I am very pleased to be here today to celebrate the World Habitat Day and the kick-off of “urban october” celebrations. Such celebrations will be concluded on October 31st with an event organized in Milan for the World Cities Day, under the theme ‘Designed to Live Together’, in the framework of EXPO 2015 (actually this event will also mark the end of the World Expo).
Italy is also celebrating the World Habitat Day today, with an event dedicated to “public spaces for all”. This event has been organized in Rome, in a region that has distinguished itself for its focus on public space, citizen participation and local action and networking, and is involving public-space actors from Italy and from three cities in Latin America (Buenos Aires, Bogotà and Porto Alegre). The main goal of the initiative is to create new bridges between Latin American and Italian cities and institutions by exchanging information on on-going public-space initiatives, thus opening the way to new partnerships in view of the Habitat Ill UN Conference, to be held in 2016 in Quito. This initiative follows the third edition Biennial of Public Space which was also organized in Rome last May and aimed at sharing experiences and practices on the centrality of public spaces in the processes towards making our cities inclusive, fair, sustainable and more beautiful.
Public Space has been an issue neglected for too long by Planners and Institutions in charge of the wellbeing of their residents. Public Space was considered as a marginal issue because, too often associated with the wealthier contexts of cities, it was almost forgotten in relation to slums, favelas, villa miseria, as if less important in these urban areas.
On the contrary, Public Space is an important determinant of urban regeneration and a formidable means for social and economic development, for job creation, for better inclusion of those areas that are marginalized and lack social infrastructures. The conservation and utilization of public spaces, such as for instance the public use of archaeological spaces, new uses of abandoned buildings and the temporary use of degraded areas, require a new culture of experimentation, involvement, participation at all levels. They demand action-oriented research and innovation from, and true cooperation between educational and scientific institutions; they build bridges between “old” and “new” citizens, all of whom, and particularly the latter, highly value access to quality public space in their new living environments.
The use of public space is in fact an issue that both developed and developing countries nowadays have to face and where they share similar problems: How do you reclaim abandoned areas? How do you restore crumbling buildings? How do you intervene in degraded and abandoned spaces and transform them in parks for all to enjoy?
For centuries Italian cities have been places where our history and culture have been shaped. Italy has learned that Local Governments have ever greater responsibilities for providing public services and implementing sustainable and inclusive projects, including local infrastructure that improve the quality of life of citizens. Through partnerships among citizens, institutions, municipalities and local regional governments, at times supported by external funding such as the EU, Italy has successfully experimented with privately managed city orchards, urban reforestation and biodiversity conservation, conservation of the hydrological resources through landscaping, restoration of the historical rice-fields park for touristic and cultural purposes, restoration and preservation of historical vineyards for better landscaping , urban sustainable mobility, and many others. The many lessons learned will guide us to do more and more efficiently, and will enrich dialogue and cooperation with our international partners.
Moreover, as Municipal Governments encounter difficulties in addressing all local demands and pressures, regional and international networks become instrumental in maintaining horizontal partnerships among cities and providing the necessary motivation to taking an active part in cooperative processes and sharing experiences and successful public policy models.
The UN General Assembly has just adopted the Agenda 2030; SDG 11 – “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” – will guide us towards fulfilling the expectation of Rio + 20, namely that cities will promote economically, socially and environmentally sustainable societies. Italy will do its part to promote the implementation of Goal 11 and its targets, to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces and, as the European Commission has pledged, “to tackle the intertwined challenges of eliminating poverty and improving well-being, while ensuring that progress is sustainable within planetary boundaries”.
I am sure that we can contribute, together, to place these issues higher on the urban development agenda, strengthening the International Network and World Habitat Day segments dedicated to the Public Space. I wish you all great success in this working session.