Nord. Una città-regione globale

Edited by: Paolo Perulli | Publisher: Il Mulino, 2012

The agglomeration of productive activities and the world division of labor have long led to the formation of global city-regions. The current crisis could further accelerate this process, due to the need to concentrate resources. A phenomenon that is also happening in the Italian North, the country’s main economic platform. Not the pseudo-identity Padania and localist but, on the contrary, a very open region, on a supra-local scale. The dimension of the network (of cities, of companies, of infrastructures, of services, of knowledge, of flows), which by its nature can not be circumscribed, becomes crucial, together with the ability to cooperate and compete on an equal footing with similar city-regions in Europe and in the world.

Review (by Raffaella Coletti):

“And if the North really existed?” With these words opens the volume edited by Paolo Perulli, which collects a series of researches that have in common the attempt to read Northern Italy as a global city-region .
The starting point of the analysis, in the introductory essay by Perulli, is the observation of the widening and deepening of the flows that interconnect cities and businesses, and which place the need to identify new scales of analysis and territorial governance that go beyond the boundaries. of cities or individual administrative regions. It is within this framework that the attempt is made to define a “global city-region” or “Macroregion” of the North, underlining its “poly-nuclear fabric that thickens in increasingly less locally circumscribed networks” (page 21) and global flows that cross it and that are spreading. Perulli devotes his reflection to the identification of some key points for a research program around cities, which allows to review the goddess of the generic cityrather, adopting an interpretation of the city as a plural phenomenon , overcoming a reductive approach of local development in favor of models that give account of the “variety, multiplicity, plurality of which our world is very rich” (page 23). According to the author, it is necessary to reread the city as a space for assembling society, “bridging the gap between cities defined by institutions and cities defined by functions” (page 27); as well as looking at cities as “relationship: as nodes within relational networks that tend to be global” (p.28). In this way, it becomes possible to better understand what is happening inside and outside cities, in global networks, and to imagine adequate levels and tools of policies to better address ongoing processes.
Subsequent contributions to the volume must be read in the light of the theoretical framework and the research agenda outlined by Perulli’s introductory essay: the area of ​​reference chosen by the authors is that of Northern Italy, analyzed as an interconnected whole through the deepening of specific aspects. But what is the “North” to which the authors refer? There is no single definition or shared delimitation: the different essays are declined at different scales, and identify several possible key players for the present and future management of the global city-region of the North.
The first two contributions explicitly adopt a “supra-regional” scale, developing analyzes that have as their object the “Northern Italy”. The contribution of Feltrin and Maset traces the evolution of the territorial development of Italy starting from the unit looking for the factors that have influenced the gap between “North” and “South”, with a subsequent analysis on the dynamics of the population in metropolitan areas of the North; to this is added an analysis of the evolution of the network and nodes system in particular in the central Veneto area. An interesting result of the study is the confirmation that the size of the flows has acquired a central importance substantially starting from the 90s, when there are phenomena of increasing centrality of some urban areas close to the nodes created at the intersections between international routes of exchange, and the relative marginalization of other areas. In the face of these processes, the authors attribute a central importance to the regional planning and guidance functions of the territory, in order to guarantee a coherent and harmonious development of the territory and the cities.
The essay by Garavaglia focuses on the relationships between urban systems in Northern Italy, presenting urban and metropolitan poles as “advanced service providers” (p.89) for the northern global city-region. The author analyzes the allocation of Higher Urban Functions in the metropolitan and middle cities of the North, in order to outline a first image of the degree of competition or complementarity between the urban centers’ offer and the territorial productive systems. Despite the undoubted centrality of Milan, the data tend to indicate a certain degree of specialization in urban centers, configuring the North as a “polycentric metropolis”. The author emphasizes the location of the “global city-region” of the North within the same national context, as an element of competitive advantage by virtue of the uniformity of the methods of public regulation and the sharing of cultural and community elements. From an institutional point of view, while recognizing a central role for the Regions to “guarantee the variety within the system” (page 104), the author concentrates the attention on the dynamics of the individual territorial systems (and metropolitan ones in particular).
In the next essay, Montanari and Bigi face creativity as a development lever on an urban scale: after a discussion on the main characteristics of creativity as a social process, the essay proposes an analysis of the relational capital of cities as a critical resource to support economic development through the creativity. The empirical analysis, focused on the cases of Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia, proposes some interesting evidences in terms of the characteristics of the relational dynamics and the centrality of the physical places where the exchanges of ideas take place among the subjects operating in the territory.
Parolin’s contribution proposes a reflection on the ways in which innovation processes are carried out in the district relationships within the framework of production systems interconnected to global markets. The contribution focuses in particular on the analysis of the Brianza furniture district, retracing the steps that led to a specific product innovation. The author shows how, in the context of a medium-sized company operating in the global market and based in Milan for its international design system, the relationship with suppliers plays a central role for incremental innovations. short network “district.
In Samorè’s contribution, the strategic importance of energy and the opportunity for Italy to “become an energy hub for a scenario much broader than the national demand” (page 161) are the background to a specific study on the theme of utilities. , analyzed by virtue of their peculiar characteristics of public-private bodies and with particular attention to the aggregative processes they have experienced in recent years. In this case, the desired reference scale for energy supply chains overcomes national boundaries, adopting the definition of macro-regions widespread in Europe: transnational spaces with similar characteristics or faced with calling common challenges, “which allow energy to more fully deploy the civilization function, of building relationships in the polis , to which a high period of twentieth-century history recalls it “(page 176).
Finally, Taylor’s essay analyzes the role of Milan as a global city, dedicating particular attention to “resisting the temptation of ultra-globalist rhetoric that leads us to think that we can understand Milan as a city in globalization regardless of its location in Italy” ( p.180). The essay therefore compares the cases of two Italian cities – Rome and Milan – in terms of services offered and interconnection with global networks of cities, confirming Milan as the first Italian world city (but not excluding possible future reversals) .
Overall, the volume offers an interesting overview of functional methodologies to capture the dynamics underway in the economic and territorial systems and in the cities of Northern Italy. However, the variety of approaches and scales used in the analysis does not allow us to fully answer the question posed at the beginning of the book: if a “Nord” really exists or is not quite interpretable as a set of different “North”, as suggested by the In any case, from an analytical point of view the attempt to read northern Italy as a global city-region offers the undoubted advantage of capturing invisible phenomena on a local or regional scale; more controversial are the possible policy implications that you want to attribute to such a reading: