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Genoa, historic city centre

Cultural Heritage: Genoa (Italy)

The Operating Plan for Genoa's Historic City Centre

Municipality of Genoa

The first version of the 'Operating Plan for Genoa's Historic City Centre' was produced during the first three months of the year 2001 by the municipal offices, coordinated by the Civic Observatory - the office in charge of the G.I.S. of the old town. Since the Plan is an open plan, all the offices are expected to keep it current by updating it.
Genoa, with its population of 650,000 inhabitants, is the largest port on the Mediterranean and one of the most important Italian cities. A city of port-related activities, Genoa is also an important centre for shipbuilding, mechanical engineering, and iron and steel industries. Over the past few years, a radical transformation process due to the industrial crisis in the area has taken place in the town. Important roles are now beginning to be played by the new economy together with tourism and leisure activities.
In 1999, with the City of Genoa Strategic Conference, the town council started a process which, through the 'Plan of the Town', will hopefully lead to the transformation of the city into one where the creation of new jobs goes together with better environmental and social conditions.
With regard to the historic city centre the transformation is expected to produce a shift from a perceived restrained role for the entire town to a new one of great opportunities for everybody. One of the objectives for the historic city centre is, in fact, to gradually remove all kinds of decay and to increase its livability, so that the old town can represent the cultural image of the city and become the hub of its tourist relaunch.
The Operating Plan for Genoa's Historic City Centre is one of the steps in this transformation process. The plan in itself is a good guide to the different policies already started - or about to be started - by the city government in order to revitalize the historic city centre. In this sense, the plan is very different from the usual plans: in fact, this plan, far from representing hopes or wishes, represents certainties.
The common idea behind the many policies aiming at the revitalization of the centre is that the old town will not have to be very different from the present one. The area needs, in fact, rehabilitative policies which retain its special qualities: its general atmosphere, its way of life, at the same time preserving the historic values, with less physical, social and economical decay, together with more safety and cleanliness.

Cultural Heritage
Genoa's historical city centre is known to be one of the most densely built in Europe, a situation that started in the 18th century with a general increase of building heights due to delayed growth of the town outside the city walls. Such density has a profound effect on the revitalization policies that have to take into account that, at least from a sanitary point of view, a major part of the Old Town is uninhabitable below the third floor. These conditions have in turn affected the real estate values that are often extremely low and have resulted in both a marginal use of the area and the use of it as a reference point for all immigrants.
As far as the above-mentioned problems are concerned, the Old Town of Genoa is quite similar to other very decayed historic city centres. What makes the case of Genoa very special is that the area is no longer the centre of the city. During the second half of the 19th century a transformation occurred that breathed life to the new city centre. At the same time, its varied population progressively abandoned the historic city centre: the nobility was the first to leave, then, little by little, everyone else. The most visible effect was a population decrease from the 80,000 inhabitants at the end of the 19th century to the current 20,000. The other major effect was economic: since the historic city centre coincided with the town, the shift meant also a rapid decay of economic activities. Today the historic city centre is an extraordinary collection of beautiful buildings but with a very poor perceived image.
So far none of the large projects to revitalize the old town have succeeded except one.
These are then the problems to be dealt with. The different policies put forward by the city government - and explicitly represented by the Operating Plan for Genoa's Historic City Centre - will try to solve those problems. The plan will also be used to monitor the revitalization process and to identify actions that are feasible but which have not yet been carried out.

Challenge and programme
The main challenge is to fight decay in all its forms - physical, social, and economic - reversing a tendency and promoting actions that might have some positive ramifications. The actions to be promoted are related to the fact that the historic area has a large number of churches and beautiful mansions together with many other remains of great historic and architectural value. At the same time, the historic city centre is right next to the port. It will also have to be taken into account that the old town has imbued into peoples' habits, as well into commercial activities a special quality that must not be cancelled out by revitalization. Stop decay. Promote positive actions. Those are the most feasible objectives.
The programme is then to preserve the old town the way it is: all it is needed is to reduce physical, social, and economic decay and at the same time increase social mix together with maximising its assets.
The programme is of an integrated nature, comprising actions and projects that at the same time affect physical, social and economic conditions.
The physical actions are of various types:
1. Actions aiming at providing the historic city centre with new services (green spaces and sport areas, schools, asylums, university centres together with social services);
2. Actions on areas and buildings: in the first place, street paving and renewal of technological networks; then actions on public buildings together with the numerous interventions in the luxury private housing sector;
3. The main actions are meant to conclude the waterfront redevelopment process that should start a new relationship with the old town, entirely modifying the city and its functional system.
Another series of actions is related to accessibility, the crucial topic for the revitalization of the historic city centre: the pedestrianization of many parts of the old town is supported by a system of new parking areas as well as by good public transport.
The major actions in the social field are the Safety Plan, and the plans for more residential help and for reception centres.
There is also a programme that supports existing economic activities and is helping to develop new ones, together with a programme to rationalize and develop cultural facilities.

Every programmed action is feasible. Furthermore, for every programme action there is a schedule that indicates implementation period (beginning and end), costs and funding, actors (public or private), and expected results.
This is the reason why the plan has been drawn up and is continuously being implemented. For the same reason, continuous monitoring is also necessary.
The strategy is driven by the interaction between the various parts of the integrated plan, but above all by the propulsive effect that every action can have on the whole context. Therefore we are convinced that this plan stands out because of its pragmatic and innovative method. Of the many plans experienced so far, the Operating Plan for Genoa's Historic City Centre represents the most effective one for safeguarding the area. In such a situation, the main problem is that it is necessary to act on two fronts. One is that of the various micro-actions to try, above all, to exploit all the possibilities of improvement. The other is to develop some major projects that can breathe new life into the system. Obviously, all the actions cannot be thought of as public interventions. Rather, the public actor must develop strategic actions, determining the conditions to accelerate the process of detailed revitalization that only residents and private owners can fulfill properly.
The strategic actions - from pedestrianization to implementation of new parking areas and good public transport, from the major projects for waterfront redevelopment to the implementation of efficient services - will therefore be contained in the municipal programmes. And it will be a task of the city government to set out programmes capable of boosting the initiatives, through various contributions, fiscal and procedural conditions etc.