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8 | Video instruments for urban planning </br>  Frame from the film La sfida della città sotto il Vesuvio, 2002

8 | Video instruments for urban planning
Tests of effectiveness

by Leonardo Ciacci

Urban planning, or rather, the Italian Local authorities institutions who are involved on a daily basis in urban planning activities, seem to have finally accepted the usefulness of video representation in training and in carrying out plans and projects. In truth it seems at present to be a partial acceptance - more akin to publicity than to "technical" use - of the plan, of a form of representation and communication which is costly and not easy to carry out from the professional point of view. What still remains in the background, generally unused even if potentially very effective, is the function of representation through images mounted in time sequence, providing the necessary conditions for the "public", "participated" construction of urban plans. It has still not been perfected, but is nevertheless a new development which highlights a change that a few years ago would have been difficult to achieve.

The political administrations in local government, especially when the argument relates to policies aimed at creating the conditions for transformability of the urban space, have always felt that those involved in developing the plans should act with reserve and they have always thought it dangerous to inform the public in advance about questions and themes relating to plans under construction. The reasons are intuitive and relate to the economic interests that a plan arouses through the choices that condition the property market, but also the difficulty in handling a political debate when the picture is not yet clear in terms of its objectives and where the technical and scientific data on which it is based are not final. Why therefore complicate matters by publishing data and information, using a language such as that of the video, which is certainly difficult to handle and particularly prone to provoking "emotional" reactions? The reply is just as intuitive as the reasons that have until now counselled "discretion": a public administration can no longer avoid revealing what programme it intends to follow, to persons who have no lack of sources of information nor capacity to react, even in advance. More precisely, in their new "professionalised" and operationally orientated identity, it has become necessary for local authorities to give maximum public prominence to all of their activities relating to projects involving transformations in the organisation of the environment and its habitability. Moreover this is the direction that the new planning procedures (PAT, PATI, etc…) now regard as necessary even at the most elementary levels of urban planning.


Naturally there are many positive aspects in this respect, which when described in this way might seem only retrograde. The design of a project is by definition a construction, the construction of a project strategy necessitated by the activation of a formalised action, which requires compliance with regulations, complex guarantees and the involvement of many figures who are often involved as a direct result of indications in the plan. The strategic plan has emphasised all of this. By defining the scenarios - now referred to as the "vision" - it is given the task of giving a "project" characteristic to the daily practice of planning "variation", now increasingly regarded as an "urban project". From the theoretical point of view, this is nothing new. Scenarios were one of the Astengo's urban planning instruments in the 1960s, the idea plan was the extreme expression of trust in the urban planning possibilities of Ludovico Quaroni (1968), the factual urban project was what Aldo Rossi theorised in 1962 for the city plan. The innovation lies in the relationship between urban planning and public. The public of home owners, mortgage holders, families, service users, motorists, consumers, members of the public who have an opinion to express, those who have the right to vote, each demand the right to take part in choices that relate to the territorial area and its urban layout. But they are able to do so only when the representation of the facts is sufficiently broad and simplified, when general strategies are discussed using a visual language, which is capable of offering simulations and/or outlines that are immediately perceptible. Otherwise there is only public resistance. It is necessary to learn to use visual language, in such form as the new techniques of representation now offer.


In this article, Planum presents three examples - three "tests of effectiveness" - for the video representation of urban planning work. In order of making: 1) La campagna che si fa metropoli (2000), an interpretation of the "system" of territorial organisation in daily life in the Veneto, to be interpreted as an implicit and collective project; 2) La sfida della città sotto il Vesuvio (2003), the dynamic representation of the mechanism for territorial redevelopment provided by the strategic plan for the Neapolitan coastline, as an active instrument, offered to potential participants for extending the number of actions; 3) Progetti per Jesi. Un anno di lavoro (2004), as thematic outline in order to guide the passage from study to design for the revision of the planning scheme for the Marche city. In traditional terms, they deal with three different moments in urban planning activity: interpretative analysis (1), the public display of technical work (3); and operational management (implementation) of planning choices (2). What makes the outcomes of these three experiments non-traditional is the emphasis that all three place upon the relationship between the public representation of technical material and the expected outcomes that this representation will produce. In all three cases, the purpose of their video representation is to encourage an active relationship with the public, regarding this as a necessary part of the technical procedure. Failure to do so makes the operation useless - an analysis of the factual situation which does not create awareness about the matters described among those involved is destined to become merely a partial exercise; communication that does not lead to an operational dialogue between different positions remains merely a bureaucratic act; procedural indications that do not trigger off operational actions, remain merely administrative regulations.


The technical possibility of providing a visual representation of a significant issue, when decisions have to be made, through the circulation of a disk to be placed into a computer or the DVD player of a television at home, privately or collectively, each time that someone wishes to see it or feels it necessary, cannot do other than provide a useful opportunity for urban planners and for their work.