Goldman Sachs bankers are coming to Milan too: 150 people, in the space of a couple of years, who will be trying to take every opportunity arising in a metropolis which is undergoing an extraordinary expansion, as an entrepreneurial and financial centre at a European level. They will be working in a large office building in Via Santa Margherita, a few paces away from the Vittorio Emanuele shopping Arcade and the La Scala opera house. And their choice confirms the assessment of the “Financial Times”, the authoritative British daily financial newspaper, on the very occasion of the major celebration of the Arcade’s 150-year anniversary, in mid-September: Milan is re-born as the financial capital of Italy. A pronouncement in line with the opinion of the “New York Times” during the celebrations of the Expo 2015: “Milan, the place to be”.

Milan did not win the head office of the EMA, the European Medicines Agency, beaten in the final lottery draw by Amsterdam, in a derisory roll of the dice (but in Amsterdam the building which is due to house the offices and laboratories is still under construction and will be ready only at the end of 2019, whereas in Milan the “Pirellone” building could have been used straight away). Nevertheless, the attraction of the metropolis remains strong. And there are so many people, among the local directors, the entrepreneurs and the personalities within a vibrant and entrepreneurial civil society, who are pressing ahead so that Milan can re-launch its role and the opportunity to create a hub for industrial, financial, cultural and research and development activities.

It is a city which is ever more welcoming, in fact.And with a long list of newly-arriving companies. Goldman, that prestigious banking name, is one of many. And the others? Bayer, Novartis, Sanofi, Glaxo, Celgeni, in the chemical and pharmaceutical sector, attracted by the strength of a city which ranks highly throughout the world of “life sciences”.  And perhaps also the Americans of the Medical Center of Pittsburgh University, together with the investment fund Neuberger Berman, who are looking into the possibilities of a move by the IEO and the Monzino (the centres of excellence for oncology and cardiology, whose shareholders, led by Mediobanca, are nevertheless disinclined to intervene in cases which may modify their “no profit” nature).

In the hi-tech world, we find Amazon in Viale Monte Grappa, in the area of Porta Nuova, leading-edge skyscrapers (starting with the Unicredit head office designed by Cesar Pelli and the “Vertical Wood” by Stefano Boeri), near the head offices of other major names in the information technology sector, such as Samsung, Google and the Microsoft House in the new building from the Feltrinelli Foundation designed by Herzog & De Meuron, as a centre for culture and innovation. Not to mention Apple, with its megastore signed off by the star architect Norman Foster.

Even Starbucks is coming, right on Piazza Cordusio square, long a crossroads for banks and insurance companies, in one of its largest European investments. And then there is also Luiss, which is trying to find a Milanese site for its qualifying training services for major universities, such as the Bocconi, the Politecnico, the Cattolica, the Statale and the Bicocca. And there is a long queue of research centres and companies which confirms the importance of Milan as the preferred city of multinationals: there are already 3,600 foreign-owned active companies, representing a turnover of 168 Bn euros, a third of the entire turnover of international companies in Italy, and a figure which is destined to grow further.

Chinese investors too are checking out Milan with a particularly attentive eye, viewing the metropolis as the base for an ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative”, the “new Silk Road” between the East and the West (nearly five hundred people, last week, were gathered in the Assolombarda premises, to listen to the ideas and plans of Chen Siquing, chairman of the Bank of China and chairman, alongside Marco Tronchetti Provera, of the Italy-China Business Forum).

“Milan is becoming more interesting than London”, is the verdict of Daniel Libeskind, the great architect, and creator of one of the “three towers” which are a key feature of the CityLife area, “The Curved One” (the others are “The Straight One” by Arata Isozaki and “The Twisted One” by Zaha Hadid, who has also signed off several of the luxury residences in the neighbourhood).  “Milan is the gateway to Europe”, insists Libeskind.

Milan the building site, then. Among the most dynamic not only in Italy but also across the landscape of the major European cities. The time of the Ligresti-style real estate speculations is over – what was construction madness driven by “building speculators” even if it was closely linked to the centres of financial power of Lombardy. Instead we are at the heart of an extraordinary prospect for the redesign of the metropolis, at the crossroads between the “economy of knowledge” – science, research, high-tech manufacturing, services – between the “smart city” and a social economy of inclusion and quality of life.

The transformation of Milan has as its guiding light the Human Technopole, the new “City of Science”, on the old Expo sites, whose management has just been awarded, following an international competition, to the Australians of LendLease and whose “masterplan” is being worked upon by Carlo Ratti, manager of the SENSEable City Lab at the MIT (the Massachussetts Institute of Technology) in Boston, who is planning new technologies, socialisation and sustainable mobility for “ the largest scientific and technology park in Italy”: university campuses, laboratories, companies, a leading-edge hospital (the Galeazzi) but also social housing, cultural centres and plenty of greenery.  Everything will be very “smart”, naturally.

Other areas are essential for the redesign and re-launch of Milan: the “Health City” at Sesto San Giovani, the area of the Ortomercato fruit and vegetable market and above all the vast expanses of the seven railway sidings. What can be done with them? The debate is open. There is a need to exploit, over the course of the next ten years, the possibilities linked to an amazing town planning opportunity, but also to developments in the “digital” economy and to innovations provided by “Industry4.0”, using the crossovers between manufacturing, services, logistics, the “Internet of Things”, training, and unprecedented opportunities for relationships and socialisation. These are complex processes, naturally. Full of conflicts and contradictions. And not without risks (Milan is attractive not only for investment and intellectual capital, but also for Mafia interests, as is demonstrated by the long and greedy arms of the ‘ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra criminal organisations). But they are also processes of great interest and with stimulating prospects. Of how to govern well, in the tradition (by the way, very Milanese) of collaboration between the public and private sectors, institutions and companies.

Milan as a metamorphosis, in an efficient synthesis. In the heart of Europe, along the axes between East and West and North and the Mediterranean.

07/12/2017