Grey to green: A city adapting to crisis

12 August 2021

The boom town of Italy for much of the last century, Turin became known for its vociferous embrace of heavy industry, synonymous with brands such as Fiat, and as a leader in aerospace technologies. For many people outside Italy, the city maintains this image of a grey, industrial metropolis. Yet, for those who have visited, it’s clear that the modern city is headed in another direction.

Today, a typical Turinese can expect to reach a green recreational area within 300 metres of their home, and the city boasts over 50 square metres of green space per resident.

The transformation, thirty years and more in the making, was heralded in part by the stalling of the economic miracle, and part by the rising social expectations of Turinese themselves.

“I think it’s people that are really demanding this kind of change,” says Simone Mangili, Aide to Mayor Appendino and to the Deputy Mayor for environment and sustainability. “To a certain extent the population really expects this kind of change at this point. For me, working in this field for a couple of decades now, I certainly don’t remember there was a time when there was more public awareness and sensibility around these issues” he adds.

To travel back to the 1970s and 1980s would be to witness a city reeling from the impact of the oil crisis, and facing an uncertain future, as well as imminent social unrest. Following the migration of one quarter of the city’s population to find work elsewhere, what was left behind included a demographically older population, as well as 10 million square metres of abandoned industrial land.

Brownfield to greenfield

“The city of the future is sustainable and resilient,” proclaims the liveable Turin website. The city’s vision for 2030 is clear. And that is already a success according to Mangili, “often city websites are too technical. We wanted to explain to residents why we are making these changes and give them a space to see and understand the challenges we face, and the progress we’ve made, as a city administration,” he says.

“For example, we’ve planted almost 50,000 trees in the past 4 years,” explains Mangili.

Turin is also rapidly expanding its cycling network, to encourage more active forms of travel, and has invested heavily in its public transport services over the past 20 years, which is now over 50% fully electric. No wonder that the city was a finalist for the European Green Capital 2022, even if it was pipped at the post.

Another area that Mangili is key to point out is the investments the city has made into the circular economy. “Over 50% of our waste is now properly sorted and recycled, and we’re aiming for 65% or even 75% by changing the way we collect waste, and we’re investing in the right technology. For example, we have an app that lets you scan the barcode of many products to tell you how to sort that product.”

Mapping the future

Floods in 1994, 2000 and 2016, and a heatwave in 2003 that provoked emergency situations are all attributed to climate change. As such, a large part of the city’s approach to climate adaptation is focussed on building resiliency, as detailed in a new plan.

A big part of this is integrating nature based solutions into urban development. Therefore, those areas more prone to flooding, or that can be mapped to show a significant heat island effect, are also the sites for green infrastructure projects, such as reclaiming river corridors.

Or finding new solutions to deal with stormwater runoff, which can’t be properly handled by the city’s nineteenth century sewerage system. “We are changing the material we pave our streets with to reflect rather than absorb heat, and to drain stormwater,” explains Mangili.

In addition, a major project ‘Turin city of water’ has helped to stabilise the banks of the four main waterways that intersect the city.

“We have very detailed maps of the city to help us see which areas are underserved by green infrastructure,” says Mangili, “and we are trying to understand how green infrastructure can provide not only recreational spaces and mitigate climate impacts, but also be a strategy for urban revitalisation and economic opportunities.”

In line with its green and sustainable ambitions, Turin has also submitted several proposals to the Italian government to include in the National Recovery Plan. Specifically, Turin is looking at retrofitting public buildings to increase energy efficiency, and taking the next steps in creating its urban forest.

Read more on Turin’s plans here.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer