Expert article
Edit 19 December 2020
by Pietro Elisei, UIA Expert

An alternative experience of cohousing: children, and migrants cooperating for innovative solutions!

Bergamo, Urban Poverty, planning and co-designing with the children, co-housing
Workshop held during the Expert's on site visit. Discussing how to organise the spaces for the co-housing.
Bergamo had the great misfortune of being among the first cities in Europe to have been affected by the effects of COVID 19, when all over Europe it was not yet understood what was really happening and that it was the beginning of a serious pandemic. However, Bergamo showed its capability to react and being resilient and last summer got back to zero cases and it was possible to have in-person meetings among partners and stakeholders. In this second autumn wave of the pandemic, which is seriously affecting all of Europe again, the city of Bergamo has acceptable numbers, so it is a city capable to learn from experience: this is a key quality for being a resilient and innovative city.

An alternative experience of cohousing: children, and migrants cooperating for innovative solutions!

In this first article about Bergamo and the CAPACITYES project we cannot fail to mention that it was one of the cities in Europe most affected by the effects of the pandemic caused by the SARS COV 2 virus. Despite this serious problem, the city has never stopped the CAPACITYES project.

Bergamo is an important logistics centre and has an international airport in its territory that ranks among the big five in Italy and Europe in terms of freight and passenger traffic, and for this reason too the pandemic has hit here earlier and with greater impact.

Being a resilient and committed city

Bergamo had the great misfortune of being among the first cities in Europe to have been affected by the effects of COVID 19, when all over Europe it was not yet understood what was really happening and that it was the beginning of a serious pandemic. However, Bergamo showed its capability to react and being resilient and last summer got back to zero cases and it was possible to have in person meetings among partners and stakeholders. In this second autumn wave of the pandemic, which is seriously affecting all of Europe again, the city of Bergamo has acceptable numbers, so it is a city capable to  learn from experience: this is a key quality for being a resilient and innovative city.

The CAPACITYES project is progressing and keeping the pace with its working plan, especially in all those soft activities structuring the involvement of the local community around this innovative approach and idea.

A first point to underline is the commitment of the mayor for this project and the support that he clearly expressed for the department that designed the proposal and now is implementing the project.

The Mayor of Bergamo, Mr. Gori, presenting the CAPACITYES Project:

Urban poverty cannot be associated only with the lack of minimum living conditions (housing, a minimum wage, access to health services and basic education ...) even if these must constitute a stable foundation from which not to be ignored, but poverty is related to other shortcomings, such as cultural, relational and environmental poverty. These limitations can become even more relevant in the urban context which, by its nature, is much more competitive, as for example the province of Bergamo, one of the most competitive European areas. Living in poor conditions in an extremely competitive environment puts a strain on the survival of poorer families and causes serious repercussions on the weakest, such as children.

Children, together with their families, are the protagonists of this project, not only those belonging to needy families who are also the target of the planned cohousing actions. The school children of the city are the enlarged focus of the project. The liaison, intercultural and intersocial, between school children in Bergamo is an important asset for the project. It is favoured by the many socio-cultural events provided for by the project, but also from the creation of a real Hub dedicated to them, where they can express, together, beyond the economic affiliations of families, their creativity and sociality. At this moment, the place where the Hub is to be built is an abandoned farmhouse, but with great potential to be renewed. Finally, this hub must be inserted within the neighborhood urban fabric to make it easily accessible to families and children in safety. In the hub, the children are going to have the opportunity to learn, experiment, develop and bring out skills, talents and aspirations.

Children as recipients and generators of knowledge

The CAPACITYES project faces relevant urban issues that are not much considered by conventional policies and instruments designed and proposed for the city management. It tries to integrate elements that often remain a matter of sectoral approaches, namely 1)housing, 2)education and 3)child poverty. In this sense, it promotes an integrated territorial approach aiming at coordinating actions that normally refer to sectorial policies and counteracting so the silos thinking attitude.

The CAPACITYES project is succeeding in facing integrally these three urban issues through the involvement of a partnership specialized in the sectorial thematic to be faced and capable to define collaboration pathways leading to a co-designed participatory processes defining collective and cohesive decisions making. This participatory process is based on shared values and define decision-making paths that result in a greater sum of individual contributions:

  • CAPACITYES is mobilizing an operational dialogue in Bergamo bringing the actors involved towards a cooperation that increases the potential of the individual values and knowledge at stake;  
  • The CAPACITYES project is addressing urban poverty mainly focusing on children educational poverty; 
  • Children are led through practices based on the values of sport, culture, being together through the fundamental and primary activity that characterizes childhood, namely playing.
A Bergamo il viaggio di Ulisse continua attraverso il progetto CAPACITYES e la creatività dei bambini: in person workshops eld in Summer with the children. Source: MUA Team, CAPACITYES Facebook Page
In Bergamo the journey of Ulysses continues through the CAPACITYES project and the creativity of children: in person workshops eld in Summer with the children. Source: MUA Team, CAPACITYES Facebook Page

Play-based activities take on different dimensions and open up different development possibilities for children:

  • Playing as a sporting activity, or
  • as a narrative that preludes artistic expression (Ulysses' journey,
  • as a metaphor for an educational path, but also a preparation for the complexity of living
  • as a trigger for the creation of artistic installations to be placed in the housing, or
  • as mediated competition through participatory play developed and designed to encourage primary school children to imagine and design the city where their future will take place, the city that they will live and manage in the near future.

Taking care of those left behind: Cohousing as a temporary shelter

Finally, the attention is placed on vulnerable families who are even a key target of this project and who are relevant for the innovative experimentation launched by the project. This is a very delicate step of the urban innovative action that requires the accompaniment of the families selected from the lists of those who are waiting for a housing arrangement. An accompaniment that is outlined under various aspects (psychological, overcoming and reconciling socio-cultural diversities, integrating values that often start from distant positions)and which is going necessarily to create new “hybrid urban communities” based on dialogue with residents, with the local population established for years in the city, especially in the neighbourhoods where the CAPACITYES initiatives are going to be implemented. These new communities, which will be formed as a result of the interventions envisaged by the project, will also influence the demand for urban services, facilities and standards in the involved areas.

Ice breaking at the co-housing workshop with target families. Source: Picture taken by the MUA Team
Helding the co-housing workshop with target families. Source: Picture taken by the MUA Team

In this sense, the accompanying processes operated through the search for people who keep the common spaces of these cohousing places alive and facilitate neighborhood relations are particularly important. In fact, on the occasion of the first expert on-site visit, a good part of the day has been devoted to meet again the selected families in order to fine tune the design of the cohousing spaces and to manage the diversities linked to the different cultural roots in order to propose flexible solutions that ensure a serene and collaborative coexistence in the spaces that are being redeveloped for housing purposes .

These spaces, once ready, will house needy families who will be able to remain in this condition for a period of three years before being placed in a conventional housing situation. In this sense, the project generates cohousing spaces that can host and continuously help families who find or will find themselves in conditions of work and housing emergency.

The Project is therefore completing the preparatory phases before implementing the planned urban transformations, the challenges currently open are:

  • keep the level of participation high at this time when it is difficult to meet with residents and stakeholders
  • prepare the change in the socio-cultural fabric of local communities, on the scale of the neighborhoods in which these co-housing experiments will take place
  • transform and adapt urban standards, functions and services in proximity to the interventions envisaged by the CAPACITYES project
La Cascina Serassi, an old abandoned farm, is going to be refurbished to host the Hub for kids, Source, MUA Team - CAPCITYES Facebook Page
La Cascina Serassi, an old abandoned farm, is going to be refurbished to host the Hub for kids, Source, MUA Team - CAPACITYES Facebook Page

 

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