Il progetto urbano sostenibile

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The city is the place where we live. A simple statement, but that contains an immeasurable reality of facts. True for a large part of the world population, beyond hierarchical definitions between country, village, city, metropolis, megalopolis. Urban space – the urban landscape that is best suited as definition – surrounds us in the moments of our life that we spend outside our homes; a space that we constantly frequent and from which we sometimes move away towards more bucolic destinations, green and relaxing places, where we can restore and find ourselves. But “we” is still present and linked to those spaces of ordinary life that belong to the urban environment: squares, streets, parks, suburbs, etc. Even our homes, for the most, are part of this city-system, which are also elements of a “living organism” resulting from the whole of its components. Larger and more complex, just as complex is its design.

The architecture of a city is a multifaceted and composite theme on which much has been thought in every age, about which there is still much to discuss, especially in our contemporaneity, with imperatives dictated by the needs of society and a network of interactions and implications much more varied than in ancient times. A city is not drawn at table, line in hand, to use an excessive simplification. Yet this still seems to happen, to a lesser extent but no less deleterious, in modern administrations. There seems to be a strange imperative, a harmful and baseless directive that leads technicians and administrators to a rampant thought: we do it because also did those who came before. The result of that “also”, a very annoying conjunction, implies a stagnation of the will to change our cities, ending in those bizarre rituals that consist in systematically modifying the viability, in eliminating urban green areas or in the proliferation of designed places without a precise purpose in contrast to the abandonment of already existing areas.

One of the major issues concerning this problem is linked to temporality, the relationship between present needs and future prospects, one of the key points of the excellent “Il Progetto Urbano Sostenibile” (FrancoAngeli, 2020) by Marco Maretto, Associate Professor in Architectural and Urban Design at the Department of Engineering and Architecture of the University of Parma. Quoting the author directly, “a city is made up of social, economic, cultural ‘fabrics’, on whose constant interaction, over time, depends the permanence of its “civitas”. It’s in their dynamism, in their ability to renew and transform themselves, that the vitality of a city resides. Understanding the logic underlying its formation is therefore essential for realizing the corresponding civil processes and for planning their future transformations ‘authentically’ ”. It is therefore clear that the set of processes and their interaction complexity correspond to many challenges for the sustainable project.

However, Maretto’s approach is for an “all-round” sustainability, not only a mirror of scientific evidence, however necessary, but limited to the comparison of large numbers and calculations: “the issue of sustainability is thus now a problem of wider scale, involving economic, social and cultural assets as well as environmental energy, of which the city and architecture are physical and concrete evidence. Reducing everything to performance calculations is therefore an understatement. The so-called ‘sustainable revolution’ leads, in fact, to rethink the ways and spaces of everyday life, leads to the definition of new forms of social aggregation and new work arrangements, on which it’s good to start reflecting with renewed clarity and consistency”.

The book proposes a complete and well-defined path, mainly divided into two sections, “Morphology and sustainability” and “The Sustainable Urban Project”. The first, more theoretical in scope, illustrates key concepts such as polarity, pathways, urban fabrics, as well as specificities regarding analysis and strategies. In the second part we come into close contact with the practice, through methodological examples and researches concerning specific urban projects (with various contributions by Barbara Gherri). An important volume rich in content, dense but pleasant to read, also given the particular vastness of the subject matter, which can be summarized in a 1947 assumption by Patrick Geddes (Patrick Geddes in India, curated by Jaqueline Tyrwhitt): “Each of the various specialists remains too closely concentrated upon his single specialism, too little awake to those of the others. Each sees clearly and seizes firmly upon one petal of the six-lobed flower of life and tears it apart from the whole”.