italy since 1942), that however, is
enforced more strictly and is actually more ecient.
In France, there has been profound reorganization [
9
,
10
] from the 1970s to 2017 aimed at setting
up inter-municipal associations that manage the Sch
é
ma de la Coherence Territoriale (SCOT) that in
turn monitor the municipal Plan Local dUrbanisme (PLU). The modernization of local government
has been the subject of national legislation even in 2015 (Law no. 991) leading to the substantial
reduction of the so-called “millefeuille territorial” through the merger of local agencies, thus promoting
inter-municipality. According to Gibelli [
11
]“there is not the slightest opportunity for privates to propose
urban transformation/regeneration projects derogating from the urban development plans in force and involving
simplified approval procedures
. . .
and all the various, unlikely stories and neologisms used to reward real estate
finance over the past decades in Italy”.
As of 1965, the reorganization of the regulations concerning “regional planning”
(Raumordnungsgesetz) was initiated in Germany, later further improved in 1975 (“General Regional
Planning Program for the Federal Territory” (Raumordnungsprograrmme fur die gross raumige
Entwicklung des Bundesgebiet) [
12
14
]. The key players of physical planning are the 160 Länder
through the “Territorial Plans” (Landesraumordnungsprogramme) and the “Development Plans”
(Landes Entwicklungsprogramme), which control the regional plans (Regionalpläne), the plans of
the kreis, and the “Urban Land-Use Plans” (Bauleitplanung). Archibugi [
15
] stated over forty years
ago that “this is a complex system of highly integrated ‘cascading’ plans (despite some dierences in name and
structure due to the legislative autonomy of the Länder), in an orderly sequence of further specifications that make
them particularly ecient. From this standpoint, an “institutional framework” could not be more operational
and thus more eective and this is visible “to the naked eye” when travelling through the country, owing to the
visual perception of great order and supervision achieved in the territorial development of Germany”.
In 1971, the regulation of territorial matters in Great Britain was initiated, in order to assure a
vertically and horizontally integrated process in all planning activities [
16
18
]. The actual spatial
planning level provided by the “institutional framework”, reorganized and made more functional by
the 1971 act, is that of “Counties” that are the most important local organization agency with broad
administrative autonomy. There are over 60 counties in Great Britain that draw up structure plans that
are submitted mandatorily to the central authorities for approval (the Department for Environment)
and are full-fledged integrated territorial, socio-economic, and physical planning documents. The
subsequent levels of spatial planning concern “districts” (of which there are 93—[
19
]) that each county
is broken down into and that may draw up three types of plans: the district plan (development and
land use), the action area plan (urban renewal), and the subject plan (sectoral development). The
county authorities draft the Development plan schemes and the close links between local plans and
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 3 of 16
structure plans assure the important vertical integration of territorial planning, while structure plans
assure horizontal integration.
We have limited our overview to three European countries, but experiences of an orderly, and even
more thorough and eective “institutional framework” can also be found in the Netherlands, Belgium,
Denmark, and Sweden, while dierent results come from other countries [
20
,
21
]. Major Italian town
planners—unfortunately mostly in documents and papers written in Italian—have criticized national
conduct in the field of planning even very fiercely, such as the substantial relinquishment of strategic
action and coordination and the lax and ineectual way of leaving decision-making entirely in the
hands of municipalities, that is to say, almost 8000 small territorial bodies where speculative interests
and the utmost level of uncontrollability and dispersion of actions are concentrated.
Regarding what Indovina [
22
] called the “the diuse city” and later, the “metropolitan archipelago”,
again Gibelli [
10
] underlines that “all legislative reforms were aimed at favoring income and deregulation,
certainly not the protection of land as a collective asset”.
Again, Archibugi [
15
] is very harsh “we measure the gap produced, above all over the past
two decades, between the albeit slow experimentation that has occurred elsewhere and the sterile,
disinformed and boorish verbalism that has prevailed in this country (Italy). Here in Italy, caught
between administrative and bureaucratic idleness, speculative wheelings and dealings, ideological
schematism and, above all, ignorance, we were not even able to make the few technical and professional
structures that we had in the 1960’s work”.
In Italy, the results of these procedures, introduced between the 1960s and the 1970s, are clear for all
to see and a detailed description of processes was recently written, again only in Italian unfortunately,
in an excellent volume by Bleˇci´c [23] on the unfulfilled Sullo reform.
2. Material and Methods
Municipalities originated in the Middle Ages as a secular response to the management of public
authorities previously entrusted to the ecclesiastical authorities. They consolidated over an extremely
long historical period, with alternating protagonism and roles, until they acquired their present-day
geography. After the Fascist era, municipalities strengthened their identity increasingly and when
in 2014 the reform of administrative levels was discussed, the Del Rio law (Law no.56 dated 7 April
2014) abolished the provinces, but merely provided for the possible merger of municipalities. This
law also identified 14 metropolitan cities (comprising 1275 municipalities) with about 22 million
inhabitants (one third of the total), but the municipalities forming them retained the opportunity
of planning autonomously, albeit within the framework of a Metropolitan Territorial Plan having
functions of coordination.
For the rest, municipalities have retained their prerogative of utmost sovereignty and only in
recent years has their number dropped slightly, from the over 8100 to the current 7955. The data
used in our study refer to the last dataset provided by ISTAT (Central Institute of Statistics) in 2018
(Figure 1a) and thus, the classification by size class (Figure 1b) is based on this data. This geographical
dataset was compounded by the data obtained from the ISTAT population from 1861 to 2018.
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 4 of 16
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 17
effectiveness of the planning itself since the more the plan is built on a reduced spatial dimension,
the less it can strategically manage its contents towards the territory of interest. In the second
methodological phase, a survey is carried out on the regional distribution of the different size classes
of the municipalities, obtaining a comparison result between the significant aggregation of the very
small dimensions in some Italian regions and the update figure of the municipal plans on the entire
peninsular arc. In the third and final phase, an investigation is carried out on some regional samples
concerning the correspondence between the demographic dynamics in the period 19912018 and the
theoretical increase of the urbanized areas extracted from the municipal planning instruments in
force, verifying how this last value is constantly positive regardless of the actual positive or negative
demographic trends. This last methodological point opens an interesting perspective of
transferability of the contents of the present work to other national and international contexts. In
particular, it could be important to elaborate a coherence analysis between the urban growth
modalities proposed by the plans and the effective social and economic growth of the territories to
determine an indicator of credibility of the development policies.
(a)
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 17
(b)
Figure 1. Italian municipalities (a) and their classification per size category (b).
3. Results
The first result of the research highlights how the small size of the municipalities is such that
they cannot be considered as drivers of fundamental decisions on urban transformations as they are
incapable of strategic vision.
The smallest municipalities in Italy, covering an area below 10 km2, are one fifth of the national
total, but account for 55% if we consider medium-small sized municipalities as well (S < 25 km2)
(Table 1).
The geographical distribution per region of size classes is fairly clear-cut and the cluster is
evident in Figure 2, although classifying the various groups of regions from a geo-historical
perspective, according to the average size range of their municipalities, is rather difficult. Indeed,
there is no latitudinal gradient, that usually characterizes many Italian phenomena of all sorts, nor a
morphological one, considering that the regions having mostly small and very small municipalities
can be found both in the mountainous and flat areas in the north and the flat and hilly areas in the
south. On the other hand, despite the existence of papers in literature (again in Italian only), it is
simply not feasible to trace the evolution of perimeters over 10 centuries [25,26], although we are
fully aware that the determinants are tied to geo-morphology, ownership, land, production, and even
military conquests.
Seventy-seven percent of the smallest municipalities in Italy (<10 km2) are however concentrated
in three regions (Table 1): Lombardy, Piedmont, and Campania, and the Lombardy region has almost
half of the territory managed by these very small municipalities (Figure 3). These municipalities are
the ones that have the highest urbanization density overall: 18%, almost three-fold the national mean,
dropping down to 10% in the subsequent class and then up to 5%7% in the largest municipality
classes (Table 1), and this is something that has already been highlighted by some authors [27,28].
Almost one third of Italian urban areas (31%) falls within about 4400 separate administrative
units, and are thus planned and managed in terms of size and function by the latter, with decision-
making limited to areas corresponding to squares with sides of less than 5 km. Moreover, one third
of these, that is to say, 10% of national urbanized areas, refers to 1667 municipalities governing even
smaller areas, i.e., squares with sides below 3 km.
Figure 1. Italian municipalities (a) and their classification per size category (b).
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 5 of 16
For the current state of municipal planning, we used the data found in the 2016 INU (National
Urban Planning Institute) report which, every two years, reports on the Italian condition regarding the
dierent levels and forms of territorial planning [24].
For data processing tied to the example of the region of Umbria, we used the mosaicking of the
general town planning schemes (PRGs) developed for the “updating and completion of plans for the
management of regional protected natural areas” (PSR 2007-2013-Measure 3.2. action a- Reg. (EC)
1698/2005) of 2015 and LIFE SUN (LIFE13 NAT/IT/000371) projects dated 2014–2018.
The data on the mosaicking of municipal urban development plans in the region of Lombardy
were extrapolated from the regional geoportal http://www.geoportale.regione.lombardia.it/download-
ricerca.
The methodology used is based on a first phase of classification of municipal dimensions to
highlight the consistency of very small, small, and medium surfaces. With rules that entrust all
operational planning to the municipalities, this data can be considered an indicator of the eectiveness
of the planning itself since the more the plan is built on a reduced spatial dimension, the less it can
strategically manage its contents towards the territory of interest. In the second methodological phase,
a survey is carried out on the regional distribution of the dierent size classes of the municipalities,
obtaining a comparison result between the significant aggregation of the very small dimensions in
some Italian regions and the update figure of the municipal plans on the entire peninsular arc. In
the third and final phase, an investigation is carried out on some regional samples concerning the
correspondence between the demographic dynamics in the period 1991–2018 and the theoretical
increase of the urbanized areas extracted from the municipal planning instruments in force, verifying
how this last value is constantly positive regardless of the actual positive or negative demographic
trends. This last methodological point opens an interesting perspective of transferability of the contents
of the present work to other national and international contexts. In particular, it could be important to
elaborate a coherence analysis between the urban growth modalities proposed by the plans and the
eective social and economic growth of the territories to determine an indicator of credibility of the
development policies.
3. Results
The first result of the research highlights how the small size of the municipalities is such that
they cannot be considered as drivers of fundamental decisions on urban transformations as they are
incapable of strategic vision.
The smallest municipalities in Italy, covering an area below 10 km
2
, are one fifth of the national
total, but account for 55% if we consider medium-small sized municipalities as well (S <25 km
2
)
(Table 1).
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 6 of 16
Table 1. Data on the selected size classes of Italian municipalities.
Municipality area <10 km2Municipality area between 10 and 25km2Municipality area between 25 and 100km2
Region N.
Municipalities
Urban
area
2000km2
Urban
Density
2000
Inhabitants
2011
Municipality
area
2000km2
N.
Municipalities
Urban
area
2000km2
Urban
Density
2000
Inhabitants
2011
Municapility
area 2000km2
N.
Municapilities
Urban
area
2000km2
Urban
Density
2000
Inhabitants
2011
Municapility
area
2000km2
Lombardy 721 101407 0.25 2898207 4111.88 564 1208.37 0.14 3,179,646 8781.46 219 962.14 0.1 2,332,425 9221.91
Piedmont 401 28910 0.11 396122 2567.69 502 805.41 0.1 1,212,313 7875.85 274 877.17 0.07 1,493,492 12242.53
Campania 161 20561 0.22 1404336 949.79 193 253.11 0.08 1,454,608 3272.93 184 405.88 0.05 1,740,093 7918.76
Liguria 58 3430 0.09 128421 378.25 104 90.83 0.05 311,785 1669.02 67 111.67 0.04 526,518 2685.21
Sicily 51 5317 0.16 294514 332.41 85 127.49 0.09 470,697 1413.27 179 381.5 0.04 1,484,816 9142.29
Veneto 42 5940 0.18 130612 327.95 290 770.48 0.15 1,641,377 5077.7 223 1048.68 0.11 2,297,030 9764.45
TrentinoA.A 41 1425 0.06 41827 246.44 81 42.22 0.03 140,753 1361.02 136 171.81 0.03 613,786 6775.65
Calabria 38 2842 0.1 68133 272.56 144 164.08 0.06 334,594 2599.01 202 390.82 0.04 935,841 9101.05
Lazio 27 765 0.04 33516 207.21 139 128.06 0.05 538,106 2410.64 179 478.49 0.06 1,525,193 8270.86
Puglia 26 3410 0.17 89904 200.37 59 148.17 0.15 413,465 1021.03 112 387.73 0.07 1,133,545 5743.31
Abruzzo 24 1067 0.06 39381 174.65 118 86.55 0.04 309,521 2063.84 154 212.88 0.03 777,420 7152.62
Sardinia 22 763 0.05 28106 147.29 78 44.61 0.03 79,747 1364.87 206 390.99 0.04 865,338 10829.54
Marche 18 1299 0.1 48448 133.41 94 106.87 0.07 332,920 1589.66 95 197.67 0.04 554,206 4562.63
Fruili V.G 15 1556 0.16 24671 95.37 81 177.99 0.13 278,205 1405.86 110 476.64 0.1 888,729 5008.49
Valle d’ Aosta 8 416 0.07 9411 60.45 20 14.36 0.04 55,860 342.85 38 22.33 0.01 51,854 1669.9
Emilia Romagna 7 1375 0.25 41580 54.93 41 149.52 0.18 341,923 845.46 225 979.26 0.08 1,645,440 11816.4
Tuscany 5 1256 0.35 29401 35.84 31 71.69 0.12 226,263 584.74 162 667.18 0.07 1,812,949 9576.17
Molise 2 0.18 0.02 286 11.4 55 20.03 0.02 52,242 999.95 77 89.48 0.03 250,886 3247.49
Umbria 12 8.21 0.04 21,069 207.16 58 90.28 0.03 220,353 3191.33
Basilicata 12 3.98 0.02 12,537 236.83 92 85.44 0.03 263,879 5383.06
Total and mean 1667 1817.57 0.18 5,706,876 10307,88 2703 4422.05 0.1 11,407,631 45123.37 2292 8428.04 0.06 21,413,793 143,304
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 7 of 16
The geographical distribution per region of size classes is fairly clear-cut and the cluster is evident
in Figure 2, although classifying the various groups of regions from a geo-historical perspective,
according to the average size range of their municipalities, is rather dicult. Indeed, there is no
latitudinal gradient, that usually characterizes many Italian phenomena of all sorts, nor a morphological
one, considering that the regions having mostly small and very small municipalities can be found
both in the mountainous and flat areas in the north and the flat and hilly areas in the south. On the
other hand, despite the existence of papers in literature (again in Italian only), it is simply not feasible
to trace the evolution of perimeters over 10 centuries [
25
,
26
], although we are fully aware that the
determinants are tied to geo-morphology, ownership, land, production, and even military conquests.
Sustainability 2019, 11, x; doi: FOR PEER REVIEW www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Figure 2. Mean size clusters of municipalities in Italian regions.
Figure 3. Regional ranking of municipalities by size classes.
Figure 2. Mean size clusters of municipalities in Italian regions.
Seventy-seven percent of the smallest municipalities in Italy (<10 km
2
) are however concentrated
in three regions (Table 1): Lombardy, Piedmont, and Campania, and the Lombardy region has almost
half of the territory managed by these very small municipalities (Figure 3). These municipalities are
the ones that have the highest urbanization density overall: 18%, almost three-fold the national mean,
dropping down to 10% in the subsequent class and then up to 5%–7% in the largest municipality
classes (Table 1), and this is something that has already been highlighted by some authors [27,28].
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 8 of 16
Sustainability 2019, 11, x; doi: FOR PEER REVIEW www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Figure 2. Mean size clusters of municipalities in Italian regions.
Figure 3. Regional ranking of municipalities by size classes.
Figure 3. Regional ranking of municipalities by size classes.
Almost one third of Italian urban areas (31%) falls within about 4400 separate administrative units,
and are thus planned and managed in terms of size and function by the latter, with decision-making
limited to areas corresponding to squares with sides of less than 5 km. Moreover, one third of these,
that is to say, 10% of national urbanized areas, refers to 1667 municipalities governing even smaller
areas, i.e., squares with sides below 3 km.
The overall population in smaller municipalities amounts to just over 5,700,000 inhabitants, that is
to say approximately 10% of the Italian population (Table 1) and the highest demographic increases in
percentage terms over the twenty years between 1991 and 2018 have occurred in these municipalities
(Figure 4) and decline proportionally as the surface areas of municipalities increase, except for a
slight ascent in correspondence with the larger municipalities. The reasons for this phenomenon have
long been well-known and are essentially tied to rising demographic density in the municipalities
surrounding large urban areas and the reduced residential appeal of the latter owing to congestion and
high real estate costs [
28
]. Hence, it follows that the plans of the smallest municipalities, i.e., the ones
that are less manageable through broader strategies, are faced with the most significant urban growth
dynamics in many cases.
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 2 of 17
Figure 4. Demographic variations between 19912018 in municipalities by size classes.
Given they are sometimes very small size, it is highly difficult to consider them players in
planning efforts that have credible contents. As shown in the pictures in Figure 5, municipal areas
are the size of a large urban square or big metropolitan park, and besides, with very little
environmental, settlement, and/or morphological heterogeneity that can hardly be linked to the
typical issues of a urban/territorial plan, albeit with limited complexity. Considering also their
minimal demographic and urban development burden, it is unjustified to regard these municipalities
as independent territorial authorities pursuing land transformation policies and deciding on land-
use changes that often have a huge local or sub-regional impact.
Figure 5. Municipalities as urban parks. Some examples of municipal territories (in yellow) as large
as urban green areas (top, Hyde Park in London; below, Central Park in New York City) with limited
Figure 4. Demographic variations between 1991–2018 in municipalities by size classes.
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 9 of 16
Given they are sometimes very small size, it is highly dicult to consider them players in planning
eorts that have credible contents. As shown in the pictures in Figure 5, municipal areas are the
size of a large urban square or big metropolitan park, and besides, with very little environmental,
settlement, and/or morphological heterogeneity that can hardly be linked to the typical issues of a
urban/territorial plan, albeit with limited complexity. Considering also their minimal demographic and
urban development burden, it is unjustified to regard these municipalities as independent territorial
authorities pursuing land transformation policies and deciding on land-use changes that often have a
huge local or sub-regional impact.
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 2 of 17
Figure 4. Demographic variations between 19912018 in municipalities by size classes.
Given they are sometimes very small size, it is highly difficult to consider them players in
planning efforts that have credible contents. As shown in the pictures in Figure 5, municipal areas
are the size of a large urban square or big metropolitan park, and besides, with very little
environmental, settlement, and/or morphological heterogeneity that can hardly be linked to the
typical issues of a urban/territorial plan, albeit with limited complexity. Considering also their
minimal demographic and urban development burden, it is unjustified to regard these municipalities
as independent territorial authorities pursuing land transformation policies and deciding on land-
use changes that often have a huge local or sub-regional impact.
Figure 5. Municipalities as urban parks. Some examples of municipal territories (in yellow) as large
as urban green areas (top, Hyde Park in London; below, Central Park in New York City) with limited
Figure 5.
Municipalities as urban parks. Some examples of municipal territories (in yellow) as large as
urban green areas (top, Hyde Park in London; below, Central Park in New York City) with limited
physical and spatial heterogeneity that however retain the utmost decision-making sovereignty over
urban and infrastructure transformation.
The second result of the research shows that, in addition to often very small dimensions, the
municipalities are equipped with very old planning tools and therefore unable to grasp the most recent
environmental and socio-economic issues.
However, town-planning schemes are developed even intensively. Figure 6shows that planning
continuity over time is closely connected to the sensitivity of regions. Firstly, Lombardy, Emilia
Romagna, and Tuscany are the only regions that have municipal plans updated over the past 8 years,
which is extremely rare in the rest of Italy. Municipalities in central and southern Italy are lagging
behind considerably in the updating of their plans, with an extremely high proportion of plans dating
back to almost 25 years ago (i.e., before 1995) and a certain number of plans (in Sardinia and to a lesser
extent Sicily) dating back to 10–20 years ago. Figure 6also clearly shows that town planning in Italy is
tied to very heterogeneous factors influenced by the cultural and political conditions of individual
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 10 of 16
municipalities (a clear example is the Puglia–Basilicata–Calabria patchwork, in south Italy), which
suggests the total lack of central coordination and the low eciency of results.
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 3 of 17
physical and spatial heterogeneity that however retain the utmost decision-making sovereignty over
urban and infrastructure transformation.
The second result of the research shows that, in addition to often very small dimensions, the
municipalities are equipped with very old planning tools and therefore unable to grasp the most
recent environmental and socio-economic issues.
However, town-planning schemes are developed even intensively. Figure 6 shows that planning
continuity over time is closely connected to the sensitivity of regions. Firstly, Lombardy, Emilia
Romagna, and Tuscany are the only regions that have municipal plans updated over the past 8 years,
which is extremely rare in the rest of Italy. Municipalities in central and southern Italy are lagging
behind considerably in the updating of their plans, with an extremely high proportion of plans dating
back to almost 25 years ago (i.e., before 1995) and a certain number of plans (in Sardinia and to a
lesser extent Sicily) dating back to 1020 years ago. Figure 6 also clearly shows that town planning in
Italy is tied to very heterogeneous factors influenced by the cultural and political conditions of
individual municipalities (a clear example is the PugliaBasilicataCalabria patchwork, in south
Italy), which suggests the total lack of central coordination and the low efficiency of results.
Furthermore, there are no national databases where the contents of plans are entered following
their approval and so it is not possible to calculate how many new settlement areas have been
envisaged by each municipality, nor of what sort they are, thus making any form of supervision or
governance of land use on a national scale unrealistic, as instead is the case in some European
countries, such as Germany. The mosaicking of municipal town planning schemes is entirely optional
and available only on the geoportals of some regions (e.g., Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Piedmont,
and Campania), but is developed freely in the absence of any standardization protocols.
Figure 6. Updating of municipal town planning schemes in Italy (by INU, 2016).
Figure 6. Updating of municipal town planning schemes in Italy (by INU, 2016).
Furthermore, there are no national databases where the contents of plans are entered following
their approval and so it is not possible to calculate how many new settlement areas have been envisaged
by each municipality, nor of what sort they are, thus making any form of supervision or governance
of land use on a national scale unrealistic, as instead is the case in some European countries, such as
Germany. The mosaicking of municipal town planning schemes is entirely optional and available only
on the geoportals of some regions (e.g., Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Piedmont, and Campania), but is
developed freely in the absence of any standardization protocols.
The third result of the research shows through two regional examples how, in all the municipalities,
the new and old urban plans always foresee a growth of urbanized surfaces completely independently
from the real demographic dynamics.
In general, the plans of municipalities, as a norm, abound in demographic projections to support
the building of new, large residential or industrial areas, both when the population is on the rise, but
also when these projections are objectively contradicted by long-standing population decline. This
claim can be verified by using the sample from the region of Umbria, for which a detailed and updated
mosaic of general town planning schemes (PRGs) is available. Excluding very few exceptions, the
92 municipal plans of the region, of which over half updated after 2010 and another 23 after 2005,
envisage an increase in urbanized areas ranging between 50% and 150% and some municipalities
exceed even 200%–250% (Figure 7). These rates are extremely high, as they concern municipalities that
have witnessed demographic increases over the past twenty years (at any rate not exceeding 20%), but
also innumerable municipalities with only slight population growth or demographic stability (<5%) or
even with significant population decline nearing or above 10%. The dispersion of the point cloud in
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 11 of 16
Figure 7shows that there is basically no dierence between past demographic dynamics and expansion
ambitions of municipalities, which is, once again, evidence of the excessive decision-making autonomy
and profound lack of coordination in Italian municipal planning. In the case of Umbria, which
currently boasts a per capita urbanization rate of about 350 m
2
/inhabitant, the increase in urbanization
established in plans (+84%) corresponds to almost double the present-day 884,000 inhabitants over a
10–20-year timeframe: a speculated 3.5% per annum that is entirely unreasonable given the population
trend over the past 50 years marked by a mean growth rate of about 2%. The situation described for
Umbria also applies to a sample of municipalities with an urbanization density (UD) ranging between
3%and no more than 10%, but very dierent results can be obtained by investigating municipalities
in Lombardy, the Italian region, together with Veneto, with the highest mean UD rate (about 14%). The
over 1500 municipalities in Lombardy, the mean size of which is the lowest in Italy as shown earlier
(Figures 2and 3), have very high urbanization levels, up to 94% and almost 500 of them have over 25%
(one quarter) of their territory covered by settlements. Considering only those with a UD below 25%,
the situation diers from the one in Umbria in terms of absolute values. The diagrams in Figure 8show
the significant concentration of samples falling in the planned expansion range, between 0% and 10%
of present-day urbanization, and up to 20% in the sparser part of the cloud. As in the case of Umbria,
there is basically no dierence with rising or falling population ranging between +100% and
20% and
this applies both to all the municipalities considered and to their size clusters. Furthermore, in both
cases, there is no significant distribution per value-related or geographical sub-areas. Regarding the
plans in Lombardy, there is a tendency to limit urban expansion, probably owing to high saturation in
the region and also due to the fact that almost all the general town planning schemes (PRGs) are very
recent, as shown in Figure 6, that is to say, drafted after 2010, when the national debate on land take
started to gain ground.
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 17
Figure 7. Ratio between twenty-year demographic dynamics (19912018) in municipalities in Umbria
and the urbanized area growth rate in general town planning schemes (PRGs) in force.
Figure 8. The data shown are the same as in Figure 7 but for the region of Lombardy. In the large plot,
only the approximately 1000 municipalities with an urbanization density below 25% were considered.
The three plots at the top show the data for the three classes of municipalities ranging in size between
10 and 100 km2.
4. Discussion
Figure 7.
Ratio between twenty-year demographic dynamics (1991–2018) in municipalities in Umbria
and the urbanized area growth rate in general town planning schemes (PRGs) in force.
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 12 of 16
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 17
Figure 7. Ratio between twenty-year demographic dynamics (19912018) in municipalities in Umbria
and the urbanized area growth rate in general town planning schemes (PRGs) in force.
Figure 8. The data shown are the same as in Figure 7 but for the region of Lombardy. In the large plot,
only the approximately 1000 municipalities with an urbanization density below 25% were considered.
The three plots at the top show the data for the three classes of municipalities ranging in size between
10 and 100 km2.
4. Discussion
Figure 8.
The data shown are the same as in Figure 7but for the region of Lombardy. In the large plot,
only the approximately 1000 municipalities with an urbanization density below 25% were considered.
The three plots at the top show the data for the three classes of municipalities ranging in size between
10 and 100 km2.
Throughout Italy, this significant phenomenon of expansion is compounded by the issue of spatial
pattern. New areas are built without any general supervision, even from a spatial perspective, driven
only by criteria of participation or negotiations between the technical bureaus of municipalities and
the economic and social representatives of residing communities, with hardly negligible unlawful
influences that have emerged both in the past and today, and not only in the south of the country [
29
31
].
This entails numerous pathological, social, energy, and ecosystem-related consequences, due especially
to the excessive dispersion of tiny built/urbanized parts in the territory, sometimes very isolated from
the main agglomerations (Figure 9) and marked by considerable functional heterogeneity. These eects
have given rise to the phenomenon of “sprinkling” recently identified as an alternative Italian model
to the international standard of sprawl and defined after lengthy research [32,33].
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 13 of 16
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 6 of 17
From our previous considerations, it is clear that Italian planning has many weaknesses that
make it highly ineffective, if not useless or harmful. At this moment in time, the topic discussed in
this paper is not considered or under debate in any political forum, but only within a restricted niche
of technical and scientific experts, and so we cannot expect it to be tackled paradigmatically or from
a regulatory viewpoint, at least within the next 5 years. However, in the meantime, it would be
necessary to make some adjustments at least regarding the various forms of blatant deregulation: a
commendable and useful result would be to at least reduce/eliminate differences in syntax, contents,
and interpretations between zoning and rules of individual plans, introduce the regional mosaicking
of municipal urban development plans, as an institutional layer, for the ongoing monitoring of
changes, and adopt rules and protocols for the technical drafting of plans in terms of technical and
digital (Geographical Information System-GIS, Computer Aided Design - CAD, etc.) output. These
three measures would at least make it possible to query individual plans in real time and hence devise
scenarios of the future layout of the territory, both in terms of size and function. However, the
changes undergone by the territory are the sum of the various contents of plans and can therefore
only be assessed in the mid- and long-term or a posteriori, but having the opportunity to assess them
using the same key to their interpretation would make monitoring easier for regions which today are
faced with huge difficulties, given the “8000 different dialects” which Pileri [34] has come across in
his Piccolo Dizionario Urbanistico Italiano (Concise Dictionary of Italian Town Planning). This
consideration is clearly evidenced by Figure 10 where we see a comparison between three summary
tables taken from different general town planning schemes (PRGs) with huge differences in
definitions and representation of zones used for different purposes that undoubtedly hinder any
comparative and quantitative assessment.
Figure 9.
Dierent examples of plans in Umbria: top, choice of compact settlements and
below, significant territorial dispersion. Zone breakdown with legend standardized during
regional mosaicking (A—historical zones, B—completion residential zones, C—Residential expansion,
D—industrial/craftwork expansion, S—Public Utilities).
4. Discussion
From our previous considerations, it is clear that Italian planning has many weaknesses that make
it highly ineective, if not useless or harmful. At this moment in time, the topic discussed in this paper
is not considered or under debate in any political forum, but only within a restricted niche of technical
and scientific experts, and so we cannot expect it to be tackled paradigmatically or from a regulatory
viewpoint, at least within the next 5 years. However, in the meantime, it would be necessary to make
some adjustments at least regarding the various forms of blatant deregulation: a commendable and
useful result would be to at least reduce/eliminate dierences in syntax, contents, and interpretations
between zoning and rules of individual plans, introduce the regional mosaicking of municipal urban
development plans, as an institutional layer, for the ongoing monitoring of changes, and adopt rules and
protocols for the technical drafting of plans in terms of technical and digital (Geographical Information
System-GIS, Computer Aided Design - CAD, etc.) output. These three measures would at least make
it possible to query individual plans in real time and hence devise scenarios of the future layout of the
territory, both in terms of size and function. However, the changes undergone by the territory are the
sum of the various contents of plans and can therefore only be assessed in the mid- and long-term
or a posteriori, but having the opportunity to assess them using the same key to their interpretation
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 14 of 16
would make monitoring easier for regions which today are faced with huge diculties, given the “8000
dierent dialects” which Pileri [
34
] has come across in his “Piccolo Dizionario Urbanistico Italiano”
(Concise Dictionary of Italian Town Planning). This consideration is clearly evidenced by Figure 10
where we see a comparison between three summary tables taken from dierent general town planning
schemes (PRGs) with huge dierences in definitions and representation of zones used for dierent
purposes that undoubtedly hinder any comparative and quantitative assessment.
Sustainability 2019, 11, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 17
Figure 9. Different examples of plans in Umbria: top, choice of compact settlements and below,
significant territorial dispersion. Zone breakdown with legend standardized during regional
mosaicking (Ahistorical zones, Bcompletion residential zones, CResidential expansion, D
industrial/craftwork expansion, SPublic Utilities).
Figure 10. Examples of original legends taken from Italian general town planning schemes with
evident differences in definitions and categories used.
Figure 10.
Examples of original legends taken from Italian general town planning schemes with evident
dierences in definitions and categories used.
5. Conclusions
The work demonstrates, in a fairly clear manner, the inadequacy of the current Italian territorial
planning system focused on the municipalities and substantially devoid of strategic vision. At least two
aspects highlighted in the research underline this pathology: first, the excessive diusion of obsolete
municipal plans that for many years have not been able to collect the most recent territorial needs [
35
].
Secondly, the total and absurd independence of the urban evolution perspectives always positive in the
face of demographic dynamics, in some cases even drastically negative, to witness the distance from
the reality of the territories that the plans of the municipalities very often express, almost becoming
“books of dreams” that, however, on medium-long times, cause serious groundless and extensive land
take phenomena. Today, GIS platforms help manage “town” planning using consolidated and eective
big data technology, even on very large and strategic scales, as in the case of regions, but national
territorial culture lacks the sensitivity and readiness to engage in such an eort.
In fact, this would entail the profound re-organization of national and regional urban development
legislation, assigning a decision-making role to regional land planning, especially regarding settlements,
thus reinstating a top-down approach and assigning implementation, management and participatory
roles to municipalities and excluding the latter from decision-making. This would be a Copernican
revision of European importance that should stem from social and political players gaining awareness
of this issue and involve a radical national, and to some extent, constitutional reform. After all, we do
not see other alternatives to counter the build-up of eects caused by half a century of disjointedness
and unsustainability of urban settlements and built-up areas that some have defined as the “post-urban”
era, although it would be far more correct to define it “post-smart” era, especially as this concerns a
country that oers the world almost 30 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization) sites formed by historical cities.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, B.R. Data curation, F.Z., L.F. Software, A.M. Supervision, B.R.
Writing—original draft, B.R.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Acknowledgments:
The methodology and the indicators used have been developed within the framework of the
SUNLIFE project (LIFE 13/NAT/IT/000371—Strategy for the N2000 Network of the Umbria Region). We thank
Cheryl Di Lorenzo for her precious collaboration in the preparation of the text and the anonymous reviewers who,
with their comments, have allowed us to significantly improve the quality of the paper.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
Sustainability 2019,11, 6467 15 of 16
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©
2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution
(CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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