Public Spaces and Services in Changing Urban Spaces

International Seminar
8th and 9th April 2013
School of Architecture and Society – Polytechnic of Milan

Urban planners, urban designers and architects from London, Helsinki and Milan, and local political representatives came together in the Public spaces and services in changing urban spaces seminar held on April 8-9 within the framework of the Polytechnic of Milan. Participants exchanged ideas, research projects and strategies for the development, provision and management of public spaces and services in the contemporary city. Although the change of lifestyle, new form of interactions and relationships between citizens are affecting the use of public spaces and services provided by the cities; the urban development projects, in which developers have largely operated and invested, do not seem to be responding to the needs of citizens and city-users.

Porta Nuova neighborhood, view from Corso Como

Porta Nuova neighborhood, view from Corso Como

To this end, the first day we visited on foot the historic neighborhood of Porta Nuova, located in the heart of Milan, that has been recently transformed, as well other districts of the city, which were previously underused or abandoned. The project covers more than 290,000 sqm dedicated to mixed urban functions, among which offices represent the core activity. Even though the idea is to transform existing and new neighborhoods into vibrant community places, whether they’re parks, plazas, public squares, streets, sidewalks, bridges, green areas or the myriad of other outdoor and indoor spaces that have public uses in common, so far this is not perceivable. It is early to assume that these public spaces will not attract people; however the effective public spaces are extremely difficult to accomplish. As one of the participants said, “the level of knowledge and experience of urban designers, architects and urban planners affect largely the design of public spaces”.

During the last conference session,  Matthew Carmona (UCL-Bartelett School of Planning) Kimmo Lapintie (Aalto University –Department of Architecture) and Corinna Morandi (Polytechnic of Milan- Department of Architecture and Urban Studies)  provided a better understanding of the new role of public spaces or spaces not clearly definable as public (such as retail, cultural and leisure activities, coffee houses, nodes of public transport) related to their uses, new forms of accessibility (as IT infrastructures) and services.

Final conference session.  Talk by Kimmo Lapintie

Final conference session. Talk by Kimmo Lapintie

From the urban planning perspective, Lapintie argued that the disappearance of the traditional functionalist divisions between housing, work and leisure time requires a change in our approach to planning and design, and we should also update the traditional governance structures of our activities.

Since we cannot any longer divide spaces only according to their primary functions, we need to develop a much more complex understanding allowing, for instance, work to be done with mobile devices in public space, cafeterias and libraries, in addition to offices and homes.

Final round table

Final round table

 Alda De Cesaris, City Planning Commissioner of Milan, Pier Carlo Palermo (President, School of Architecture, at the Polytechnic of Milan) and Gabriele Pasqui, head of the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, participated in the final round table.

The local political representative declared how the new city policies are lately oriented to the concept of “public city”, by creating green structures and a vast network of public squares.

According to the participants the priority is to design public spaces that constitute an intricate part of the urban fabric. If we re-create places of social community we will rediscover the sense of place and the human dimension of the city.


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