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Scenari per l'Europa delle città - Review

by Patrizia Gabellini

Three aspects of this book, written by Elio Piroddi, Laura Brunori and Carlo Di Berardino, seem of interest: the structure, the category adopted (the scenario), and the picture which the conclusions enable one to draw. All three together make it a courageous and certainly useful text.

The structure.
The fruit of a research project conducted within the ambit of the strategic project, "The futures of the city. Background knowledge and scenarios", the book had to find a formula suited, on the one hand, to the need to recover its cognitive equipment and on the other to the desire to communicate its results concisely. The two parts that make up the book share the task: in the first the essays by Laura Brunori on demography, information technology and the environment, and those by Carlo Di Berardino on the economy and transport, are accounts of the studies of the "fields of forces which are expected to provide the major impulses towards change"; in the second part the essay by Elio Piroddi extracts and puts together the aspects that are significant because pertinent to the objective that motivated and sustained the work, namely the construction of a reasonable "vision of the future". The synoptic picture implements this second part is articulated under the headings: "factors of change" (fertility, ageing and immigration; globalization, research, and innovation, tourism and leisure; flows of goods, flows of people, innovation of transport systems; tele-working and tele-services; energy consumption, pollution and waste), "alternative scenarios (negative, positive, omnivalent), "effects on the city". They induce the reader to focus attention more closely and prepare him for the conclusions.
Conceived in this way, the book's structure reflects a clear, logical sequence and at the same time explicitly presents a process of reduction of the field of possible readings and interpretations of the phenomena examined to present some of the principal issues facing those who plan and transform the territory. "The results of analysis for each variable are summed up and, through the combination of different factors, conjectures are presented and scenarios described. This is done firstly in a background (non-territorialized) version and then in the presumable consequences for the territory and the cities… The hypothesis of method adopted is the radicalization of phenomena: from this derive … alternative scenarios. (p.12).
Elio Piroddi notes that it involves a "major approximation", that there exist imponderable elements and relations of interdependence between the variables; all the same he is willing to implement the cognitive resources to support future action, without succumbing to the "over-abundance" of information. "What … numerous researches in recent years have shown … is that many phenomena, which in the past we had isolated from each other and enclosed within the ring-fences of increasingly specific areas of research and disciplines, are fundamentally over-determined. They include the transformations of the city and the territory … The outcome of a number of super-abundant causes with respect to the necessary causes and among which it becomes difficult to establish orders of importance and priorities … If in one over-determined field of phenomena, such as that of urban transformations, certain aspects are isolated and one questions what would happen if phenomena reached their extreme or probable consequences, one obtains images of the future, scenarios, that are at least partly incompatible with each other and it is precisely this their partial antagonism that makes them interesting. …. There is no deductive procedure that can lead, in contemporary societies, to the construction of a coherent policy of the city and territory, however strong the starting points are. The only terrain concretely practicable is that of making a choice between antagonistic images. (B. Secchi, Scenarios,

The category.
It is conflict, therefore, that makes recourse to this procedure important. It entails a profound change in the way we conceive knowledge and the project and the relations between the two. Constructing scenarios responds to the need to make forecasts, an indissoluble part of the planner's work, but it reduces their peremptoriness (the starting point is uncertainty) and unilateralness (the presuppose the contribution of numerous points of view).
Secchi's observation, in the text cited, concerning the polysemic character of the term helps us to probe the purposes of this book. "Scenario" is a word used in different ambits and can take on different meanings, not necessarily mutually exclusive: scenario as a "point of escape from the present", hence as an evasion of a situation one refuses to accept; scenario as "representation of ongoing trends" or an allusive vision of the questions and desires that traverse a society; scenario as an "argued and suggested route"; scenario as an "attempt to explore what would happen if…"
In this book the term is used to indicate a vision of the future: "The scenario for us is not … a forecast and programmatic picture but a reasoned hypothesis. It is also based on quantitative data, but it does not constitute either a one-to-one projection or a forecast of the type … "limits of development" or the like. All the same, its construction is always founded on a systematic method: the Europe of cities is considered a system whose organization changes by the effect of certain variables from the analysis of their course or behaviour are derived the hypothetical scenarios." The work does not propose other objectives than "that of understanding the bearings (understood as directions of development and meanings) of change" (pp. 11-12).

The picture.
Evidently the conclusions are articulated, but I feel it is worthwhile underscoring certain elements of the scenarios called "omnivalent" and some of the most open and problematic on which the attention of those working on the territory should focus. The demographic decline of Europe, oscillating between a few million inhabitants and about twenty million, is presented as highly probable, since the trend can only be reversed by an appreciable increase in fertility associated with massive immigration, phenomena not visible on the horizon. This demographic trend enables us to forecast on the one hand the collapse of marginal areas, on the other, as a result of ageing and the reduction in core families, a progressive crisis in the isolated housing model. The propensity for larger and more compact settlements, associated with the unsustainability of the diffuse city, would seem to delineate an important reversal of tendency with effects on the existing stock of housing. The diminution of the population and the tendency towards re-agglomeration would contribute to the abandonment of substantial parts of the housing stock, without sparing the compact cities. The consequent demolitions could have deleterious repercussions on the economic plane; however they would also create opportunities for upgrading the cities and territories: a transversal and omnivalent tendency, therefore, would open up contradictory prospects for planning.
The processes of immigration, regardless of their entity, would lead to conflicts by different practices of use, differences in the values of buildings and land with the production of enclaves of decay and ghettoes, and the need to invest public money to maintain acceptable levels of inhabitability. Other problematic prospects would be a growing demand for welfare expenditure with a diminution in tax revenues.
In the cities and territories of Europe the effects will be measured of tourism, which, "unless there are strong planetary upheavals", will continue to grow, putting pressure on the use of environmental resources and the historical and cultural heritage. A further challenge, since this is one of the major sectors of the European economy, but one that will generate mobility and dangers for consumption, especially in the economically weakest areas.
The mobility of people and goods (sustained by increased leisure and tourism, by the ubiquity of homes and firms as an effect of information technology; reduced only if there will be an appreciable fall in population and pro capita income) will keep in the foreground the question of the sustainability of individual road transport and storage (of goods and cars), hence the need to expand and upgrade the provision of alternative forms of transport with important investments in infrastructure.
The scenarios outlined comprising the factors of change bound up with demographics, the economy, transport and information technology, have effects that condense in the environment. The course of consumption with its related waste and mobility, with growing levels of pollution, the entity of the public and private resources needed to repair the damage and promote the production of alternative sources of energy, to reduce the human incidence, in part as a result of depopulation and re-agglomeration, place the environmental question firmly at the centre of the picture: for it a scenario of "environmental disasters" is compared with one of "reconciliation with nature".
Patchy processes, differences and conflicts, seem to be confirmed as the scenario of scenarios. "It is likely that the future of European cities will follow a path, perhaps a twisting path, comprised in the band of oscillation between the scenarios we have depicted. It is, however, practically certain that they will meet with diverse and complex cycles of metabolization of a series of phenomena already in place (major growth) or at present under way (flows of migration, technical innovations), and it seems highly probable that these cycles will cause imbalances and turbulence … The future of the European city will in reality be a mosaic of very different futures. Not only between region and region and city and city, but also, and perhaps to a greater extent, between one zone and another of the same city" (pp. 222-223).


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