You are currently viewing Resiliency: interview with Piero Pelizzaro

Resiliency: interview with Piero Pelizzaro

Piero Pelizzaro has 10 years of experience in climate change policies and urban resilience planning.
Currently he is the Milan Chief Resilience Officer and the City Lead for the H2020 Lighthouse project Sharing Cities at the Municipality of Milan. He is an advisor of the Italian Ministry of Environment Land and Sea on Urban Adaptation Policy to Climate Change.
In recent years was the Co-Founder of Climalia, specialised consulting company providing climate services in Italy, where he operates as Resilience Specialist.
He has extensive expertise in projects financed by the European Commission, including the LIFE+ project BlueAP Bologna Local Urban Environment Adaptation Plan for a Resilient City (Senior Expert), LIFE+ RECOIL Recovered waste cooking oil for combined heat and power production (Technical Director), MED Greenpartnerships (Senior Expert) and many more.
He further specialised in Urban Resilience, Environmental Economic Accounting, Energy Scenario and Climate Change Impact Models through his working experience at the Stockholm Environment Institute – Tallinn Office.
He writes for different specialised magazines and web-portals on climate change issues.

1 – What is a resilient city?

From an environmental and climatic point of view it is a city that learns, over time, to manage the shocks (heat waves, extreme flood events, etc…) and stresses (air pollution, etc…) that afflict the urban environment.

From a social point of view, the shocks can be the concentration of wealth in a certain area. Milan, for example, manages 30,000 people per year who move from regions such as Sicily, which in turn is abandoned by 20,000 people per year. At the same time, national governments try to understand whether or not it is right to welcome migrants, while cities face the fact that migrants arrive anyway, they are human beings and consequently they deserve to have a bed and a hot meal every day. Therefore, inclusion is also part of that social phenomenon that resilient cities must be able to manage.

From an economic point of view, the shocks can be major economic crises, such as what happened in Detroit, where the closure of the car market has radically changed the territorial approach, with an emptying and subsequent abandonment of entire sections of the city.

Therefore, the resilient city is a city capable of adapting and finding solutions to deal with what we call the shocks and the stresses affecting the built environment and its population.

2 – “Horizon 2020” investment program: what is it about? What are the projects? What role does Milan play?

The European Union provides direct and indirect funding for local administrations, including the Horizon 2020 calls. The city of Milan is developing various projects within this program: Clever (in collaboration with London and Hamburg), is a project on natural based solutions, therefore on green infrastructures, through which we want to intervene in Giambellino and on the promotion of green roofs in urban areas; OpenAgri – Urban Innovative Action, is a project in Cascina Nosedo and in the neighboring 30 hectares, where we have the ambition to create an innovative hub entirely dedicated to food, recovering traditional agricultural practices, but at the same time identifying innovative solutions for food production.

Another tender participated by the city of Milan is Sharing Cities, which addresses the theme of urban regeneration.
In the area that goes from Porta Romana to Chiaravalle, various types of interventions have been carried out that favor the collective intelligence of the community with respect to specific urban areas. Together with the project partners Teicos, Future Energy and Legambiente, 25,000 sqm (21,000 sqm private and 4,000 sqm public) were redeveloped, enhancing the co-design processes between the Administration and the citizens, implementing energy efficiency measures. We saved up to 80% of energy consumption in the public sector and 55-60% in the private sector, increasing the value of properties by 18%. We managed to shift the focus from the sale of a product, dropped from above directly into the homes of the citizens, to the co-design of a solution involving the citizens themselves in the development of the intervention. Through this project, together with the partner A2A Smart City, 300 street lamps with Arduino sensors, therefore open technology, were installed, which monitor some environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, air quality and brightness of the city. Instead, in the San Bernardo building in Chiaravalle, together with the Politecnico di Milano, a SCH8 sensor was developed that monitors living comfort, not only detecting temperatures, but also the air pollution inside the housing units, in order to verify that the interventions carried out have brought a real benefit and to be able to work on predictive maintenance.

Furthermore, we have worked on the diffusion of interventions related to electrical logistics, such as electric vehicles in Brenta, or condominium car sharing, where we try to support families towards a gradual decrease in owned cars, offering them a vehicle fleet dedicated to services, which allows a reduction in citizens’ costs and environmental costs.
In addition, together with the partner NHP-ESCo, 12 columns for electric cars have been installed in the Calvairate-Corvetto-Lodi area, which integrate the electric vehicular and cycle mobility of the city, in fact with the contribution of the Ministry of the Environment we have also completed 190 bike-sharing stations located in particularly strategic urban areas.

Finally, we have developed SharingMi, which is a platform for promoting virtuous behaviors, where citizens have the opportunity to register by sharing their positive behaviors such as the use of bicycles or the use of public transport, after which a score is given, that allows to access discounts in some local shops or museums, as well as faster ways in accessing the services of the Municipality

3 – “Resiliency – In materials technology, the breaking strength due to dynamic stress, determined with a specific impact test: resilience test; resilience value, the inverse of which is the fragility index. ” (source: Treccani Vocabulary). The first definition of “resiliency” offered by the vocabulary refers to materials, as well as a possible interpretation of the definition linked to the shocks you expressed in the first question. What does it mean, in urban planning terms, to compare the city to a material?

I believe that the city is more like a body than a material.
I like the psychological definition of resiliency offered by Treccani (“In psychology, the ability to react in the face of trauma, difficulties, etc…”). I believe that the city has this dimension, also because the technical definition you mentioned is closer to resistance rather than resilience. In psychology, a resilient patient must be able to recognize that he has a problem, but also skills.

The city of Milan has the incredible ability to integrate nature into the urban environment, in fact it is the second agricultural city with over 1 million inhabitants. Over the past 10 years, many private lands have been acquired to return them to the public, bound for agricultural use, such as the 30 hectares of the aforementioned Cascina Nosedo. Another example is the creation of the “South Milan Agricultural Park” (Parco Agricolo Sud Milano), which groups 66 municipalities, which will be accompanied by 20 new parks provided for by the “Territorial Government Plan” (Piano del Governo del Territorio) approved by the City Council in October 2019. We must not forget that Milan has always had this vocation, it is an innate ability that must be recalled in the face of the shock dictated by overbuilding.

4 – What is the difference between “resilient city” and Smart City?

There is no difference, they are two complementary concepts: “resilience” and “smart city” are like “hardware” and “software”.

Resilience is the hardware, in the sense that it intervenes on social and physical infrastructures, facing today the challenges of tomorrow. In the case of Milan, for example, there is an increasing number of people which entails a greater load on energy demand, for this reason it is necessary to work on the energy infrastructure in order to improve its performance and innovate its structure.

The smart city is the software, not only in the digital sense, but also from a community point of view. The city needs an intelligent community that is both mind and planning of the territory, but also digital infrastructures that make it possible to improve services and monitor, therefore understand, the needs of the city. Smart city cannot be just technology, first of all it must be a community that knows how to enhance its skills and knowledge. In the case of Milan, in terms of smart communities, there are 11 universities, which together with the almost 250,000 students are an indispensable resource, then there are the startups, which in the urban area represent a third of all the Italian startups, without forgetting the great fabric of the Milanese voluntary service, which every day distributes almost 200,000 meals to destitute people, children in schools, migrants, etc…

To understand the synergy that flows between these two concepts I would like to give an example: many complain about the potholes in the street, summer 2019 was the hottest in recent decades, perhaps in history, and when it’s hot in a city where there are many tracks, the latter widen. Then, in October and November it rained a lot, causing a sudden change in temperature that compromised the tightness of the asphalt. This type of problem must be managed, but the market or humanity does not always have the solutions ready, so this is the case where the hardware (infrastructure) needs a software (collective intelligence) to find new solutions.

5 – In your opinion, how can the new generations, and even the older ones, be a resource to stem climate change?

Especially the older ones should take a bath of humility by taking the strict responsibility for causing climate change. Involuntarily and without wanting to influence future generations, however, the choices made in the past have produced problematic levels of pollution. I believe that the first major contribution that older generations can offer is to recognize that they have a strict responsibility for what is happening at the climate level. The same people who should make these considerations are today in positions of public and private decision-making power, therefore they have a moral obligation to change the way they see the world, acting accordingly.

The younger generations must continue to put social pressure through strikes and protests, such as those promoted by Fridays For Future, shifting from manifestations of bewilderment to actions that are increasingly consistent with what is claimed. How? Buying less clothes, moving by bike, carefully choosing what to eat, etc…
Another great power of young people is the choice of their course of study, the more students will require to learn knowledge concerning sustainable development, resilience and the fight against climate change, the more the labor market will have to understand and adapt to this request.

On the other hand, the intermediate generations, 30-40 years old, have found themselves to be “sustainable” due to the economic crisis, given the low purchasing power capacity many of my peers do not have a personal car, precisely because they cannot afford it. These generations have the opportunity to be a channel, telling and arguing to the older generations the malaise of the younger ones.

6 – What are the social and economic opportunities concerning climate change? What are the new models that could finally be accepted and applied thanks to the global awareness that is emerging?

In the different geological eras the Planet has always saved itself, it is we who must save ourselves, the Earth can easily get rid of us as it got rid of the dinosaurs. The “new model” must start from this premise, even if I don’t think there is a need for a new model.

We need to rethink the real value attributed to profit and what profit means. Today the market is driven by economic profit, but part of this economic profit should be brought back to a social and environmental value. “Impact investing” is becoming increasingly important on the financial markets, where economic value is recognized for intangible advantages such as air quality, people’s health and even happiness. We are trying to get out of the logic according to which the G.D.P. (Gross Domestic Product) is the only indicator of growth of a territory, thinking about how happiness (understood as feeling safe from social and environmental events, having access to education, food, job opportunities, etc…) may have an economic value.

Entrepreneurs and industrialists play a fundamental role in this paradigm shift. They must return to investing in social infrastructure. In the 50s and 60s, after World War II, entrepreneurs invested in job creation, but also in schools, sports facilities, etc… There are people who are still doing it, but there are many others who could begin to take a cue from the great industrialists who have marked the history of our country

Future parents, but also current ones, must change the logic that has marked the relationship with children up to now, that is: “I have to give you everything I didn’t have”. This sort of contract can no longer be based on material goods, but on common and shared goods. Parents must be, for their children, a model of vision different from the needs of the human being.

7 – Food production and water resources, what are the new urban frontiers?

The Administration is aware that there is not enough land to guarantee food at Km0 for all citizens, so it will not be possible to have food autonomy in the city. Km0 becomes a utopia if we only consider agriculture from the ground and if we exclude the visions introduced by cities like Rotterdam, which propose herds of cows stacked one on top of the other, on a floating platform, and without even the space to move. But above all, Km0 loses meaning if we do not change our eating habits first.

In this regard, the Municipality has launched some normes related to the Food Policy, that define a path of awareness and education for a more responsible and seasonal consumption of products. An example is the reduction on the TARI (waste tax) that the Municipality has granted to all companies (shops, bars, supermarkets, laboratories, restaurants, markets, etc…) willing to donate food surpluses to non-profit associations that deal with the redistribution of this resource, which would otherwise be lost.
In addition, in the schools that are supplied by Milano Ristorazione, one of the companies owned by the Municipality of Milan, the students consume products of local origin, such as the milk derivatives that come from cows raised within the Metropolitan City of Milan, or the rice that is harvested in the rice fields between Milan and Novara.

Speaking of agriculture, we must refer to the enhancement of the water resources necessary for the production of food. 100% of the water used in Milan comes from its aquifers, after civil use by the citizens the water is channeled to Nosedo, where it is purified and subsequently reused in agriculture. This process guarantees a circular use of water, avoiding the waste of such a precious resource.
The original water management system, partly designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, it is now considered one of the best systems in the city, in fact when flooding occurs the problem is not the underground water system, but rather the ability to manage water on the surface. With the Administration we still have to work a lot on the problem, strengthened by the intrinsic capabilities of the city. However, unlike other cities around the world where drought is increasing, in Milan we see an increase in water in the aquifer, due to the increasingly persistent rains but also to the closure of many hydro-demanding companies during the economic crisis.
The Milanese water system, therefore, is one of those elements where the city bends but does not break.

8 – When, how and why did you decide that architecture would be your way?

I do not feel I am an urban planner nor an architect, I like to call myself a “city maker”, so I work with the Administrations to promote policies and actions of urban resilience linked to shocks and stresses. I work with the Municipality of Milan to enable urban transformations through administrative or financial tools, with the aim of improving the quality of public space and the lives of the citizens. A city maker does not study urban plans, but works with the tools available to urban planning.

We must be careful when we try to define the city, because perhaps we have not fully understood what it is.
Italy is made up of 8,100 municipalities, of which 5,000 municipalities have less than 5,000 inhabitants and only 11 municipalities have more than 1 million inhabitants. Are the municipalities that have a population ranging from 100 to 5,000 inhabitants cities or towns? What are these? Are they cities that we can compare to Milan, Turin, Rome and Bari, or are they peripheral territories around these nuclei?

National policies must ask themselves these questions, otherwise great separations occur between the urban core, the rural environment, and what lies in the middle between the two, which in political terms has consequences that we can find in Brexit or in the victory of Donald Trump in 2016, city has voted for one thing, and outside them the opposite.

I do not believe that the densification and concentration of citizenship within the urban environment is the most appropriate way, this is because rivers, what we grow and what we eat, are not born in the city. Therefore, without the rural environment and without the small urban agglomerations cities could not exist.

9 – What advice would you like to give to future architects?

The architect cannot see a building as an end in itself, but must conceive it as a contextualized organism within a society, and therefore in a public space. I wish more and more shared spaces and fewer individual spaces. In this regard, always take into consideration the high need for dialogue and confrontation between people that is necessary for your future profession.

Be aware that architects play an essential role in rethinking the way a building is designed and built, not only in its aesthetics, but also in its components such as materials and structure. So, if we want to have increasingly sustainable and “circular” buildings, we don’t have to think only about aesthetics, but also how the buildings are built and designed.

Don’t be afraid to be a little less architects and a little more spin doctors.

P.s. This interview was done in January 2020, although the world has changed we believe that this dialogue deals with topics that are still contemporary, we apologize for any updates that have not been reported.

Translated into English by Marco Grattarola.

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Marco Grattarola AdministratorKeymaster
He graduated in Architecture Sciences at the Polytechnic School of Genoa with a thesis on “Active Architecture”. He did two internships, in an art gallery and in an architecture studio. He currently attends the Master at the Polytechnic of Milan. His interests range from music to drawing, in which he experiments with curiosity and passion.
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