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Bringing people back to Bologna's streets

Bologna is working on new experiments for moving around and experiencing public space in the city

The COVID-19 emergency and the consequent restrictions to limit its diffusion have seen us, and still see us, living in a different way than the city and its spaces, especially those intended for social relations. In this situation, the proximity of services or the possibility of walking pleasantly close to home become even more important elements: the dimension of "proximity", area by area, not far from home, with the presence of qualitative public spaces spread throughout the city represent an enormous value in the qualitative dimension of people's lives.

The Foundation for Urban Innovation ('Fondazione per l’Innovazione Urbana' or 'FIU') is an ‘open and widespread lab’ focusing on urban innovation. Its main activities range from analysis, communication, development, and co-production focused on urban transformations. FIU's commitment to experimenting with new ideas and best practices for the city is realized in the work of redefining public spaces. In this sense, urban mobility, widespread pedestrianization and new spaces to support schools, sports, culture and local commerce are the directions and actions on which we are working with the aim of rethinking the way of moving and living in Bologna.

About the Foundation for Urban Innovation

The goals of the Foundation are organized into three main pillars that highlight the path the City of Bologna is following in the near future to become more welcoming and sustainable, to strengthen local urban welfare, and to boost urban and digital democracy. We are committed to addressing social, environmental, and technological challenges within urban organisms. To this end, we act as a ‘collective brain’ and hub of urban change, a catalyst for ideas and activities, and a place where citizens, public institutions, associations, social movements, and all representatives of the economic, social, and cultural worlds can meet, discuss, and interact proactively.

In considering a wide range of issues and actions, our strong territorial roots, and our equally persistent international presence, FIU could also be described as an ‘open and widespread lab’ with a systematic approach based on collaborative creation to turn the city into a more liveable and resilient organism. We integrate research and innovation into real-life communities and settings by opening up the co-design and co-creation phases to the different key stakeholders in the city.

To reach this goal, the Foundation’s various activities are organized into three main pillars:

  • 'Urban Centre': informational activities to promote the territory and urban culture;

  • 'Mapping the present': analysing and documenting urban transformations with a focus on open data;

  • 'Civic imagination office': activating participatory paths of co-production (such as District Labs and Participatory Budgeting).

FIU is involved in defining municipal policies, programmes, and development plans. In order to engage citizens and gather data to improve the quality of the policy cycle, we organize various activities such as territorial front offices, workshops, focus groups, interviews, meetings, and activities co-developed with the communities. Moreover, we use a range of participatory and co-design tools such as community mapping, planning for real, web-based engagement, open space technology, and assemblies.

Street experiments in Bologna

In October 2021 a new street experiment was unveiled on Via Milano. The intervention fits organically into the context of the action tests of transformation of the spaces in meeting places, play and socialization. It is designed in particular for children of the nearby schools and has, among its objectives, to experiment with new creative and unconventional uses of space to increase the livability and beauty of a stretch of road that had no particular function before, welcoming people of different ages, with particular attention to children of the nearby schools. The following have been created:

  • games designed on the ground for play and interaction,

  • sensory pools,

  • an area for an educational vegetable garden with wooden platforms and benches in a circle for the informal aggregation of children

  • multi-sport table

  • an inclusive picnic table

  • a pair of tubular benches

  • an area with platforms and tree-lined pools for the free aggregation of people or for the organization of small events.

The signs painted on the ground are inspired by the Convention on the Rights of the Child approved by the UN General Assembly and invite people to reflect on the theme of children's rights, while one of the squares on the ground is available for children to draw freely.

Via Milano, Bologna, Ⓒ Margherita Caprilli

The colors, materials and compositions used aim to encourage curiosity and thus to support people in imagining and practicing uses, thus taking part in the process of transformation of space.

The temporary and experimental intervention will last about a year and a half. The impact of the experiment is measured thanks to a monitoring and observing experimental method: this include different and integrated instruments of analysis (survey, counting, mapping, photography, interview), the comparation of the info collected before and after the intervention will give a measure of the impact the experiment had on the territory. If successful, the Municipality of Bologna may consider transforming the area permanently, taking into account the uses that people will have made of the space during this first experiment.

With the intervention in Via Milano the Foundation exported outside the historical center of the city the experimentation conducted in Piazza Rossini, the parking lot transformed in a green pedestrian square, and strengthen an experimental approach in which the setting up is a procedural and participatory tool useful to establish a dialogue between the urban space in transformation and the people who live it.

Piazza Rossini, Bologna Ⓒ Fondazione per l’Innovazione Urbana

The Foundation interacts with the Administration to implement shared decisions and actively works for innovation in administrative practices and tools to respond to territorial needs. In this respect, citizens are not only passive parties that need to be informed, but also vectors of information, promoters of change, and players capable of studying, proposing, testing, and applying new answers to challenges in the city. This dual role towards institutions and citizenship is what characterises our work at the FIU. In an effort to constantly update the dialogue on the city, FIU uses a complex communication system. We organize territorial communication, trying to simplify the technical and bureaucratic language and include as many citizens as possible in the public sphere. On the other hand, we regularly organize local, national, and international events, powering a virtuous communication mechanism which has been strengthened in the last five years due to a wide range of physical and theoretical tools. FIU is strongly committed to and motivated by the need to move towards achieving a just transition both for us, as workers at FIU, and the City of Bologna, thereby including citizens and city users. For us, this means embracing a social, environmental, and economic process that produces plans, politics, and investments with a view towards a sustainable future where urban organisms and communities are resistant and can flourish.

The collaboration in the EX-TRA project

Within the EX-TRA project, the Foundation will realise a new street experiment with instruments and methods experimented in the Via Milano and Piazza Rossini cases, will work side by side with the partners in the implementation of the contents of the digital platform "Commonplace platform" inserting the street experiment realised in Bologna. The Foundation will produce a report on the experience carried out that will return the results and support the construction of the index of accessibility of proximity (WP2) through the provision of data, cartography, research materials and field surveys, and contribute to the drafting of deliverables in charge of the research group DAStU (WP1, WP2).

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