Image credit: SA 4.0 @Comune di Genova

A beacon for future living

Squeezed between mountains and the sea, the medieval city of Genoa created large underground stone tanks to capture freshwater as it trickled down the slopes into the lower parts of the centre.

Today these stone tanks still exist, though most go unnoticed. Some can be viewed, with restaurants opening up their flooring for people to see what lies beneath; some actually make use of these reservoirs.

There is reportedly a tank big enough to take a boat across, although access might prove problematic.

These stone basins attest to bygone dilemmas, and yet the challenge of water management remains for the modern city of Genoa.

“In the past people already thought of water sustainability, and not as a resource that is unlimited,” says Stefania Manca, Resilience Manager at the city of Genoa.

That’s relevant to today’s context too.


‘In 2050, Europe’s urban areas will host 82% of the population,’ reads a document authored by Manca and her team, which she calls “our action plan for the future” – Genova 2050.

It outlines plans to improve both the sustainability and liveability of the city, such as the creation of many new urban green areas and planting 15,000 trees. However, its more serious side is about building resilience through infrastructure, redeveloping the urban environment, and adapting council governance to meet future needs.

It’s grounded in research, “mapping the mega trends that affect all people: demographic, climate, digital” says Manca, and then scaling these down to the city level. The lighthouse city strategy takes into account global and European frameworks, from the SDGs to the European Green Deal. These are incredibly useful, according to Manca, as it’s “much easier to relate to people what you are doing when you can refer to 2030, 2050, and it’s easier for the city to plan when you can take those dates, to establish a list of priorities, and then work backwards.”

It’s much easier to relate to people what you are doing when you can refer to 2030, 2050
— Stefania Manca, Resilience Manager, Genoa

One difficulty in the Mediterranean area when talking about green infrastructure projects, however, can be the difficulty to find the available water to maintain it. This sometimes locks in the possibility of creating more green areas, especially when the water used to maintain them may be potable, drinking water that is needed for other uses.

Hence the water tanks.

“We will study how to use some of the existing tanks and build new ones, and we wouldn’t be using the drinking water,” explains Manca. “It’s no longer sustainable, looking at 2050 when we expect to have less drinking water, even desertification in parts of Italy, to use drinking water for these services,” she adds.

It’s no longer sustainable to use drinking water for services
— Stefania Manca

Luckily, the tanks are distributed throughout the city. This heritage from the Middle Ages could provide a solution for modern needs. “And perhaps other Mediterranean cities can do something similar,” suggests Manca.

City of Sport

Genoa is the birthplace of celebrated architect, Renzo Piano, who has at times advocated for rebuilding, rather than building, i.e. using what is already there.

This philosophy is evident in the project at Genoa’s eastern waterfront, where blue and green infrastructure will be mixed to both open up new space to create pathways for walking and cycling, and establish two new channels for boats.

The project will help avoid coastal erosion, whilst creating a new natural barrier against the sea, in a city that has been prone to flooding in the past.

It will also open up the possibility for Genoa to host the final leg of the Ocean Race Europe in 2023.

This is part of a double investment by the city, that will become European Capital of Sport in 2024, and wants to raise its city attractiveness regards sustainable tourism.

During the race, the boats carry sensors to monitor the quality and temperature of the water – with the collected data shared with scientists and others, wanting to test the sustainability of waters.

“It is an opportunity to raise the sustainability of the sea,” says Manca.

A view on Genoa's waterfront today. Image credit: SA 4.0 @Comune di Genova

Moving on

One of the most immediate areas where people see the results of green and sustainability projects is often in transport. “Having a good experience in your mobility, that is to say less noise, a smoother journey, a pleasant environment, is also about sustainability,” says Manca.

“The silent city is not a dream, because to meet the 2050 climate targets people will need to switch towards bikes and electric cars, and we’ll have to do the same with all the public and private fleets. But, in the meantime, we can improve mobility by helping people connect through the city in a different way.”

The silent city is not a dream, because to meet the 2050 climate targets people will need to switch towards bikes and electric cars
— Stefania Manca

That’s the idea behind ‘smart move’, an initiative of the municipality to invest in a smart grid technologies.

Another project, UNaLab, has seen the purchase by the city council of previous military forts, the largest ‘green lung’ of the city, spanning 617 hectares, which are now being used as areas to reintroduce nature within the city boundaries.

Generating success

With everything geared towards the future, Manca admits that a good outcome for her, other than implementing all of the plans of the city strategy, would be, “to have the trust of the young people. For them to feel that the city is really doing something for their future and listening to what they want.”

For everything else, for the climate challenges to come, meeting the demands of various targets, and implementing national recovery plans post-Covid19, she simply says, “we are ready”.

This is a snapshot of Genoa’s Lighthouse City Strategy, which covers all aspects of the city’s resiliency plans. You can find out more on the dedicated website.

Alex Godson Eurocities Writer