Cities beyond Factories

Turin and Taranto: Cities Beyond Factories

There are cities where factories and homes co-exist, making the choice between living and working almost unbearable.

Photo by mafe de baggis

It was only a few weeks ago before Coronavirus mercilessly started to spread across Italy that we kicked off our first documentary “Dreaming Taranto” produced by MAPP media in collaboration with the Department of Architecture and Design at Polytechnic University in Turin.

A research on Taranto’s architecture as social habitat conducted by the University’s project VILLARD, urged us to draw a comparison between two cities that have been highly affected by rampant industrialization.

We asked professors and researchers at Polytechnic and Urban Lab Torino, to paint the story of a city known as “factory-city” ever since FIAT opened its premises there in the 30s.

The picture we got is clear: the process Turin underwent in order to redeem its appeal as “the first capital of Italy” was long and painful, particularly in the last decade.

FIAT entrance, 1946. Photo by Federico Patellani.
Aerial view of FIAT plant in Mirafiori Sud. Photo by Dgtmedia.

If on the one hand FIAT represented the economic boost required by those times, its establishment at the very limits of a more developed urban centre prevented the working class from accessing economic growth and a higher quality of life.

As observed in urban sociology, this separation was marked by rows of anonymous buildings in overpopulated areas that lacked green spaces and basic services such as banks, shops and libraries, and where buses ran to the tempo of factory shifts.

During the automotive crisis in the 90s, these residential areas were faced with generational change and a depopulation that left countless flats designed for families of 10 — mostly immigrants from Southern Italy — vacant or underoccupied.

Mirafiori Sud used to have a fruit market that was deemed no longer essential.
Community’s “wish list” at AlloggiAMI, Mirafiori Sud. It includes library, laundry, bank and transportation, among other services.

One of the most affected areas, Mirafiori Sud, became invisible to the eyes of Turin’s citizens, hence an unattractive place for potential homebuyers and a less than pleasant neighbourhood for its residents.

The challenge to save Mirafiori Sud and its aging people from poverty and crime as a result of marginalization has been undertaken by AlloggiAMI. The non-profit community service run by locals saw an opportunity in integrating immigrant students from Africa, South America and India in a neighbourhood that cries for culture and yet offers a sense of family.

Culture, indeed, is at the core of Turin’s transformation of the past decade and key to many of the “repurposing” strategies implemented in areas deemed “dead” in the public opinion.

Today, not only the unwanted inheritance of Turin’s urban planning mistake is tangible, it is also difficult to undo, as in many other heavily industrialized cities in the world.

Taranto is an exotic Mediterranean city with a heart of steel, agonizing under the fumes of ArcelorMittal. In this case, a manufacturing conglomerate was purposefully built meters away from homes, schools and playgrounds, making the choice betwewn living and working almost unbearable.

How will Turin’s approach help Taranto? Where is the opportunity to revitalize a dying area when there is no other option but to wait for the government to take action?

Our documentary “Dreaming Taranto” will explore the comparison with Turin and other realities through three layers of analysis, including urban planning, with the goal of envisioning alternative scenarios.

Stay tuned.