The city of Bergamo is developing the CAPACITyES project in one of the most difficult moments in its long history. 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. The consequences of this unfortunate event are known to all and will forever leave an indelible mark in the history of this city. However, despite these serious events, the project has never had a real stop and is slowly becoming an important reference for all those involved in its realization, especially for those to whom it is addressed. This project puts the fight against urban poverty at the center of its actions. The added value of this approach lies in the fact that the project puts on the table different ingredients to find the right balance, the right combination, to address the problems induced by poverty in disadvantaged families. Specifically, the lines of action involve:
- sustainable access to a home,
- guaranteed non-formal education for children,
- overcoming the marginalization and spatial segregation of some communities,
- the improvement of urban landscapes linked to these regenerative actions implemented.
The CAPACITyES project, at first glance, appears as a classic urban regeneration project, well thought out and well-structured from the point of view of an integrated approach at the urban scale. Going into the details of the planned actions, many innovative elements are discovered. The first one, and perhaps not so evident, is to generate a solution to meet the needs of a transitional phase that characterizes the life path of many poor families. Accessing a social home, in the current context of low investment in housing-oriented policies, can take a long time. The CAPACITyES project works on this temporal space to allow some families to find a transitional housing condition, a solution managed by a local public urban policy that assists families in this waiting phase. A waiting phase that is not solved simply by assigning a house for a limited period, but a wait that becomes
- an opportunity for experimentation,
- integration of the target families in the local context (mostly families linked to recent migratory waves),
- training and mutual knowledge and
- enhancement of diversity.
The second point of innovation lies in the interpretation of the cohousing experiences proposed by the Bergamo project. Cohousing historically arises from the will of aggregation of some families who aspire to a model of living that puts in common the provision of some services and that establishes an equal relationship, in the decision-making aspects. It is a choice strongly involving the members of a local community that look for a life path less isolated and more based on participation and sharing:
“There are leadership roles, but not leaders in cohousing” (Scotthanson, K. & C., 2005).
The Bergamo experience does not arise from a spontaneous aggregation of families, but from a local policy that defines an operational context in which families in conditions of poverty and hardship find an answer to their difficult situation of multiple deprivation through a temporary cohousing path that, at the same time:
- It allows target families to be provided with material and cognitive tools for faster insertion within the local social, cultural and productive context.
- It allows the redevelopment and re-functionalization of public buildings that have found themselves abandoned over time and without specific functions.
The approach to cohousing in this project is set on conditions that are far from the usual practices which tend to be based on spontaneous community led aggregations. This different approach opens the field to an experimental practice that can open new horizons in terms of management and creation of policies in favor of cohousing.
Finally, a moment that strongly characterizes the Bergamo project and the participatory space reserved for children. The CAPACITYES project addresses urban poverty, mainly focusing on children educational poverty. In fact, the neighbourhoods chosen for the project (21.500 habitants) are characterized by a massive existence of social housing and by one of the highest ratios of foreign population. The 20% of total residents in these areas are underage (ca 4300 children). Half of the children attending school in these areas are foreigner and their families have poverty and housing problems. The challenge is to change the way the city of Bergamo plans and transforms the urban spaces in these neighbourhoods. The objective is to realize attractive urban spaces thanks to visual art, innovative urban furniture co-designed with kids. This will happen combining art, culture and creativity with children’s active participation in the designing of innovative solutions to urban renewal and in the creation of the HubForKids.
The CAPACITyES project addresses issues related to the phenomena of urban poverty by focusing its activities on two main projects:
- The realization of a cohousing experience,
- the creation of a Hub for Kids.
These two key projects, in their simplicity but also originality, open up to various local challenges that currently affect the city of Bergamo, but common in many other European cities, namely:
- The challenge of finding a home at an affordable price, especially for the less well-off.
- The question of promoting social inclusion actions, especially for foreigners who have arrived with the latest migratory waves.
- The problem of providing adequate training to members of poor families in order to access the work available on a local scale.
- The need to reconcile work time with time dedicated to family needs.
- The re-qualification and re-functionalisation of vacant spaces.
- The re-contextualization of marginalised areas to look for sustainable new balances in the city fabric.
A third key-action, which is linking the two projects and visually tracking the regenerative action promoted in the city, is constituted by the artistic installations. These installations connect and evidence the major places where the regenerative actions take place and they are inspired by the work done with the children.
The CAPACITyES project has all the methodological elements to manage such a complex situation, which opens up to various challenges and problems. In fact, it is structured around an integrated approach that wants to harmonize some structural dimensions of urban life, but which also represent constitutive domains for good planning of an effective, sustainable, and efficient urban regeneration action, i.e.:
- The cultural dimension
- the economic dimension,
- the social dimension,
- the environmental dimension.
The CAPACITyES project is transversal to different policy contexts. At a minimum, it intercepts the domain of urban planning policies, urban welfare policies and social assistance, training and educational policies (professional training, but also compulsory schooling) and finally it is fully included in the context of policies aimed at combating urban poverty. In this first issue of the Journal, we will focus on this latter policy context. The CAPACITYES project is part of an overly complex territorial governance as regards the planning and implementation of measures aimed at responding to those critical situations induced by poverty.
The context of policies aimed at urban poverty are articulated in Italy from the local level (municipalities and specific territorial areas-ambiti territoriali) which have implementation tasks and a detailed knowledge of the needs and targets, to the regional and national governance levels (which allocate local, regional and national funds plus the EU indirect funds. The regional and the national levels define the principles of use of the available financial resources through strategies and methodological indications). It is to underline that every region has the own approach to combat Urban Poverty.
In the Region Lombardia the ambiti territoriali adopt planning acts in implementation of the regional planning indications. A three-year plan of action is established for each ambito territoriale. These plans are financed through the share of the Poverty Fund, with the possibility of integrating this programming with the EU available resources (national and regional mainstreaming funds) relating to national operational programs (PON) and regional (POR) addressing the thematic objective of fighting poverty and promoting social inclusion.
The context of social cohesion policies promoted by the Lombardy Region, in the perspective of the use of the European Social Fund 2014-2020, helps the type of actions envisaged by the CAPACITyES project. The POR axis II, in fact, intends to strengthen the opportunities for social and jobs related integration of citizens in difficulty and those belonging to disadvantaged groups. It looks at active inclusion paths aimed at improving the employability of very disadvantaged people, the disabled and the population at risk of poverty and extreme marginality. Finally, the recommended methodology is to work with a view to synergy and active inclusion. In this sense, the CAPACITyES project finds a backing in the mainstreaming policies promoted by EU, at least for the current programming period.
Some of the specific objectives of this POR (Regional Operational Plan, ROP) are extremely in tune with the operational choices proposed by the CAPACITyES project. The social fund aims, precisely in its specific actions, to combat poverty and social exclusion by focusing on social innovation practices, giving space to third sector subjects, understood as real "social managers" of public housing. A third sector which, just as envisaged in the project promoted by the Municipality of Bergamo, is a valid support of public entities through a continuous presence in the field, and which is able to promote the processes of social inclusion of new residents, enhancing their personal skills, and strengthening the neighbourly relations.
The programming for 2021-2027 is still ongoing, but in general terms, valid as a principle for all European regions:
- at least 25% of ESF funding should be allocated to measures that promote social inclusion and benefit those most in need;
- at least 2% of the ESF resources should be allocated to combat material deprivation;
In this sense, the CAPACITyES project has all the contextual elements related to EU policies to begin to open a dialogue in support of the innovative actions initiated through this experience of UIA funding.
Even the national context, based on operational programs to combat poverty: the PON Inclusion, co-financed by the European Social Fund, and the Operational Program FEAD, co-financed by the European Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived, aim to develop models of active inclusion such as those envisaged by the project CAPACITyES.
It goes without saying that the development of this project is closely linked to the evolution of the COVID-induced pandemic. The impossibility of giving continuity to the meetings in person is inevitably causing some changes in the performance of the activities and their timing. In this project, the moments of participation are fundamental phases. They are key steps for the sustainability of the made choices and the related projects that will be implemented. It is worth remembering that the workshops with children could only be held in the summer, and that, with the start of the school year, these activities inevitably entered a stalemate. The children in this project are not only the target of a local policy, however innovative, which aims to strengthen the education and assistance system for less fortunate minors. In the conception of the CAPACITyES project there is an active role of children as generators of ideas and designers for the transformation of public spaces, those spaces they inhabit and in which they are forming as people. A project that includes children as a generation, all the schools in Bergamo are involved. Beyond the area-based approach that focus the actions on specific neighbourhoods, the discourse of educational investment on children concerns the whole city in this project. This fundamental educational component of the project, which determines much of its originality, began to slow down in the autumn phase. Schools at this time of severe crisis have other priorities, they struggle to ensure continuity of ordinary teaching in a context that changes rules and behaviours within a few days. It is therefore difficult to involve children in the project with continuity. However, as also highlighted in the 2nd web article, the project partnership is reacting very well and has promptly found measures to move the project forward. These measures have proved very valid because:
- they managed to make the most of the work they managed to do in the summer with the children,
- they managed to give continuity to the dialogue with families through a careful and creative use of technologies to support communication.
Regarding the first point, the drawings and proposals already developed by children are currently elaborated and developed for the realization of the murals. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, these murals will constitute "Ariadne's thread" among the symbolic places of the local regenerative process: Following the children messages in public spaces to identify their contribution to the redevelopment of places. Professional artists are building on the ideas and sketches proposed by the children and are defining operational planning to begin to achieve the urban transformation goals set in the CAPACITYES project.