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Medium-sized cities, intermediate scales and planning. Potential processes and missing tools in Brescia


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The ongoing phase of transition, led by processes of globalization and world crisis, has been encouraging the demographic and economic re-centralization towards major and largest cities. This trend urges the analysis of socio-economic and spatial dynamics in medium-sized cities which are historically characterized by manufacturing and entrepreneurial culture. This is the case of Brescia (one of the urban hubs of the North Italy city-region), where a strategic agenda (up to now, missing) could foster the management of trans-scalar urban issues, as well as the development of multi-level governance and planning solutions.
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CIUDADES, 23 (2020): pp. 1-22
ISSN-E: 2445-3943
Medium-sized cities, intermediate scales and planning. Potential
processes and missing tools in Brescia *
Ciudades medias, escalas intermedias y planificación. Procesos
potenciales e instrumentos ausentes en Brescia
PhD in Urban, Regional and Environmental Planning
Assistant Professor in Urban Planning and Design
Politecnico di Milano, Dipartimento di Architettura e Studi Urbani (Milan, Italy)
ORCID: 0000-0002-9070-0347
Recibido/Received: 30-09-2019; Aceptado/Accepted: 05-03-2020
Cómo citar/How to cite: Di Vita, Stefano (2020): “Medium-sized cities, intermediate scales and
planning. Potential processes and missing tools in Brescia”, Ciudades, 23, pp. 1-22. DOI:
Este artículo está sujeto a una licencia Creative Commons Atribución-No Comercial 4.0
Internacional(CC BY-NC 4.0) / This article is under a Creative Commons License: Attribution-
NonCommercial 4.0. International” (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Abstract: The ongoing phase of transition, led by processes of globalization and world crisis, has been
encouraging the demographic and economic re-centralization towards major and largest cities. This
trend urges the analysis of socio-economic and spatial dynamics in medium-sized cities which are
historically characterized by manufacturing and entrepreneurial culture. This is the case of Brescia (one
of the urban hubs of the North Italy city-region), where a strategic agenda (up to now, missing) could
foster the management of trans-scalar urban issues, as well as the development of multi-level
governance and planning solutions.
Keywords: postmetropolis, medium-sized cities, economic transition and innovation, multi-level
governance and planning.
Resumen: La fase de transición en curso, dirigida por procesos de globalización y crisis mundial, ha
venido alentando la recentralización demográfica y económica hacia las ciudades más grandes e
importantes. Esta tendencia urge a analizar la dinámica socioeconómica y espacial de las ciudades de
tamaño medio que se caracterizan históricamente por su cultura manufacturera y empresarial. Este es el
caso de Brescia (uno de los nodos urbanos de la ciudad-región del norte de Italia), donde un programa
estratégico (hasta ahora inexistente) podría fomentar la gestión de los retos urbanos transescalares, así
como el desarrollo de soluciones de gobernanza y planificación multinivel.
* This article collects some results of research activities carried out at Politecnico di
Milano, Dipartimento di Architettura e Studi Urbani (DAStU), in the framework of the
collaboration with the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Camera del Lavoro
di Brescia. The research group was formed by (in alphabetical order) Fabrizia
Berlingieri, Matteo Bolocan Goldstein, Stefano Di Vita, Gabriele Pasqui and Andrea
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Palabras clave: postmetrópolis, ciudades medias, transición económica e innovación, gobernanza y
planificación multinivel.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing post-Fordist and post-crisis transition
(socio-economic, cultural, political), the regionalization of urban phenomena
has been developed also in medium-sized cities. These cities represent one of
the main components of the European urban framework, even though they have
been increasingly penalized by recent processes of demographic and economic
recentralization towards global and metropolitan cities. Accordingly, this paper
aims at contributing to the cultural and scientific debate about the current
demands of updating processes and tools of urban planning, by focusing on the
specific case of Brescia. This is one of the urban nodes of the polycentric North
Italy city-region, around which research activities have been conducted at the
Politecnico di Milano, Dipartimento di Architettura e Studi Urbani (DAStU): (i)
on the one hand, in order to understand which are the post-metropolitan features
of a medium sized-city that is historically characterized by a deeply-rooted
manufacturing and entrepreneurial culture; (ii) on the other hand, in order to
experiment with the development of a multi-level and post-growth dependent
strategic agenda, that could be able to by-pass the administrative borders of the
municipal area; that is, to deal with the growing needs of governance and
planning, which are expressed by a multi-scalar metropolitan area without an
institutional representation.
The globalization and world crisis have been affecting cities, as they have
been contributing to the exacerbation of multiple critical issues: the growth of
social inequalities, the radicalization of environmental fragility and climate
change, the spatial reorganization of economic activities and social practices,
the decrease of financial resources, both public and private, thus demanding for
a radical change in an urban planning and development model that has been
mainly based on land and building consumptions (Secchi, 2013; Lanzani, 2015).
The past intensive growth of the urban phenomena and dynamics gradually and
contradictorily led to both the shrinkage of cities and their dilution at the
regional level (Brenner, 2014). The urban voids, which have remained since the
1970s and 1980s phase of deindustrialization, have been added by other
brownfields and vacant spaces, thus demanding for new approaches, methods
and solutions (Gabellini, 2013; Bianchetti, 2019). For instance, this large
amount of spatial resources, that spreads beyond the administrative borders of
cities and is difficult to re-use, claims a post-metropolitan and post-growth
Medium-sized cities, intermediate scales and planning 3
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update of urban planning processes and tools, and related levels (Soja, 2000,
2011; Rydin, 2013).
After past processes of residential and productive decentralization, the
ongoing post-Fordist and post-crisis transition has been penalizing processes of
spatial and socio-economic redistribution. Specifically, it has been both
encouraging processes of recentralization towards major and largest cities
(Perulli, 2017), and increasing their internal disparities (Cucca & Ranci, 2016;
Knieling & Othengrafen, 2016). The current transition risks to penalize those
areas which are placed outside the main city-regions, as well as in-between their
main urban cores. This is a problem not only for inner areas (i.e., small towns,
agricultural areas), but also for a large number of medium-sized cities.
According to the definition promoted by the OECD and the European
Commission, this is a constellation of cities, whose urban centre is between
100,000 and 250,000 inhabitants (Dijkstra & Poelman, 2012). Furthermore, this
is a constellation of cities, which historically represent a fundamental and
independent component of the European urban framework (Bagnasco & Le
Galès, 2000; Le Galès, 2003), and which recently have not been spared by
regionalization processes of urban phenomena and dynamics. However, this is
an articulated system of cities, which now risk to lose permanently their
cultural, political, socio-economic and spatial relevance to their multi-scalar
surroundings areas, and to be excluded from or subordinated to global city
trends and agendas (Giffinger et al., 2007).
Within the decline of manufacturing cities and regions, and the growth of
knowledge-based city-regions (Scott, 2001, 2008; Hall & Pain, 2006), the
current processes of re-urbanization risk to increase the cultural, political, socio-
economic and spatial divides: for instance, between the densification of
polycentric city-regions and the rest (at wider scale) (Haas & Westlund, 2017),
as well as between the densification of the main urban cores of these polycentric
city-regions and their in-between post-metropolitan spaces (at smaller scale)
(Dierwechter & Herrschel, 2018). Similarly, the endless development of new
infrastructures risks to paradoxically increase the urban and regional divides
between main transport nodes and less accessible places: for instance, it drives
the enlargement of city-regions and the upgrade of world networks among city-
regions, but it also leads to the downgrade of local connections to all those
minor places (internal or external to city-regions), which are not endowed with
adequate infrastructure nodes (Taylor, 2004; Haas & Westlund, 2017).
On this background, one of the priorities for European medium-sized cities
could be the development of multi-level and post-growth dependent strategic
agendas: (i) on the one hand, in order to challenge the frequent inertia of
contemporary urban policy and planning (Calafati, 2014; Vitali, 2014); (ii) on
the other hand, in order to promote the repositioning of medium-sized cities in
relation to both global networks and local networks. Going beyond the
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weaknesses of traditional strategic planning (Balducci, Fedeli & Pasqui, 2011),
and without taking for granted the potential outcomes of this new strategic
approach to urban issues, this multi-level strategic agenda could be inspiring for
the development of processes and tools of urban planning. In the Italian national
context, where the case study of Brescia is located, this chance for medium-
sized cities to deal with increasingly trans-scalar and cross-border urban
phenomena and dynamics is a relevant challenge and goal, as they are still
missing of an appropriate institutional representation
The medium-sized city of Brescia is one of the urban nodes of the
polycentric North Italy city-region, as it is located along the infrastructure
corridor between Turin and Trieste, through which the Po Valley megalopolis
has partially developed (Turri, 2000; Perulli, 2017). Specifically, the municipal
area of Brescia (about 90 km2 and 200,000 inhabitants) is situated in a not
institutionalized metropolitan area, that extends from the city and its
surrounding municipalities (about 300 km2 and 350,000 inhabitants) to the
sector of the pre-Alps linear city included in its provincial borders (more than
1,400 km2 and 900,000 inhabitants on the total amount of around 4,800 km2 and
1,300,000 inhabitants of the provincial area)
. This multi-scalar metropolitan
area is located in the middle of a wide territorial context that is historically
characterized by (Caroli, 2015):
- Strong productive specialization (for example, in the mechanical,
metallurgical, textile, automotive, rubber and plastic, agri-food and
electronic sectors), both in the urban core and in the industrial districts
of the surrounding valleys, even though this vocation is mainly
represented and interpreted by small and medium-sized enterprises with
usually low capacity of innovation (for instance, towards the
knowledge, creative and cultural capitalism, the digital manufacturing
and the green economy).
- Geographical proximity to heavily industrialized agricultural areas (that
is, the irrigated plain between the Oglio and Chiese rivers), landscape-
environmental and tourist heritage (that is, the Lakes Garda, Idro and
Iseo) and connected eno-gastronomic districts (that is, Franciacorta,
Valtenesi and Colline Moreniche del Garda).
Up to now, the last reform of local authorities (that is, the National Act 56/2014)
established the new Metropolitan City authorities only in the case of biggest cities (with the
exception of Reggio Calabria).
Source: (accessed: 01-03-2020).
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Whilst, during the Twentieth Century, the urban development was mainly
driven by the manufacturing sector, since the 1970s several industrial plants
have closed (for instance, metallurgical factories as Europa Metalli; steel
factories as Atb and Bisider; mechanical factories as Baribbi and Orlandi; agri-
food factories as Whurer). Large brownfields have added to barracks, railway
yards and logistic yards, which were no longer used. Therefore, all these
abandoned areas were included in large urban redevelopment projects, which
were planned by the 1999 and 2004 editions of the Piano Regolatore Generale
) in order to redesign the functional, morphological and typological
features of entire city blocks and sectors, and to increase levels of urban quality.
Despite the de-industrialization process, in 2011 the workers in the
manufacturing sector still represented the 15.7% of the active population that
was registered in the municipal area
. Furthermore, according to its
geographical location, the city confirms its role as urban hub of a provincial
area that is featured by a strong productive vocation: that is, a provincial area
that, in 2016, was third in Europe for what concerns the number of workers in
the manufacturing sector (156,000) and the industrial added value (10 billion
. Nevertheless, as in other European cities, even in the urban core of
Brescia the issue of the post-Fordist transition (along with that of the urban
redevelopment) has been included in the local political agenda since the 1980s.
In particular, this issue has become more and more crucial since the 1999
adoption of the PRG, which was directed by Bernardo Secchi and characterized
by a unprecedented multi-level analysis of the city and its territorial context, but
approved in new version by the Municipality in 2004 only.
Against the backdrop of the image of “fractal city” (Figure 1), that
Bernardo Secchi attributed to Brescia (Studio Brescia PRG, 1998), this general
urban plan aimed to redesign the existing city to drive its post-Fordist transition.
It provided an articulated system of goals and actions, which have tried to deal
with a typically low-density urban fabric (Matteotti & Tedeschi, 2003):
- The preservation and enhancement of the environmental and landscape
system, from extensive areas with high natural value (e.g., the Parco
delle Colline, the Parco del Mella, the Parco delle Cave, the Parco di
San Polo) to compact ones with high social value (e.g., the Castle and
other urban parks).
- The urban regeneration of the historic centre (e.g., the Carmine
neighbourhood), as well as peripheral districts and main road axes.
According to the Italian National Government’s Urban Planning Act (1150/1942), at the
municipal level the general urban planning tool is the Piano Regolatore Generale (PRG).
Source: “Atlante dei Territori Post-Metropolitani”:
(accessed: 01-03-2020).
Source: Associazione Industriale Bresciana: (accessed: 01-03-2020).
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- The redevelopment of large and no longer used areas (e.g., Borgo
Whurer, Canton Mombello, Comparto Milano) and the reconfiguration
of entire city sectors (e.g., Brescia Due, San Polo).
- The environmental and landscape mitigation of main industrial plants
which, up to now, have survived the recent deindustrialization process
(e.g., the Alfa Acciai and Ori Martin steelworks, the Lonati
- The development of large urban facilities (e.g., the university campuses,
the exhibition centre) and new social housing neighbourhoods (e.g.,
Sanpolino, South Violino).
- Lastly, the sustainable improvement of the urban mobility (e.g., through
the completion of the public parking system, the development of the
cycle network, the construction of a sort of bus rapid transit network
and, above all, an automatic light rail line).
Figure 1: The “fractal city” of Brescia and its multi-scalar metropolitan area.
Source: Studio Brescia PRG, 1998: 28.
Similarly to other Italian and European cities, the large urban change
process and projects, which were promoted and partially implemented in the
2000s, corresponded to a phase of real estate development. Contextually to a
spontaneous and supra-local deindustrialization process and through the support
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of the local 2004 PRG, also in Brescia this was a phase in which the urban
development coincided with an intensive (and sometimes extensive) urban
transformation, that was mainly led by the real estate sector. On the one hand,
the strategies and actions of the 2004 PRG contributed to the increase of the
urban quality. On the other hand, the ending or relocation of several productive
activities and the closure of multiple industrial sites were addressed by the 2004
PRG through the promotion and implementation of large but repetitive urban
redevelopment projects. These projects were usually featured by similar
functional mix of dwelling, retailing and offices: it means that they were rarely
combined with the development of high added-value urban functions,
potentially able to stimulate an effective and powerful socio-economic renewal
of the city. Accordingly, whilst many of these planned (and often oversized)
projects have not been implemented during and after the outbreak of the 2008
global crisis, they have contributed to (Di Vita, 2014):
- The impoverishment of the urban identity, which was traditionally
connected to industrial production.
- The low-profile configuration of the urban metamorphosis towards the
service sector, that has been mostly characterized by the oversized
development of shopping centres and offices, and the strengthening of
mainly local public services.
The loss of several and historical manufacturing activities has not been
replaced by new attractive functions in the service sector, whose lack has
negatively affected the role that the city of Brescia played within its multi-scalar
territorial context (from metropolitan, provincial and regional, to macro-
regional, national and European). For instance, despite the excellent hospital
facilities which are placed in the municipal area, the local university system,
that has gradually expanded since 1965 (with the opening of the Università
Cattolica campus) and 1982 (with the establishment of the Università degli
Studi) is still characterized by a modest ranking. At the same time, the 1990s
and 2000s attempts to launch the cultural tourism through the organization of
successful exhibitions in local museums (in particular, in the Museo di Santa
Giulia) rapidly declined
. Therefore, it has become more and more crucial to
question the local effects of the world growth-dependence and crisis through the
development and implementation of urban policies, plans and projects within an
unprecedented urban vision. Specifically, after being the third Italian industrial
city, a medium-sized city as Brescia needs to clearly redefine its development
goals in relation to both:
- A macro-regional, national and European territorial framework that has
radically changed from the socio-economic and political points of view;
These exhibitions were promoted on behalf of the municipal administration by the Association
Brescia Mostre (from 1996 to 2004) and the private company Linea d’Ombra (from 2004 to 2009).
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- A metropolitan, provincial and regional area that is still able to confirm
its top-ranking location within the national and European territorial
contexts for what concerns manufacturing production and economic
activities in general.
Despite the above-mentioned economic strengths of its provincial area, the
urban core of Brescia has been struggling for at least two decades in order to
carve out its own visibility between the neighbouring similar-sized cities of
Bergamo and Verona, which are respectively located to the West and to the East
along the macro-regional infrastructure corridor and linear city between Turin
and Trieste. This weakness has been connected to a deep cultural displacement
of the urban elites and the depletion of some local excellent functions: for
instance, utilities (according to the merger of AEM Milano, AMSA Milano and
ASM Brescia into A2A group, based in Milan), fairs (referring to the two-years
closure of the local exhibition centre), airports (losing the competition with
Bergamo Orio al Serio and Verona Villafranca), banks (according to the merger
of the Banco di Brescia in the UBI banking group, based in Bergamo). During
its post-Fordist transition, Brescia was missing a strategic agenda that could
have been able to reconfigure the role of the urban core in its territorial contexts
at both the local levels (e.g., metropolitan, provincial and regional) and supra-
local levels (e.g., macro-regional, national and European) (Bonomi, 2013;
Caroli, 2015).
The 2008 global crisis has been adding new (small and large) abandoned
buildings and areas to those which were inherited by the first de-
industrialization phase (in 1980s and 1990s): from former factories (e.g., the
Ideal Standard, Idra, Pietra), to obsolete collective facilities (e.g., old hospitals
or cinemas). At the same time, as in other Italian and European cities, the 2008
crisis has negatively affected the implementation of the municipal 2004 PRG,
whose several redevelopment projects were not concluded or neither started (Di
Vita, 2014).
The contemporary and sharp slowdown of the real estate market cannot be
. This trend represents the end of a cycle, and it demands for new
planning approaches and solutions: not only at the national and international
level (Lanzani & Pasqui, 2011; Rydin, 2013), but also at the local level. After
the longstanding speculation on tertiarization processes of cities, which have
been frequently supported by urban policies and plans (even to sustain the
functioning of local administrations), also the case of Brescia highlights the
The transactions of dwellings decreased in Brescia by 43.8% from 2006 to 2014. Source:
Osservatorio del Mercato Immobiliare: (accessed: 01-03-2020).
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growing needs for new methods, levels and contents in urban planning
processes and tools.
In contradiction to these demands, the general urban plan for Brescia, that
was approved by the Municipality in 2012 (the so-called Piano di Governo del
Territorio, PGT
), confirmed the large real estate redevelopment projects, which
were previously planned, but have not been implemented yet. Furthermore, the
2012 PGT increased the local building capacity with the aim of favouring the
real estate market. This choice ignored both the post-crisis socio-economic and
political conditions, which have radically changed at the international level, and
the socio-economic and spatial conflicts between existing and new territorial
centralities, which have been recently implemented at the local level, according
to oversized urban plans (Di Vita & Pasqui, 2015). For example, this is the case
of the growing conflicts between the retail system of the urban core’s historic
centre, that has been suffering despite the enlargement of pedestrian areas and
the increase of nightlife activities, and the development of shopping centres in
the metropolitan and provincial areas (both, in brownfields and greenfields),
that has been leading to first local problems of demalling (Cavoto, 2014). In
general terms, this is also due to the recurrent functional mix that the 2004 and
2012 urban plans allocated to large transformation areas, without added value in
terms of diversification and renewal of the urban economy, society and space.
The 2012 PGT neglected the end of the previous expansionary cycle of the
real estate sector, also because of the tendency of the political debate to mainly
focus on single projects and sectoral issues, in a longstanding lack of (really and
explicitly) strategic visions for the urban development. In order to ideologically
reduce the land take
, the new PGT (that was approved in 2016 by the current
city administration, Figures 2 and 3) has introduced an appreciable downsizing
of the previous plan. Nevertheless, several transformation areas have been
confirmed, even though their implementation has not started for years.
Furthermore, the new urban plan has not focused on the necessary repositioning
of the city, even according to the industrial past of the urban core and the
productive vocation of the multi-scalar territorial context in which Brescia is
located (Caroli, 2015; Treu, 2015). On the background of ongoing phenomena
of both urban shrinkage and dilution, the new urban plan aims to support the
preservation of industrial areas, which have survived the post-Fordist real estate
development. However, this goal has not been supported yet by an organic
system of connected public policies and planning mechanisms, so that it risks
being not incisive, within the current market conditions.
According to the Lombardy Regional Government’s Urban Planning Act (12/2005), at the
municipal level the general urban planning tool is now the Piano di Governo del Territorio (PGT).
According to the definition by the European Environment Agency: (accessed: 01-03-2020).
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Figure 2: The PGT approved by the Municipality of Brescia in 2016. The Strategic Framework.
approvato.aspx (accessed: 01-03-2020).
According to these exemplifying criticalities, the current 2016 PGT has not
promoted an explicit vision for the future of the urban core. At the same time,
whilst it has ideologically focused on contemporary urban issues (e.g., the
preservation and enhancement of greenfields, as well as productive activities or
sites), it has not been able to foster their implementation.
An implicit vision for the future of Brescia has been developed by one of
the most important multi-utilities in Italy such as A2A, that was founded in
2008 by the former AEM Milano, AMSA Milano and ASM Brescia and that
operates in multiple sectors (e.g., energy and technological networks; urban
waste and environment; urban heating and cooling). Since 1970s this company
has been investing in the development of an integrated management system of
the urban waste disposal, the industrial energy recovery, and the urban energy,
heating and cooling production. Moreover, since 2018 A2A has been promoting
a huge smart city project in collaboration with the Municipality of Brescia, that
aims at the development of the optic fibre network. Whilst these projects lead
the urban core of Brescia to achieve European standards and become an Italian
best practice, they could support the development of those new and innovative
Medium-sized cities, intermediate scales and planning 11
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productive activities through which the 2016 PGT aim to reuse longstanding
brownfields and preserve existing industrial sites.
Figure 3: The PGT approved by the Municipality of Brescia in 2016. The General Masterplan.
approvato.aspx (accessed: 01-03-2020).
A more explicit vision for the future of Brescia has been recently promoted
by the Piano Urbano per la Mobilità Sostenibile (PUMS), that was approved by
the Municipality in 2018. The new mobility plan refers to longstanding projects
for the development of the macro-regional and local railway systems (e.g., the
completion of the Milan-Venice high-speed train and the development of a
suburban railway network) when it proposes the construction of a new urban
tramway network to integrate the recent automatic light rail (Figures 4 and 5).
Whilst this public transport extension mainly focuses on the urban core, rather
than on the rest of its multi-scalar territorial context, this is an ambitious
proposal for a medium-sized city that, consequently, could become an
international best practice for the urban sustainability. At the same time, this
could provide a reference to the urban plan for the selection of project goals,
actions and related sites.
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Figure 4: The PUMS approved by the Municipality of Brescia in 2018. The Territorial Scenario.
agine/Approvazione.aspx (accessed: 01-03-2020).
The recent investments in transport infrastructures in and to Brescia (e.g.,
the automatic light rail line in the urban core, operational since 2012; the new
direct motorway and high-speed train line to Milan, operational since 2015; the
new high-speed train line to Verona and Venice, under construction) have
already changed the trans-scalar territorial relationships, which are both internal
and external to the city, and they could further drive the development and
implementation of an unprecedented multi-level vision.
Also according to this specific issue, the case of Brescia highlights the
growing needs for new methods, levels and contents in urban planning
processes and tools: for instance, by introducing a pro-active and
entrepreneurial approach to urban planning, and not only regulatory. In order to
avoid the multiple contradictions which have characterized the (post-Fordist and
post-crisis) incomplete transition of the city10, a long-term and multi-level
strategic agenda should be developed (really and explicitly) in relation to (Treu,
2015; Di Marino & Di Vita, 2019):
10 This definition is directly inspired by another research, that was developed at the Politecnico di
Milano, Dipartimento di Architettura e Studi Urbani (DAStU) on the case of Milan (Bolocan Goldstein
& Bonfantini, 2007).
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- not only the potentialities and criticalities of the multi-scalar
metropolitan area of Brescia in the poly-centric city-region of North-
- but also the socio-economic and spatial dynamics of global networks.
Figure 5: The PUMS approved by the Municipality of Brescia in 2018. The General Masterplan.
agine/Approvazione.aspx (accessed: 01-03-2020).
The analysis of contemporary urban change processes in a European
medium-sized city as Brescia, that is placed in a productive metropolitan and
city-regional area, highlights no-longer postponing needs for local authorities to
take a more active role in planning and managing urban dynamics. Whilst,
according to a consolidated framework, the recent urban plans have mainly
focused on the ordinary planning and management of the city, the current
transition demands for an experimentation with new approaches and solutions.
In order to encourage and implement an innovation in the development model
of the past decades, local authorities should become active promoters of an
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articulated system of urban resources (Albrechts, 2003; Balducci & Mäntysalo,
2013). It means to go beyond the mere administration of the city, that has more
and more often encouraged and relied to the only exploitation of the land rents.
Against this backdrop, the research of the Politecnico di Milano,
Dipartimento di Architettura e Studi Urbani (DAStU) has tried to make a
contribution to the collective construction of a multi-level strategic agenda that
includes potential issues and priorities for the regeneration of Brescia and its
repositioning at different scales (e.g., metropolitan, provincial, regional, macro-
regional, national, European). Accordingly, the research has promoted the
development of a process that takes into account the needs of different
stakeholders (e.g., political-institutional, economic, social, cultural), the lack of
resources, and the obsolescence and rigidity of administrative boundaries, in
comparison with the current complexity of territorial dynamics (e.g.,
settlements, infrastructures, environment, economy, society). This vision aims
to rely on a shared, selective and trans-scalar approach, as well as a wider
awareness of local potentialities, such as the consolidated excellences to
strengthen, or the potential innovations to enhance. Specifically, it means to
promote the excellent healthcare facilities, the university campuses and
services, or the tourism resources, even according to the consolidation of their
connections with:
- The extensive productive systems (e.g., manufacturing and agriculture)
of the multi-scalar area in which the city is located;
- The new transport infrastructures (e.g., the municipal automatic light
rail; the regional Brescia-Milan direct motorway, the macro-regional
Milan-Venice high-speed railway) and digital infrastructures (e.g., the
smart city projects), which have been radically changing the territorial
connections of the city (internal and external).
Taking into account both the local specificities and global trends, the
research has proposed to consider this multi-level strategic agenda as a shared
representation of the multi-scalar Brescia in relation to both local and macro-
regional systems. In particular, referring to specific issues, the research has
suggested the development and implementation of inter-institutional
cooperation in urban planning and management (for instance, in planning the
urban change, or in managing the public services). Indeed, the shared
identification and selection of strategic goals and actions at the inter-municipal
scale could effectively improve the socio-economic dynamics and the spatial
organization of the multi-scalar Brescia. At the same time, facing to the lack of
a national legislative framework for medium-sized cities (Balducci, Fedeli &
Curci, 2017), they could foster the experimental construction of a post-
metropolitan governance that is flexible and variable-geometry, on the basis of
specific policies, plans and projects.
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The research has proposed this multi-level strategic agenda as a sort of
interface between local networks and world networks in order to face to the
crisis not only through defensive tools and mechanisms, but also through a pro-
active approach to the socio-economic innovation and spatial reconfiguration:
- By exploiting the above-mentioned industrial vocation of the multi-
scalar metropolitan area and the entrepreneurial dynamism of the urban
core, which have survived to the crisis
, through an ecological
- By enhancing the networking relationships and potential synergies with
other territorial systems of the polycentric Northern Italy city-region
(both the Milan’s global urban node and the macro-region’s other
medium-sized cities);
It means that this vision could increase the awareness about the resources
of the city and enable the potentialities for its repositioning at multiple scales
(Di Vita & Pasqui, 2015):
- The local dimension of the urban core that, since the late 1990s, has
been involved in a large but incomplete process of socio-economic and
spatial renewal;
- The complexity of the multi-scalar metropolitan area, that consists of
the first and second belt’s municipalities around the urban core, the
linear city of the Val Trompia, and the urban sprawl of the Franciacorta
and Basso Garda areas, and that has been affected by significant
phenomena of territorial reorganization, also connected to the ongoing
upgrading of transport infrastructures;
- The relationships with a wider area, that includes the pre-Alpine
Camonica, Trompia and Sabbia valleys, and the provincial areas of
Cremona and Mantua, and that is an integral part of the pre-Alpine
linear city between Turin and Trieste and, in its turn, of the North-Italy
city-region; that is, a post-metropolitan macro-region, that is also
capable of intercepting the long networks of globalization.
According to this agenda, the role of a European medium-sized city as
Brescia, that is placed in a productive metropolitan and city-regional area, could
be redefined by referring to a wider and multi-scalar territorial and productive
platform. This is a territorial and productive context that extends beyond the
municipal, metropolitan and provincial areas of Brescia, and encompasses (at
least) the entire pre-Alpine urban corridor in which the municipal, metropolitan
and provincial areas of Brescia themselves are located.
For instance, inside the municipal area of Brescia, the 2011 index of economic dynamism, that
represents the number of jobs in private sector companies in comparison with those in public ones,
remained positive. Source: “Atlante dei Territori Post-Metropolitani”: (accessed: 01-03-2020).
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Such a multi-level scenario, that goes beyond the ordinary administrative
borders and relies on the exploitation of multi-faceted resources, has never been
promoted neither shared by local policy makers and stakeholders. On the
contrary, the research has proposed to develop this multi-level strategic agenda
through the involvement and coordination of a wide network of local and supra-
local actors, which are providers of multi-disciplinary skills and knowledge,
within an innovative, structured and permanent process. It could be an occasion
to extend and consolidate the so-called Giunta dei Sindaci, that was established
in 2013 by the Mayors of Brescia and 14 surroundings municipalities, even
though it has not developed yet any real cooperation activities. In addition to
territorial institutions (e.g., municipal administrations of the metropolitan area,
provincial and regional governments, chambers of commerce) and to utilities
and functional authorities (e.g., companies which operate public transport,
public health, urban waste, urban heating and other technological networks), the
research has proposed to invite to join such a process the traditional agencies of
business and work systems (e.g., entrepreneur associations, trade unions), but
also other actors, which are usually not constrained by ordinary regulations.
This is the case of private companies, as well as bank foundations, other
universities and research institutions, which operate in the city and its multi-
scalar territorial context. This is also the case of cultural and social associations
which, in Brescia, have centuries-old roots and traditions.
Through this process and shared dimension, the development of such a
multi-level scenario could contribute (Di Vita, 2014; Di Vita & Pasqui, 2015):
- To expand the knowledge and consolidate the awareness of local and
supra-local actors and stakeholders about the actual resources and
potentialities which are available in the multi-scalar Brescia;
- To overcome the obsolete municipal borders of the urban core, and to
extend to a multi-scalar territorial context whose dynamics (e.g.,
settlements, infrastructures, environment, landscape, economy, society)
are now totally connected to those of the urban core itself, although in
the overall lack of adequately cooperative policies and planning tools;
- To drive the implementation of its goals and actions; for instance, by
selecting the priorities to carry out, also through the finding of available
economic resources (public and private) against the backdrop of the
ongoing weakening of investment capacity;
- Accordingly, to drive the future development of multi-level policies,
plans and projects, which could articulate into efficacious, feasible and
sustainable solutions;
- To foster the renovation of local elites and ruling classes, also in order
to bring out new actors and projects for a multi-scalar Brescia that, at
some extent, needs to be imagined, yet;
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- To encourage the development of new relationships between the
traditional productive activities (from manufacturing in local small and
medium-sized enterprises, to agriculture), and the knowledge, creative
and cultural capitalism of local and global networks (from knowledge
workers, to finance, infrastructures, logistics, utilities), which might
drive the urban change.
On the background of international case studies, which have been selected
as best practices of trans-scalar urban regeneration processes (e.g., the IBAs
Emscher Park in Germany and the Parkstad in The Netherlands), and a couple
of seminars, which were organized at the Urban Centre of Brescia
, the
research has also tried to define specific goal and actions to further develop the
multi-level strategic agenda for Brescia. Besides its proposals in terms of
method and approach, the research has taken the recent and ongoing
construction of the above-mentioned new transport infrastructures (at
municipal, regional and macro-regional level) as premise and chance to start a
shared development of the multi-level scenario in terms of contents.
The multi-level strategic agenda interprets and promotes Brescia as
relevant urban node between the supra-local system that is made by the
infrastructure corridor and linear city of the pre-Alps (West-East), and the local
system that consists of the infrastructure corridor and linear city of the Val
Trompia (North-South). Referring to the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA)
best practices, the multi-level scenario itself extents from this multi-scalar
Brescia to the entire macro-regional infrastructure corridor between Milan and
Verona (West-East)
, and to the local infrastructure and ecological corridors
which consists of historical railways and rivers (North-South) (Figure 6).
According to this framework, the research has selected the redevelopment
of the trans-scalar relationships between (existing and future) transport
infrastructures and places as the main goal, beginning with the re-connection
between the macro-regional infrastructure corridor (East-West), the local
infrastructure and ecological corridors (North-South), and the related urban
nodes. Therefore, it has identified:
- A system of trans-scalar territorial components, which could be able to
interpret the goal (for instance, the transport corridors and nodes, also in
connection to the green networks and vacant spaces);
The two seminars (the first in January 2015 and the second in September 2016) were
organized in collaboration with the Municipality of Brescia and the local section of the national trade
union Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), and they involved multiple local actors and
stakeholders (e.g., members of local authorities, public utilities, private companies, foundations,
associations, organizations and other universities).
This corridor includes the section between Milan and Brescia, opened in 2015, and the section
between Brescia and Verona, now under construction.
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- A system of trans-scalar actions, which could be able to achieve the
goal (for instance, the mitigation of infrastructure barriers; the
strengthening of main city gates and minor infrastructure nodes; the
completion of public transport and cycle corridors; the reconstruction of
environment and landscape connections; the reclaim of polluted lands
and water; the renewal and reuse of abandoned buildings and areas in
order to enhance the architectural and urban heritage, to place new
productions and high added-value functions, and to drive the spatial and
socio-economic regeneration of the outskirts).
Figure 6: The multi-level strategic agenda for Brescia. The Territorial Scenario.
Source: Map elaborated by Fabrizia Berlingeri and Stefano Di Vita.
On the background of the case study of a European medium-sized city as
Brescia and its multi-scalar metropolitan area, the research of the Politecnico di
Milano (DAStU) has led to multiple results.
First, the research shows potentialities of innovation in urban planning
processes. The multi-level strategic agenda, that is described in the entire
Paragraph 4, consists on goals and actions which have already consolidated in
contemporary cities: for instance, the reconnection between infrastructures and
places, as well as the environmental, spatial and socio-economic regeneration of
urban fabrics and open spaces. Nevertheless, this scenario is pioneering in terms
of method and approach, beginning with the aim of developing shared, selective
and trans-scalar solutions for a multi-layered and not-institutionalized
metropolitan area. Further investigation is now necessary to test this method
and approach, as well as to check the strategic goals and actions according to
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both multi-level policies, plans and projects of surrounding cities and regions,
and multiple stakeholders.
Second, the research exhibits some current limits in urban planning
processes, as well as open and challenging questions about urban planning
tools. On the one hand, according to the difficulties in the implementation of its
outcomes (that has not been possible, yet), the research demonstrates how a
multi-level vision (that relies on flexible and variable-geometry goals, actions
and actors) needs competent institutions. It means that the multi-level
governance, that should vary depending on specific urban issues rather than on
administrative borders, demands for institutions which are really able to
integrate vertically, through an effective and collaborative cooperation (Healey,
2006; Pasqui, 2019). On the other hand, the research outlines how a cross-
bordered urban planning process (shared, selective and trans-scalar) implicitly
highlights longstanding but still unsolved demands of further investigation
towards the renovation of modern urban planning tools in relation to
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... Furthermore, European cities have their own characteristics, in particular the large number of small and medium-sized urban settlements, often with deep historical roots (Le Galès, 2002). At the same time as processes of recentralisation towards major and larger cities (Perulli, 2017), urban shrinkage is affecting the socio-economic and spatial dynamics of Europe's medium-sized cities (Di Vita, 2020). In areas where urbanisation has already concentrated most of the population, a parasitic scenario has now emerged, whereby some urban centres shrink so that other cities may grow (Beauregard, 2009). ...
... This transition risks penalising areas located outside the main cities. Not only is this a problem for small cities and rural areas, but also for a large number of medium-sized cities (Di Vita, 2020). These centres of population have challenges that they must address in order to advance their development. ...
Full-text available
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Full-text available
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The planning system has always sought to support greater prosperity in local areas, but has achieved mixed success. Inequality, social deprivation and environmental injustice remain persistent features of urban and rural areas. This has been true even in more nationally buoyant economic times but now the planning system is faced with the prospect of operating through years of economic stagnation. The existing approach which is dependent on market-based economic growth to achieve social benefits in localities is unlikely to work. Yet government policy is responding by proposing a presumption in favour of sustainable development - understood clearly to be market-led development. It is time to re-examine this approach and consider alternatives. This book provides a timely critique of existing assumptions about planning’s relationship to economic demand and its role in relation to market-led development. It proposes an alternative approach based on a mix of protection of community and low-value assets and land uses with ways of promoting development and use of the built and natural environment that meet community needs. It builds on the arguments of the last chapter in The Purpose of Planning (Policy Press, 2010), and feeds into contemporary debates about public policy, planning and sustainability.
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Today, the increasing mobility of capital, people and information has changed the space relations of urban societies. Contractual relations have increased in every field of social life: in the economic field, but also in the political, and in creative and scientific areas. Contracts are not only legal frameworks or economic aggregates of individuals, but socially embedded forms. The concept of urban contract proposed in this book combines the theoretical body of economic-juridical literature on the contract with that of historical-anthropological and socio-spatial literature on the city. Through a diverse range of ten city case studies, The Urban Contract compares European, North-American and Asian Urban Contracts. It concludes with a theoretical proposal for understanding the deep dialectical nature of Contract Cities: their reciprocity and competition, their dual trend towards growth and decay, their cyclical nature as agents of change and disruption of the social forms of urbanity.
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With the advent of multinational corporations, the traditional urban service function has 'gone global'. In order to provide services to globalizing corporate clients, the offices of major financial and business service firms across the world have formed a network. It is the myriad of flows between office towers in different metropolitan centres that has produced a world city network. Through an analysis of the intra-company flows of 100 leading global service firms across 315 cities, this book assesses cities in terms of their overall network connectivity, their connectivity by service sector, and their connectivity by world region. Peter Taylor's unique and illuminating book provides the first comprehensive and systematic description and analysis of the world city network as the 'skeleton' upon which contemporary globalization has been built. His analyses challenge the traditional view of the world as a 'mosaic map' of political boundaries. Written by one of the foremost authorities on the subject, this book provides a much needed mapping of the connecting relationships between world cities, and will be an enlightening book for students of urban studies, geography, sociology and planning.
This completes Ed Sojaa s trilogy on urban studies, which began with Postmodern Geographies and continued with Thirdspace. It is the first comprehensive text in the growing field of critical urban studies to deal with the dramatically restructured megacities that have emerged world--wide over the last half of the twentieth--century.
This book is about the renaissance of cities in the twenty first century and their increasing role as centers of creative economic activity. It attempts to put some conceptual and descriptive order around issues of urbanization in the contemporary world, emphasizing the idea of the social economy of the metropolis, which is to say, a view of the urban organism as an intertwined system of social and economic life played out through the arena of urban space. The book opens with a review of some essentials of urban theory, the book aims to re-articulate the urban question in a way that is relevant to city life and politics in the present era. It then analyses the functional characteristics of the urban economy, with special reference to the rise of a group of core sectors such as media, fashion, music, etc., focused on cognitive and cultural forms of work. These sectors are growing with great rapidity in the world's largest cities at the present time, and they play a major role in the urban resurgence that has been occurring of late. The discussion then explores the spatial ramifications of this new economy in cities and the ways in which it appears to be ushering in major shifts in divisions of labor and urban social stratification, as marked by a growing divide between a stratum of elite workers on the one side and a low-wage proletariat on the other. Allen Scott is one of the world's foremost thinkers on the economies of modern cities, and in this book presents a concise introduction to his innovative and insightful perspective. Available in OSO:
Urban Complexity and Spatial Strategies develops important new relational and institutionalist approaches to policy analysis and planning, of relevance to all those with an interest in cities and urban areas. Well-illustrated chapters weave together conceptual development, experience and implications for future practice and address the challenge of urban and metropolitan planning and development. Useful for students, social scientists and policy makers, Urban Complexity and Spatial Strategies offers concepts and detailed cases of interest to those involved in policy development and management, as well as providing a foundation of ideas and experiences, an account of the place-focused practices of governance and an approach to the analysis of governance dynamics. For those in the planning field itself, this book re-interprets the role of planning frameworks in linking spatial patterns to social dynamics with twenty-first century relevance.
Il capitalismo in-finito. Indagine sui territori della crisi
  • Aldo Bonomi
Bonomi, Aldo (2013), Il capitalismo in-finito. Indagine sui territori della crisi, Turin, Einaudi.