Beyond participation in urban planning

CAMOC (The International Committee for the Collections and Activities of Museums of Cities) ha pubblicato un articolo di Campomarzio intitolato: Beyond participation in urban planning: a collaborative approach in the city of Trento.
read here
The absence in Italy of city museums and centres of reflection about our cities generates many pop-up experiences, sometime very interesting and with an added cultural perspective. This is what is happening in the city of Trento with Capomarzio. Associazione Campomarzio is a cultural association, which has operated in Trento (Italy) since 2012. Founded by four architects, three engineers and a philosopher, Campomarzio is intended to be a collaborative space for the development of urban analyses, urban researches and urban proposals. Considering that 2 there cannot be a valid project for the city without a clear understanding of its history, of its evolution, of its current condition and without the possibility to communicate all this to its citizens and users, the decision to found the association was an attempt to fill the absence of a proper “urban museum” or “urban centre” in Trento. The establishment of a cultural association is quite unusual between architecture practitioners. We could consider it as a way of reacting to the current crisis of architecture as a practice.
Architecture is not anymore only about building, designing, constructing: it is becoming more and more about curating, editing, writing, creating connections, building relations and establishing collaborations. We could thus extend Bourriaud’s definition of “relational aesthetic” from art to architecture. After all, the city, the realm in which architects usually operate, is the quintessential space where human relations are established and where information is socially shared. Architects are increasingly required to be more “political”, in the sense that they should be more involved in the decision process, in the creation of social networks, in the augmentation of social consciousness and in the reduction of the gap between citizens and decision makers. Being convinced that the usual “top-down” urban planning activity has generated negative results and an unavoidable detachment between citizens and planners, the ambition of the association has been to intervene in the urban decisional process, without proposing a “romanticised” replica of 1960s and 70s participatory practices. Even though participatory practices in urban planning are based on a “bottom-up” approach, in most of the cases participation is used by politicians to strengthen the “consensus mechanism” and the resulting process is usually ineffective. According to Markus Miessen the author of The Nightmare of Participation, the “all-inclusive” participatory approach, is very often the result of a withdrawal of politicians from responsibility. The alternative model proposed by Miessen is “collaboration”, that is to say a “bottomup” proactive contribution in which all persons invited to collaborate are outsiders who are not involved in the political system and, for this reason, are more eager to take responsibilities in the decision making process. Collaboration in relation to the city, should be understood, first of all, as a call for responsibility through which every single practitioner is asked to take a position in social and spatial conflicts, collaborating with other outsiders.
In the case of Associazione Campomarzio the first attempt to establish a collaborative process, was the research and design proposal for Piazza della Mostra in Trento. This ancient square, dominated by the impressive Castello del Buonconsiglio, is placed at the edge of the historic centre and is currently used as a parking space. Although throughout the twentieth century different projects and solutions have been proposed to reduce the traffic and to remove the presence of parking lots, none of these have been implemented and the surrounding neighbourhood is still affected by the precarious condition of the square and by the lack of usable public spaces. Associazione Campomarzio has collaborated with 15 other young practitioners (architects, engineers, sociologists, photographers and landscape architects) over a six-month period, to analyse the urban transformations of this area throughout history, to address its main issues and to elaborate a design proposal for the community. A public exhibition and a self-produced publication distributed to the citizens, have generated different occasions for public presentations of the proposal and for open discussions, increasing the awareness of the problems to be solved and of the possible solution strategies. Conceived as a spontaneous and autonomous initiative, this collaborative project has progressively attracted the attention of stakeholders, politicians and local media. One year after the presentation of the proposal, it has been introduced in a political motion made by the local administration, in which it commits itself to develop a detailed project for the area, following the guidelines proposed by the collaborative research.
Another aim of the association is to increase the consciousness of the citizens about the recent history of the city, trying to engage the local community in a discussion which can address complicated issues such as: why the city has changed, how it has been modified, what are the factors that have caused these transformations, what is the relation between urban form and politics. For this reason the association has organized Confrontations – Architecture in Trentino 1966/1986, a series of four interviews/discussions with eight of the architects and engineers who have contributed, positively but also negatively, to the recent transformations of the city of Trento and its surrounding region. These public discussions, addressed not only to architects but the wider general public, have been an occasion to analyse the recent architectural history in a critical way, distinguishing good and bad practices, understanding the political and social implications of urban planning strategies, discussing how to extend heritage-preservation policies to recent architecture and learning from the past what should be done and what should be avoided.