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The contemplative speed of Milan: the “blue-green” metropolis is at the heart of new relationships driving development

Milan is fast, Milan is frenetic, Milan hurries too much, Milan never stops. These are stereotypes, clichés. In all fairness, they do harbour some truth, but they are limited, as they reduce complex realities to banal, threadbare sketches. It’s therefore important to keep on working on one particular trait of the city, among others: the willingness to learn, reflect, try to properly understand the meaning of what needs doing. And then, of course, actually do it – with determination, efficiency, a certain level of effectiveness, and, yes, nowadays with some speed, too. Always bearing in mind, of course, what Alessandro Manzoni (Don Lisander to his friends) taught us through the words of Grand Chancellor Antonio Ferrer, as he addressed his coachman in a well-known section of I promessi sposi (The betrothed): “Adelante, Pedro, con juicio” (“On, Pedro, with care”). And indeed, it’s probably no coincidence that the most successful slogan of the Pirelli Foundation, Milanese to the core, is “la potenza è nulla senza controllo” (“power is nothing without control”). Just another way to say “juicio”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshuffled trends and habits. It has radically changed economic and social strategies, highlighted vulnerabilities, imposed new criteria on the relationships between work, health and social coexistence. Hence, new maps are needed to chart new ways of thinking, consuming and producing – to create new job opportunities, and thus promote a better growth.

Yet, the speed at which technology is challenging space and time boundaries, this “immediate immediacy” of the “everything now”, should not be fuelling the digital obsession for constant “real time”: an obsession that, to be honest, characterises part of Milan’s citizens. On the contrary, we need to be able to stop, think, try to understand, in order to build our recovery in responsible fashion – or, rather, to boost “regeneration”, to use a term favoured by Assolombarda in its most recent considerations.

The “culture of making” that deeply distinguishes Milan goes hand in hand with widespread knowledge, strong relationships between companies and universities (whose quality and authoritativeness are rising on the international stage) and the cultural world (such as publishing houses, theatres, art spaces).

In a nutshell: the speed of Milan is contemplative.

And what is Milan so quickly contemplating? This was the topic of a debate held in mid-September as part of the “Amare Milano” (“Love Milan”) project; a long afternoon of discussions conducted under the shade of the magnolia of the Palazzo delle Stelline’s courtyard, organised by the Centro Studi Grande Milano association. An event chaired by its president Daniela Mainini and dedicated to the memory of Carlo Tognoli, one of the best and most loved mayors of Milan. The discussions centred on one of the metropolis’s key characteristics: to have a vision and translate it into practice, to think big yet keep the feet on the ground – the project’s ambition and a pragmatic approach to accomplish reforms. Reforms in politics and authorities, as well as in business. Applying those good practices that were acquired over time in order to build a solid network of relations between public and private.

Milan, today, is a dense web that comprises different attitudes, tensions, visions – often contradictory ones, which need to be harnessed to a development plan mindful of the wealth diversity can bring, but also aware that excessive disparities in income, relations and possibilities can hinder environmental and social growth. Then again, this is Milan’s underlying nature: to be both competitive and inclusive, profit-oriented yet caring.

The campaign for the election of the new mayor of Milan and city council is almost at its end (and all polls indicate that Beppe Sala, incumbent mayor, is the favourite candidate for re-election). However, those who know Milan will also know that, over the years, Palazzo Marino, the seat of the city council, has developed a strong culture of continuity, even when mayors belonging to different political parties are elected – yet another underlying trend, among others, driving the metropolis.

A trend that needs to be stressed and that sees Milan as the central hub within a system of economic relationships that comprises the whole productive area extending from the north-west of Turin and Genoa to the north-east, where we find globalised medium-sized companies and districts accelerating productivity, and further expands towards the dynamic Emilia-Romagna region, nicknamed the “Motor Valley”, with its hi-tech industries and know-how spanning from the machine tools industry to the robotics and automotive sectors. An economy spread out along the A1-A4 motorway axes (from east to west, from north to south) and deeply integrated with Europe, its strengths including manufacturing, finance, services, universities, culture, all within a network encompassing metropolises, medium-sized towns and socially dynamic territories. A unique phenomenon in Europe, and a very “glocal” one, to use the clever portmanteau of ‘global’ and ‘local’. A geo-economic dimension whose flows (of ideas, people, projects, works, goods, exchanges) are strongly tied to local identity. And Milan is at the heart of all this, with its culture and spirit, its opportunities and plans – a genuine “middle ground”, as its original Latin name, Mediolanum, suggests.

An enterprise such as “Milano & Partners”, whose strong collaboration with the public sector (especially with the council), social stakeholders and private companies, is a great boon when it comes to attracting financial and intellectual resources, and as such can play a major role: a role that’s broad-minded, open to dialogue and innovation, open to new projects.

Hence, we’re back to that much needed conflation between contemplation and speed, plans and implementation, and we recall a Latin adage, apt for such a productive city: “Festìna lente”, “make haste, slowly” – move swiftly but with caution.

Latin historian Suetonius attributed the phrase to Emperor Augustus, and it became the motto of Aldo Manuzio, a printer and publisher who lived in Venice during the Renaissance period, when the city’s trade was at its zenith. Words also beloved by mayor Beppe Sala and by archbishop Mario Delpini, who criticised the hectic pace of a greedy cupidity that widens social gaps (“inequalities are increasing, there’s a part of Milan that’s moving too fast and is making far too much profit”). But also beloved by some companies, especially those related to industry and services, those tied to the real economy and that fully grasp the need for the coming of a new season bringing an environmental and social sustainability based on (mainly international) investments, employment, quality of life.

From this perspective, the future is crystal clear: a future marked by the circular and civic economy, that is, where sustainability becomes the pivot on which competitiveness rests.

In this fast and contemplative metropolis, brimming with enterprise and “polytechnic culture”, open to reform and ensuring that development remains well rooted in social responsibility, two essential hues transpire: green and blue. The former symbolising the environment and environmental and social values, the latter the emblem of innovation and well-managed digital technologies “designed for human beings”. Two colours entwined around Milan, a city whose roots are deep in historical self-awareness while it looks to the future, and that could indeed become the best illustration of “Festìna lente”.