|SUBURBS RECOVERY PROGRAMS
By Daniel Modigliani
Session “Cities within the City”: Identity and Governance”
The outskirts of Rome are primarily made up of unplanned neighborhoods and borgate (illegally constructed neighborhoods, often without infrastructure - tr.). From the post-war years until today, hundreds of isolated residential and small industrial settlements have arisen throughout the Roman countryside leaving vast open spaces between them.
The neighborhoods grew out of low-cost residential projects; the borgate out of illegal building activity. In general, there is very little legal building. Both the public projects as well as the illegal ones resulted from successive additions made over time, while neither modifying the existing infrastructure nor constructing any that was established in the 1960s City Plan. A million people reside in the urban periphery, which were born casually in the Roman countryside nearby, and outside of, the city’s ring road (Grande Raccordo Anulare). They live either in the illegal subdivisions, creating the fortunes of their builders, or within the “islands” of low cost housing projects. The city administration sought to transform the outlying neighborhoods and borgate into “city”, to endow them with the urban services and spaces necessary for social and collective life, and to reconnect these pieces among themselves and to the older city by reconsidering the city’s transportation system. The intent was to initiate a process that would improve the quality of urban space as well as the public and private building fabric. To accomplish this, it was necessary to call a halt to illegal expansion and to complete some projects initiated twenty years ago, such as the rehabilitation of the first generation illegally built zones (the so-called “O” zones) and the completion of the private subdivisions still underway.
The first general planning maneuver undertaken by the administration, and adopted in the “Plan of Certainties”, led to an exceptional result for the urban peripheries by delineating the areas designated for urban renewal. Thus, the external peripheries were provided with a well-defined plan for transformation, an indispensable instrument for the completion and improvement of urban spaces, and could be correctly integrated into the surrounding context with its extraordinary environmental quality and archeological resources. By eliminating the possibility for any new expansion, the premise was created for a healthy integration of the Roman countryside, (maintaining and developing its inherent potential) with the more peripheral parts of the city that would be renewed and reconnected to the metropolitan area context.
A PLURALITY OF CENTERS
This potentially policentric urban configuration is one of the Rome area’s specific resources along with overall environmental quality and widespread archeological heritage. Based upon this potential and these resources, the Roman periphery can be transformed into a plurality of urban centers connected among themselves within the metropolitan area. All peripheral territorial components can become central if they are considered within a metropolitan area. They are also, in different ways, the ideal places for creating relationships among themselves and with the belt of municipalities surrounding Rome. The existing periphery is the place for the rationalization of the settlement system and for the development and completion of the metropolitan area’s large infrastructural networks. Considered in this light, the intermediate zones lying between the compact city and the urban municipalities of the external belt are indeed the ones with the greatest potential for transformation and development.
From the first months of 1995, more than thirty areas were designated for necessary specific interventions in a schematic plan called the Poster Plan. From the outset, the criteria utilized for their identification were described, along with the financial resources to be utilized for urban renewal. The most decayed areas, with public rail infrastructure that was existent or in the implementation phase, were chosen for priority projects.
THE VARIANT OF CERTAINTIES
Operating in the periphery in recent years has implied two kinds of problems in terms of planning instruments. The first was that work was underway while the general planning framework was being revised, often with great uncertainty regarding the reconnections of the single areas to the rest of the city. While over 100 implementation plans were drafted (among which the ones regarding the “O” zones, the “167” for low cost housing, and private sector subdivision plans), the tired logic of separate and self-contained ambits still remained providing no guarantee for their integration. The second problem was due to lack of certainty regarding the effectiveness of traditional implementation planning. It was recognized a priori that the administration did not have the resources to construct all the necessary public works within an acceptable length of time.
General program indications were observed, and in these past four years, the Variant of Certainties was drafted and adopted. The latest plan for public housing was initiated and the important problem of the remaining “O” zones was substantially resolved. While taking into account continuity with the management of existing implementation plans, innovative instruments were also proposed. To this end, the city administration utilized the programs for urban recovery and rehabilitation proposed by the Public Works Ministry in decrees dating from late 1994. These programs provided for the rapid activation of projects with private sector co-financing. Their use initiated a procedure involving enlightened entrepreneurs, the best professionals, and researchers specializing in innovative planning procedures.
The specificity of these financial programming instruments lies in the provision for the evaluation of the projects necessary for urban reconnection and in control over the implementation process. Urban planning aspects were evaluated in the intermediate domain between general and implementation planning, by drafting structural frameworks for local urban organization. The quantity of the investments and the types of relationship between the public and private sectors were defined first, thus sustaining the projects with certainty regarding financial resources and realistic time frames.
One of the central elements for the rehabilitation of the periphery was the completion and the improvement of existing building. Administration policies regarding public low-cost housing activated projects and resources for the renovation of 90% of municipally owned dwellings, and for 40% of the dwellings owned by the Istituto Autonomo per le Case Popolari (Autonomous Institute for Low Cost Housing) for a total of approximately 40,000 units. The projects are still underway and some results have been visible since 1998.
However, the improvement of the widespread building fabric could only be left to the private sector. On the one hand, building permit procedures were simplified and, on the other, directives were enacted for the improvement in the quality of the built fabric. Furthermore, the approval of the implementation plans for the “O” zones gave certainty to the regulations concerning private building by putting on the legal market all private property legalized with the first law on building “condono” (literally pardon, the legalizing of buildings constructed without permits - tr). Incentives for technological innovation and energy savings provided more guidelines for the pursuit of modern and efficient norms.
Some projects in the central areas of the single neighborhoods and borgate had great symbolic, as well as practical, value by distinguishing places previously considered marginal and introducing processes of qualitative valorization. The challenge of the Centopiazze program (literally one hundred squares - tr) contributed greatly with numerous projects for the periphery, but above all, demonstrated faith in the possibility and capacity to improve the city even in its apparently most difficult parts.
Naturally, private demand identified the most desirable areas for investment in the periphery in those already endowed with infrastructure; and the shift in population from the center to the belt municipalities supports this trend. It is, therefore, a matter of understanding and directing the decongesting phenomena that is already underway. With energy and coherence, the administration chose to support development only in sectors and along axes already served by mass transit and road infrastructure. However, the peripheral areas still need to be “introduced into the network” to avoid causing bottlenecks crossing the city’s more compact areas.
Widespread productive activity exists in almost all the Roman periphery. Economic growth and development are certainly tied to location or relocation decisions regarding superior urban functions expelled from the compact city, but they are also, and above all bound to the local response to the demand for the rationalization and growth of small enterprises.
One of the most recently utilized operative principles was the verification and assessment of any proposed project or plan in terms of available or accessible resources. Too much planning had remained on the drawing boards, merely assuaging the consciences of the specialists. Available finance and realistic time frames became significant criteria in the decision-making process. Public resources, whether from the European Community, state, region, or municipality, were utilized for priority projects in the areas indicated in the plan.
However, the distance between the demand for structures, spaces and services and available finance remains enormous. For example, in the renewal projects of the former illegally constructed zones, the proceeds from the sanctions paid to legalize illegal constructions covered only 10% of the need for primary urban infrastructure.
THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR
It was necessary to involve the private sector by requesting their involvement in the renewal of the city as well as delegating the construction of primary infrastructure instead of direct payment for it. The first positive experiment was within the program for urban rehabilitation. The second, based upon the first, is now underway within the programs for urban recovery. The procedures for involving the private sector were introduced with great innovative effort, guaranteeing the necessary openness and competitiveness.
The role of the location of private investments in public housing to improve conditions in the city’s periphery is waning. Public investments will necessarily decrease and renewal of the existing fabric, rather than new construction, will become a priority. To this end, the programs for urban recovery focus on the more difficult public housing developments. However, for the next few years, the consistent flux of residual economic resources can be utilized in this sector. A careful evaluation of the use of these resources led the administration to draft a new, and probably last, integrative plan for public housing coherent with their overall strategy and sustaining the fundamental urban renewal decisions.
Roman peripheries pay, with inaccessibility and local congestion, for their original sin of having been born with neither project nor plan. The priority regarding mass public transit, the so-called “care for rail,” initiated the process of reconnecting the peripheries to the rest of the city. It is only a partial remedy for one hundred years of inertia compared to other global and European cities, but it is a first, important step. The reconsideration of the city’s overall transportation system has already given its first results in the redefinition of mobility in the eastern sector. With the second phase of the variant to the General City Plan, a scheme is being conceived for the city’ transportation system. The redesign of the existing network, coordinated with intermodal exchanges with the rail and subway systems, anticipates the plan for the new network outside the compact city connecting the belt municipalities.
Generally, the local street networks are still based upon the ancient plan of consular ways and the rural roads connecting them. Building activity had encompassed parts of the road network that were once ex-urban, transforming the role and function of all the ancient consular roads into local service streets. The medium-to-long term goal seeks to offer a valid alternative to the automobile for each peripheral area, however, the intermodal exchanges and the network serving them, should be foreseen. If, in fact, the time to reach the local stations is comparable to the time necessary to reach the final destination, the results will not be satisfactory despite the investments already made in the principal network.
MORE RAPID PROCEDURES
Roman peripheries also suffer due to the lack of structures, spaces and services both on local, and higher, levels. Theoretically, the areas for public use called for in the implementation plans are available. Nevertheless, the opportunity to actually build has not arisen because the expropriation procedures, where necessary, have not been completed thus causing lengthy litigation with property owners. When the areas are publicly owned (in the case of the “167”), the financial resources are lacking. It is necessary to return to concrete action based upon the availability of resources, building areas and rapid administrative procedures. The procedures experimented within the programs for urban recovery and rehabilitation attempt to guarantee these primary conditions. To overcome litigation regarding expropriation in all of the implementation plans for the “O” zones, a new procedure was devised for compensating the owners of areas to be used for public services. This procedure was a substantial innovation over past ones and was applied to 68 particular plans, obtaining approximately 800 hectares of public areas to provide services for approximately 300,000 people.
The social demand on a local level has evolved: associations and neighborhood committees are active and participate everywhere. Mass communications have made possible the application of continuous pressure on public institutions for the resolution of the most urgent problems. One of the newest, and most difficult, tasks has been that of maintaining a continuous dialogue with citizens knowing that in most cases the problems are substantial and real, and are vividly perceived on the smaller community scale. Answers to these problems should be provided within an acceptable length of time.
We were facing an institutional situation that was completely inadequate and undergoing great transformation. The citizens of the Roman peripheries, and not only, rightfully request real decentralization and empowerment over their own territory. Today the structure of the circoscrizioni (community boards), and the functions they may perform, impels citizens to communicate both with the circoscrizioni and with the central municipal administration. In both cases, they find procedural obstacles and real overlap of the two levels. The idea of creating new municipalities in the metropolitan area would resolve some, but not all, of these problems. In fact, over two hundred local communities identifying with their own territories emerge from a careful reading of the physical and social order of these neighborhoods and borgate. The populations of these micro-cities are well rooted and have no intention of moving. They have very little relationship with other nearby micro-cities and hardly any with the rest of the metropolitan area. It is necessary to understand this information in order to face the issues regarding the intermediate administrative aggregations and to provide adequate responses.
Today, official forms of citizen participation are those mandated in the planning law of 1942. A new way of guaranteeing continuous and interactive participation in planning must be invented. The representatives in the circoscizioni are as distant from the community as those in the central administration and few instruments exist which allow direct intervention.
The first step in facing this issue was taken by the city administration by instituting neighborhood laboratories in the peripheral areas using the so-called “complex” planning instruments (programs for urban recovery, rehabilitation etc). The six neighborhood laboratories now in operation demonstrate that this is the correct way to proceed, permitting a better way of setting goals which fit local needs and creating the consensus necessary for their implementation. Aside from providing an efficient instrument for interactive communications, the laboratories also serve as valid technical and practical support for the decentralized institutions.