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ITALY: Reclaiming public space – Free footsteps in Piazzale Bacone

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– Submission to the Civic Pride awards by NON Riservato, July 2021.

“Free footsteps in Piazzale Bacone” is first and foremost a bottom-up community engagement initiative aiming to improve safety in the public space, reclaim the pedestrian sidewalks and support the implementation of a tactical urbanism project promoted by Comune di Milano (Piazze Aperte).

The project brings together the local municipality – Municipio 3, Milano, 2 non-profit associations, Non Riservato network and Associazione I Baconiani, parents’ association of the local primary school, the parents’ collective of Santa Caterina da Siena local secondary School, the 2 local architecture studios, Hypnos Studio and WinWin Studio, local businesses.

All participants are actively fighting for the right to safe access to the park and green space located in the direct vicinity of the local schools, to reduce the traffic casualties, air and noise pollution, and to implement new pedestrian spaces.

The community is fighting for the fundamental childrens’ right to share a safe public space and feel free to play and socialise in a protected open air environment. They are inspired by the right to engage in an open dialog with the local community, practice active citizenship and be involved in the decision making processes that have an impact on their neighbourhood.

The main pressure / challenge encountered in the work in progress implementation process, has been to continuously negotiate the technical issues raised by the technical office of the Milan municipality, and making sure the aforementioned rights of the local citizens are taken into account and prioritized throughout the decision making process engaged by the policymakers.

The main strategy adopted by the project promoters was to make sure that the community is informed about the status and progress of the project, providing spaces to express their positions during the public hearings and meetings with local policy makers. Moreover, Non Riservato was actively involved in communicating the project as an opportunity for civic activism for the local community.

Several community engagement actions have already been implemented: the participation in the Erasmus+ project “Distress Flare” by organising a participating theater performance in collaboration with Effetto Larsen performance company – October 2020, in the Bacone public park; the collaboration with “Mani” project and the redesign of the façade and walls of the Bacone swimming pool and entrance to the local middle school – May-June 2021, the upcoming implementation of the “Piazze Aperte” tactical urbanism intervention and the widening of the pedestrian space in front of the Bacone primary school July-September 2021.

The importance of making a conscious, continuous effort to empower the local community to advocate their right to civic activism, has been one of the main objectives of the project. The engagement of a team of professional architects living in the neighborhood made a difference in the negotiation process and gave the team an important advantage especially during the negotiation of the technical aspects of the implementation of the tactical urbanism intervention. The activation of the community engagement actions before the start of the tactical urbanism intervention was essential and the collaboration with a European level cultural project reinforced the credibility of the project team and outlined the dedication of the community to the values and rights reclaimed by the project.

This is a living story that started from the sheer frustration of the inhabitants of the area with the poor conditions of the civic public space with which families were forced to cope with. It is an inspiring story of an ongoing battle for the improvement of the well being of the community to which the Associazione I Baconiani belongs.