Global Forces: Novara (Italy)
Novara's urban plan faces global challenges
Novara's urban plan was assigned by an international competition to architect Gianfranco Pagliettini in March 2000 and approved by the City Council in March 2001.
With over than 100,000 in habitants, Novara is the second town of Piemonte, after the regional capital Torino. The town is located on the Torino-Milano axis, but a long way from Torino (90Km) and closer to Milano (35Km). Novara was part of the 'Lombardo-Veneto' state (whose capital was Milano) until the middle of the 19th century and also in 20th, and grew towards Milano: actually, it is Piedmontese, but a satellite of the Milanese metropolitan area.
From certain points of view, this ambiguous status appears positive in terms of the urban development: it is useful for the main sectors of local economy, such as publishing (De Agostini), foods (Pavesi - Barilla), and chemicals (Donegani, Alcoa), while the position at the crossing point between the north-south continental (Genova-Germania) and east-west (Lyon-eastern Europe) axis strengthens its role as exchange centre. On the other hand the town is immediately adjacent to the north-west plain of rice-cultivation, one of the last agricultural Italian regions not in decline, in spite of the strategic difficulties of the market and the contamination from such production, more and more in conflict with quality requirements of urban life. All these activities support the whole urban economy: Novara is one of the few north-west Italian towns not to suffer demographic decline over the last 30 years.
Perhaps the only structural similarity with the other Italian medium-sized towns is the dimension. As a matter of fact where other towns have almost always grown like true urban states since their medieval role of the 'Liberi Comuni', Novara has always been complementary to Milano, which has neither supported the growth of autonomy and urban identity, nor reinforced the central role in its own hinterland.
This non-protagonist condition reveals itself in the same morphology of the modern town: with a development pattern not sufficiently aimed at the image and functionality of the new neighbourhoods and at the urban and rural landscape: an historic centre with fundamental renewal, expansion along the roads, high density and mostly uniform typologies, and public spaces often inadequate and lacking in quality.
In spite of this image, the urban functionality appears to be adequate and the quality of life, according to socio-economic and cultural indicators, is one of the best of Italy.
But in recent years, suddenly Novara has become aware that the traditional intermetropolitan relationships, in which it has grown, are changing: the shock of globalisation is arriving with the effects of large-scale infrastructure interventions which impinge directly on the town:
• the new intercontinental airport Malpensa 2000 located less than 25 km from the city (when nearly 50 km from Milano)
• the high speed Lyon-Trieste railway connecting the northern railway (to Sempione) and the southern railway (to Genova) in Novara.
The growing demand for space, infrastructure and services for logistics means that the town has two choices:
• inertia, becoming simply a port centre and definitively a satellite of Milano.
• assertiveness, assuming a role of new centrality for the mobility of people and goods in the north west of Italy.
The city is aware that it is not well enough prepared to play this role:
• the railway facilities and organisation are inadequate
• the accessibility to highways and motorways from the industrial and logistical areas is inadequate
• the logistical locations and services are inadequate
• the hotel facilities are poor and, overall, the general attractiveness of the town is low.
Novara's 2000 urban plan tries to meet the challenge at two levels: the restoration of the historical deficit of urban identity and territorial centrality and the timing of the regeneration, to be able to take part in the field of the main European intermodal platforms.
The choice is to profit from the change to find a new dimension and quality in the main elements of continuity.
The urban plan moves toward the reconstruction of a general outline of sustainable development by:
• the reorganisation of the traffic system in order to reduce drastically the transit traffic in the urban central area and facilitate the access of goods directly to the main roads;
• the relocation of industries to more accessible places, with the re-use of abandoned areas, very important to find new space for public amenities ( urban-wide parks);
• the development of logistics locations with sufficient dimensions (more than 2,000.000 square metres) for intermodal platforms;
• the reorganisation of the central railway area, which will continue to be the centre for railway intermodality:
- to improve the efficiency of the passenger station also in connection with Malpensa airport;
- to realize better accessibility for the hotels;
- to link urban and industrial areas, and research and university centres with the proposed new technological scientific growth pole (pharmacy and innovative chemicals);
• the redesign of the townscape, now neglected and lacking in identity, by:
- the redefinition of urban periphery , presently incomplete or neglected;
- the reconstruction of the 'gateways to the town';
- the upgrading of ancient monuments and historic heritage, in the historic centre and over the whole area;
- the provision of new types of building at lower densities;
- the realisation of a clear framework of parks and green areas , up until now deficient, starting from the borders and linking a new green belt around the edges of the towns, along the rivers, with a network of cycle paths and footpaths to the countryside where the plan supports the revival of the traditional vegetation and the transformation of intensive cultivation into a traditional and ecological one.
Strategy and results
The Novara plan procedure provides for punctual and continuous consultation with developers and public and private parties involved, beginning with those responsible for the large-scale infrastructure and services to individual owners.
In particular, in addition to institutional relationships, the plan's aims must be developed in conjunction with the major infrastructure operators, with private actors, with industrial operators, and also with farmers.
As regards the procedure Novara has tried out all the latest tools (PRUSST, PRIU). In any case, their effects are limited only to some sectors of the town and they cannot involve all aspects in a unitary strategy. The plan, also in accordance to these new tools, proposes an important innovation, emerging from a recent national debate
The main aspect of this innovation is the particular attention paid to the balance between the 'feasibility' of interventions and their 'equity', aiming to:
• introduce new choices without altering the local land market with respect to the old urban plan;
• enable equal potential profits from simila land, without considering public or private planning land uses; aim for the realization of all the services required, of environmental and landscape improvement at 'zero cost', and the assignment of the cost to the profits of private interventions.
The results seem to confirm the value of this strategy: the plan, just approved by the civic administration, proves to be working and, with the other active planning tools, is showing its first results:
• the agreements between the municipality and TAV spa have established that the construction of a high speed railway must be carried out in conjunction with a new road system in the north of the town. The intervention will be in line with the urban plan both for environmental improvement and for the realization of a part of the green belt and, last but not least, the complete reorganization of the electrical energy network (in agreement with ENEL), thus eliminating existing electro-magnetic pollution in residential areas;
• a workshop involving Ferrovie spa, the municipality and other public and private parties is to redesign the new central railway system, and has attracted the attention of the competent ministry which has proposed funds for structural interventions;
• the CIM (intermodal platform), which has carried out its first interventions and approved sizeable expansion projects, is facing a growing demand for facilities and installations;
• some industrial operators are projecting relocations to and reconversions of abandoned areas according to plan proposals;
• the private actors are responding in a positive way. They are developing interventions, projects and programmes and are demanding that the civic administration make a precise commitment to speed up the procedures, which under the current legislation are too slow, in order to realise rapid implementation.
The Journal of Urbanism