Interview with Cecilia Del Re, deputy mayor of Florence

26 March 2019

Cecilia Del Re, Florence Deputy-Mayor for Economic Development and Tourism

Ahead of our economic development forum in Florence, we caught up with our host, Cecilia Del Re, deputy mayor of Florence for economic development. We wanted to find out her thoughts on how to turn sustainable innovation ecosystems into a reality.

How does your drive to build on Florence’s comparative advantage, e.g. Craft and Tourism 4.0, fit with your overall strategy on Innovation and your vision for Florence in 2030?

We are convinced that Florence must be a city capable of protecting its past, but turning its gaze to the future. Last May we set up a memorandum of understanding with the stakeholders dealing with innovation in Florence aimed at activating a chain of interlocking activities to stimulate the development of the Florentine innovation ecosystem. We did it precisely to create fertile ground for the arrival of new businesses, and to ensure that the various existing projects do not overlap but complement and reinforce each other. The vision of Florence for 2030 is precisely that of a city where innovation creates new opportunities in all sectors, from industry, to crafts, from agriculture to trade, from public administration to services.

At the EDF Forum, we will be discussing over-tourism, and innovative approaches like FairBnb, a cooperative that offers smart solution for community powered tourism. What is your city’s position on this topic?

Florence is a city where tourist flows are constantly increasing. However, we cannot only passively accept this phenomenon: it is our duty to take on the current challenges and redirect off the beaten track towards areas that are similarly interesting from an artistic and architectural point of view, but less known among the public. To ‘widen’ the tourist boundaries of the city, we are in fact working to promote metropolitan Florence, with a view to relocating flows and enhancing the territories that are located around the Tuscan capital.

For this reason, on 19 November last year, we set up the tourism sector that brings together 18 municipalities in the outskirts of Florence: thanks to this tool we will be able to participate jointly in regional tenders to obtain new funding for projects related to the management and reception of tourist flows outside the borders of our historic centre, because Florence is not only made up of those 5 square kilometres, but is also full of beauties to explore beyond these borders. Everyone knows Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Ponte Vecchio, but few know that tours entirely dedicated to children depart from the Museo degli Innocenti and that at the Stibbert Museum, easily reachable by tram, there is the largest collection of Japanese armour in the world outside Japan. New technologies will help us to communicate these attractions: thanks to open data, we will soon be able to know in real time how many people are in a specific area of ​​the city, and through an app we can guide our visitors towards less congested areas.

We have also given the municipalities of the metropolitan area access to the Florence Card circuit (a card that offers tourists a discounted price to visit all the museums in the city), and we have provided for an extension of the activation for those staying in Florence over 72 hours or want to return to the city in the 12 months following the expiry of the Card. We expect this tool to continue to give good results to combat ‘hit and run’ tourism in favour of quality tourism: the average stay in the city of those who buy the Firenze Card is in fact 4/5 nights.

How are you involving citizens in this initiative? In a context in which many are trying to establish stronger connections with active citizenship, what do you think is the added value of participation and co-creation of innovation in your city?

One of the fundamental objectives towards which politics must continue to focus on is certainly the promotion of citizen participation in the life of the institutions. The risk, in the age of intermediary agents, is to underestimate the value of one’s contribution to the performance of city politics. Today more than ever the task of politics is also to stimulate civic awareness and the awareness that each citizen making its part can contribute to change and direct the development of the city in which it resides. Working table between institutions and citizens, public consultation as well as popular initiatives allow a more transparent perception of decision-making processes and allow the creation of common stuggles and goals that takes into consideration the most divergent positions in order to arrive at a common solution.

One key element to build sustainable innovation ecosystem is to foster human centred innovative processes. How are you helping participatory/ cooperative models in your city to develop? For instance, do you offer innovative funding processes and/or social entrepreneurship training?

Soon we will present the Make Next Florence website, a platform that tells citizens and those who choose Florence to grow their business, about our innovation ecosystem. It is away to raise awareness and inform everyone of the presence of incubators, co-working spaces and assistance to start-ups in the city. At the same time, a paper guide will be distributed which will guide you through these spaces and activities.

We then activated a dialogue with young people between 20 and 30 years old to imagine the Florence of tomorrow and their proposals and observations are helping us to direct the policies to be pursued. The added value of this ‘bottom-up’ system is to make citizens participate in the motivations behind the choices, but also in the obstacles that an administration may encounter in responding to needs. They therefore become active citizens, who collaborate in the future of Florence.

At the same time, our information systems have activated a training course aimed at newsstands and local pharmacies for the use of digital tools offered by the Municipality of Florence and the Tuscany Region, and we are working on the creation of the ‘Digital Newsstand’: in a time when the publishing crisis forced these places to rethink their identity, we imagined the newsstand as a service centre to respond to the needs of citizens in a widespread manner.

As a city well-known for innovation, you have been involved in multiple projects at the European level. In your opinion, what are the benefits of participating in European projects?

European projects are an important opportunity to compare systems that are growing and are often faced with similar changes. These are precious opportunities to set up policies and strategies that are already in place in each city, to confront different models and draw inspiration from experiences in other countries, network with those active on their own territory and work in synergy by focusing on the targets.

What do you think is the added value of being part a network of big cities? How do you think cooperating with other cities can help bring forward an innovative, sustainable and European vision on innovation? What are your expectations from this forum?

Being part of a network opens opportunities for dialogue and improvement for the individuals who are part of it, offering opportunities that are inaccessible to those who do not participate. New frontiers are opening up in the field of entrepreneurship and cooperation is the best tool to discuss it in a European and comparative dimension, reinforcing also the identity that unites us. The comparison is fundamental not only between institutions and administrations but also between professionals, so that an experience in another city can bring new ideas and a real change in the city of origin. I therefore expect this forum to leave a footprint to follow in the city, concrete guidelines on which to develop innovation policies to be pursued in an increasingly European and innovative Florence.

Thank you Cecilia!

At the next EDF Innovation City Lab, representatives from around 100 cities will try to raise the attention of EU Institutions, working together for a common idea of innovation which is sustainable and close to citizens. Cities already have a track record on this, and we will look at ways to improve cooperation between cities.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer