Milan, lights and shadows of the largest urban redevelopment in the city

The redevelopment of the Giambellino-Lorenteggio neighborhood is the largest urban planning operation in the southern sector of Milan, with a large project by OMA and Laboratorio Permanente at its centre.

The Giambellino-Lorenteggio regeneration plan was launched in April. It is the result of the €100 million programme agreement signed by the City of Milan and ALER (Azienda Lombarda di Edilizia Residenziale) in 2016 and co-financed by European funds. The project involves the demolition and reconstruction of 5 out of 31 council housing blocks, the renovation and removal of asbestos from around 300 dwellings, and the planting of trees along the tram line. There will be new pavements, flowerbeds and green areas, and bicycle paths that connect to the San Cristoforo station and other existing routes. 

The station coincides with the last stop of the new metro line (M4), which will serve the neighbourhood with two stops. The project by OMA and Laboratorio Permanente, winners of the international competition (2018), will transform the former railway yard into a linear water park. In front of the local market the New Lorenteggio Library, the result of an international competition (2017) won by Grau Magaña Urtzi, will be built. It will offer spaces for reading and studying, an exhibition area and a Forum. The green area in Largo Giambellino will be redeveloped and, thanks to the European project Clever Cities, a cultural park will be built on an abandoned area of 127,000 square metres.

The philosophy
“The fundamental idea is to create contamination with the surrounding areas using new points of attraction such as the library, the market or the emerging business activities, and bicycle paths, to ensure that Giambellino leaves behind its original function of dormitory neighbourhood - explains Pierfrancesco Maran, Deputy Mayor for Urban Planning of the City of Milan - and opens up to the rest of the city, also thanks to the arrival of the M4. The transformation of Via Segneri into a boulevard aims to break the continuity of the council houses and create widespread social interaction”. The administration is aware that “the project cannot end with the plan that has been launched now. Further investment is needed,” explains the councillor, “and we have presented a complementary €100 million project to be funded by the Recovery Fund. The challenge is to transform Giambellino into a place of interest”. 

Photo G124
The demolition of the outer wall of the municipal market to open it to the park. Photo G124

The co-participation process
The vision developed by the G124 group aimed to “ignite the spark” of the market, to use Renzo Piano’s words. The group worked between 2014 and 2015 in parallel with the co-design program carried out by third sector organizations, neighborhood associations and the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies of the Politecnico. “We knew we had to start from there,” says the team’s architect Ottavio Di Blasi. “We wanted to help the market grow further and make it the center of the neighborhood as it represents its identity. We always talk about standards, screens, numbers, but the numbers are not all the same, they change depending on the place. We would have liked the park to become the ‘lungs’ of the Quadrilateral, which is almost entirely built up, while the green areas designed by the administration are only a setting. Milan had several opportunities to build urban parks, which were not exploited in the last great master plans nor with the regeneration of the former railway yards. With the G124 we tried to focus on this concept: green space cannot be the sum of flowerbeds and scattered trees, it has to be concentrated”. The administration has a different line of thought: to maintain the green areas inside the neighborhood, but to integrate it with the system of parks in the West sector of the city. “With the green infrastructure we want to create a hub that is interconnected  with the rest of the city,” explains Maran.

Identity, especially in outlying neighbourhoods, is essential. Everyone there was proud to live in Giambellino.

The plan presented by the City does not coincide with the master plan developed by the associations and countersigned by public bodies. “There was a radical change of the participatory planning work, which caused the dissolution of the committee, the internal division of the third sector and a huge sense of distrust and powerlessness of the inhabitants,” says anthropologist Erika Lazzarino of the cultural association Dynamoscopio. “The first fundamental change was the decision to tear down the five buildings between via Lorenteggio, via Giambellino, via Odazio and via Inganni instead of redeveloping all of them, at least partially. Out of 2,453 lodgings 800 are not assigned - explains Lazzarino -, the project redevelops about 400 of them. The theme of emptiness is what kills Giambellino: it sparks a strong social tension between those who cannot afford a house and those who do not want to pay for one”. The neighbourhood has a complex social fabric: out of 4,285 inhabitants, 40.3% are foreigners (20% being the city’s average), 23.3% over 65, 70% have an Isee-Erp income of less than 14 thousand euros. “This way, they also betrayed the promise of maintaining the buildings’ gatehouses, which was part of the social interventions of the master plan”.

“I do not believe that demolition and reconstruction is the only possible approach, even if it is the easiest for an administration to manage,” says Di Blasi. “The G124 aimed to improve quality of living, particularly in solid masonry council houses, which are easier than the buildings from the 1970s to insulate thermally and to outfit with external structures such as elevators. Tearing down also means changing the image of the neighbourhood, which has a history and an identity of its own. This increases the feeling of the residents that they did not take part in the project: “Identity, especially in outlying neighbourhoods, is essential. Everyone there was proud to live in Giambellino,” recalls Di Blasi.

The other topic of the master plan was social regeneration: “Our aim was to redistribute the value generated by the urban intervention with specific projects, but the funds were diverted or fragmented among various interventions” says Lazzarino. Urban furniture is at risk of degradation: “In part, the renovated and maintained space restores dignity and a sense of community for people, but on the other hand the boundary is not so clear - the anthropologist explains -: if you do not assist the most needy families and social cases, if you do not fight petty crime and drug dealing, you risk further exacerbating the conflict.

Via Segneri seen from piazza Tirana, on the right via Giambellino with the tramway network
Via Segneri seen from piazza Tirana, on the right via Giambellino with the tramway network (project by Comune di Milano and Aler)

The future of the former railway yard
The former San Cristoforo railway yard is also awaiting redevelopment. This 140,000 square metre area is to be transformed into a linear water park to reduce the heat islands generated by fine dust and filter the water from the canals that flow into the Darsena. The area, which was the result of the urbanization of the Farini area, is intended for 100% green use, but is too far from Giambellino to be considered an urban park and lacks a specific vocation. For Mario Abis, a sociologist and the coordinator of the requalification process for the former railway yards, “San Cristoforo risks being underestimated. The point is to find a connection between the stations, integrating functional purposes. At the moment, the attention of the administration and investors is focused on Scalo Farini and Scalo Romana, in the context of the 2026 Olympics.” What is the challenge for San Cristoforo?  “To integrate it with the reopening of the Navigli system in a perspective of ecology and sustainability, given the power of water, combined with greenery, to reduce air pollution.” While the debate on the post-Covid development of cities aims at “sanitising” the urban environment, the project to reopen the canals would also have the merit of retracing history and Leonardo da Vinci’s vision. “It could be the opportunity to provide Milan with mixed green and water infrastructures, giving the former railway yard the vocation of a ‘second Darsena’ and a pole of attraction for the neighbourhood and the south-west area of the city”.

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