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Cultural Identities: Cosenza (Italy)
The URBAN project for the historic centre
Municipality of Cosenza
The PIC URBAN project in the city of Cosenza, started in 1996, has focused on the object of restoring the old city centre and the Via Popilia, an extremely rundown popular area with serious social problems, - physically, structurally and environmentally. These areas are excluded from the rest of the city, from the dynamics and economic and urban development that has touched the city.
The PIC URBAN project, which is today nearly at its completion, has involved about 22,000 residents in the areas concerned, but the resulting benefits have affected the whole city and have been shared by all its inhabitants. Different forms of competitions were used for the planning and realization of it: competitions of ideas, public planning pronouncements, calls for tenders, and private contracts. The administrative bodies played a vital role in the success of the programme, working through an intersectional organization designed to manage the whole project and achieve its objectives.
At the beginning of the 1990's, the city had all the problems typical of cities in the south, both economic and social. These included a paralysis in growth which had already begun about ten years earlier; an absence of economic development; heavy dependence on the public sector; high levels of unemployment particularly among the young and women; and inadequate public services.
Within the general context Cosenza has some particular characteristics determined by its unique geographical situation: it is in the centre of a large urbanised area together with other municipalities and from the end of the war up to the 1980's there has been a steady demographic rise. This rise in population has been caused by the influx of people from the province because of a growth in service industries - something that later began to decrease. This fall in services meant not only a reduction in activities and functions but also a fall in the number of inhabitants partly owing to urban growth and development in the surrounding municipalities creating problems of overcrowding of buildings in some cases. This has led to a characteristic problem of 'unfinished ' cities because of the absence of the implementation of the regulatory plan and the problem caused by the presence of a disused railway that creates a physical barrier cutting the city in two parts. This problem, which must be resolved in an urban context, was touched upon only after the administrative elections in 1993 with the Mayor's Programme and with an amendment to the P.R.G. of 1994. In these years a series of interventions was started aimed at modernizing and developing the economic and social structure.
The presence of UNICAL, the University of Cosenza, and other innovative service industries, enabled a transition to take place to a modern service role for the city. On this basis the Mayor's programme developed an idea for the city to specialize in culture and cultural services, to be a meeting point of service industry activities and to develop roles linked to scientific research at the university. This involves a role in cooperation and exchanges at the European level.
The city is divided into two parts: the old town in the south on the slopes of Pancrazio Hill close to the confluence of the Crati and Busento rivers, and the modern city built in every direction but generally in a northward direction. This urban development has created an exclusion of the historic city centre from the modern part of the town - itself cut in two by the railway eastwards. In the future it will have to face territorial problems because of limited administrative and geographical borders.
The historic town centre, with typological facilities which are still in good condition and a rich patrimony of ancient monuments, buildings and important architecture, a place of valuable historical and cultural importance for the identity of the whole city, has found itself in an isolated and weakened position ever since the 1950s compared to the rest of the town. The whole area is subject to a process of progressive depopulation and social and economic decline and a gradual loss of those characteristic traditional services (domestic, professional, trading and cultural). There are also fewer and fewer buildings in both the environmental and social sphere. The 'new city ' is becoming more and more independent and integration with the old city seems more and more difficult. In this process the knowledge of the historical and cultural characteristics and the values of identity and collective history have been lost.
It was necessary, therefore, to pay attention to this area, promoting the assessment of important characteristics as a resource for a development of the urban area as a whole. A new role and a new identity were proposed for the historic city centre.
The aims of the project, in line with the programmes of the municipal administration (Amendment to the General Plan of Regulation approved in 1995 and the Mayor's Plan of 1993), have been, generally speaking, that of restoring importance, functionality and vitality to the two areas, arresting the process of decline and, in the old town's case, neglect, and favouring economic growth and production, and the integration of the city with the urban area in its entirety.
Within these general objectives and the overcoming of problems determined by social deprivation in the two areas, challenges with differing complexities were tackled: in Via Popilia it was all about promoting material and non-material integration, starting from the restoration of functional relationships with the city through the elimination of the physical barrier of the old railway. For the historic centre it was necessary to bring about a more articulated process of rebirth and revitalization with the object of favouring the restoration of housing and traditional activities through revitalisation and refurbishment projects. This included the creation of new services compatible with the facilities and the urban context, while at the same time being attractive and responsive to the new needs and necessities and giving back its central role and position. This process has required different actions in different spheres, carried out in an integrated approach.
The main spheres for the interventions are:
•The restoration of the old historic city centre through pilot interventions of restructuring and the reuse of historical buildings, representative of the town's history, which have been left in a state of decay and abandoned, in which cultural and service facilities have been placed; the upgrading of public spaces;
• An improvement of the infrastructure and a reorganization of the links between the historic centre, Via Popilia, the city and the urban area in general to encourage integration and to upgrade the urban context;
• Rescheduling of education and training programmes and the promotion of local employment;
• The setting up of services with mainly a social nature;
• To support the setting up and revitalisation of new and old activities in the old city centre.
The URBAN initiative has had significant results both interms of the actions already carried out and for those that are still to be completed. Cosenza is the Italian city that has made the best use of the URBAN funds ; this is because of the planning capabilities at the local level, of the clarity of the idea of a city under patronage, and of the intersectoral and collaborative organization at every level of the administrative structure.
The results can be measured in quantitative terms, for the role which the old city now plays, as an attraction and as a new historical-cultural identity, as well as the figure of an open European city in which its citizens have a new identity.
Some important examples are: the rehabilitation of the old town hall now used as the 'Casa delle Culture' a social, cultural and artistic meeting point and meeting place for dialogue between different cultures; the rehabilitation of the old railway station now the head office of TELCAL, an information point for the development of new technologies, and of Info-Point Europa, an information centre for community politics; the rehabilitation of the old Hotel Bologna now a service centre for the university; the Park Avenue ('viale Parco') an important link between the two areas and the urban area in general.
The strategy of integrating the interventions made it possible to achieve these results in a very short time. The clarity of the administration investments stimulated the workers to make use of the contributions; there are now over 200 small 'Craftshops', which have reopened. Today the historic centre of Cosenza is a much-frequented part of the city.
Even the induced effects have been very positive: rehabilitation and building reconstruction have extended to all parts of the old town promoting repopulation; employment has increased thanks to the opening of various restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as social cooperatives, etc.; there is an increase in tourism; other investments have been made.
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The Journal of Urbanism