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Identity and urban contexts

The cities: reading and re-reading them, thinking about them, looking at them during their transformations, trying to understand how resilient they can be. Cities are constantly in the scientific and non-scientific debate, a debate that in our contemporary marks the step and continues to revolve around the forms of hybridism that manifest themselves.

It is a debate based on linguistic or cultural elements of different origin or nature, on the heterochromies dictated by the developments taken and expressed in relation to the past, to conclude inevitably on non-places: those evil choices of urban settlements unable to integrate into historical places, but even into themselves. In this chaos it is good to know that in any case the territorial identity continues to be the object of attention, of safeguarding that culture of the making of the city that belongs to us. It is mentioned in documents, programme agreements and speeches concerning the organization, management and exploitation of territories. It is a signal, it is a good signal, because the unfolding of a series of extremely strong transformative processes are radically changing the face of our cities, particularly rooted in their historical and cultural identity. Among the first, for example, just remember the great interventions in the Garibaldi area in Milan. The problems linked to identity explode precisely in those urban contexts where “identity is lost”. If, on the one hand, it is true that this is increasingly a “society without memory” or that plans without memory, on the other hand, it is also true that the problems arise when identity is transformed into a whole that lives of its own life, in which identity is reified, extracting and abstracting it from the process that determines it. Identity is the product of a continuous urban narrative. The identification of identities is a healthy exercise, which should never stop being approached, especially for those who deal with urban planning and the fate of cities, and that could perhaps give life to a process that establishes the safeguarding of many expressions that give connotation to the country of Italy.

Linked to the first issue of AGORÀ magazine, which dealt with the urban transformations that were taking place in the cities of Milan and Genoa in 2018, in the following pages are proposed some images that want to be a contemporary projection of the status of these places. Two ideal cities that the authors of this text have interpreted trying to grasp the identity, transformed or unchanged, of these two different Italian landscapes. Two drastically different cities that show different responses to the stimulus of urban transformations, also a symptom of that local ability to know how to preserve or change their image.

On the one hand there is Milan, which in recent years has confirmed its will to want to absorb those stimuli beyond the Alps that now have little to do with the typical characteristics of the modern Milan that in the twentieth century had irradiated the Lombard city. The last major urban interventions of Porta Nuova and City Life remain emblematic, which continue their uninterrupted and aseptic development compared to what surrounds them. Pieces of a puzzle that match each other, but at the same time are extraneous to the fabric of the city. The great challenge of the coming decades, which will confirm or deny the image of an urban archipelago consisting of small islands in a wider anthropic sea, will be determined by the exploitation of the former railway stations: the big bet on which the new image of the Lombard capital will be based.

The counterbalance to the rapid development of Milan is possible to find it beyond that green sea constituted by the Po Valley, a discreet and rural interlude that connects the Italian financial capital with the borders of the Ligurian capital. Resilient and crystallized in that image of an industrial city, Genoa, more than Milan, is a conglomerate of moments that penetrate each other and of which you have a privileged view along the elevated road Aldo Moro. Genoa is shy, distrustful of the great changes, its identity defends it jealously. Changes accept them, but in small doses, slowly and one at a time. In recent decades Genoa has had several times the opportunity to renew itself, for example the project for Ponte Parodi, whose competition was announced in 2001, or the great vision of Piano stranded in the disappointing Blueprint competition. Today we are back to talk about these great transformations. The project of the Genoese architect is taking shape, albeit under other guises, and the project for the large park below the new Ponte San Giorgio suggests the will of this city to want to open to new major urban interventions, carried on in jealous respect of a local identity that must not be altered.

Identità contesti urbani - Milano

Jessica Borriello, Milan, Milan, 2021.

Identità contesti urbani - Genova

Duccio Prassoli, Genoa, Milan, 2021.

Translated into English by Berk Ozturk.

Cover: Jessica Boriello, Milan-Genoa, Milan, 2021.

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Duccio Prassoli Administrator
Graduated at the Department of Architecture in Genoa, he is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at the Polytechnic of Milan. He is interested in the architecture of the 20th century and the influence that this is having on society and contemporary architectural thought.
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