“Megacities are the frontier of innovation,” says Maurizio Molinari, editor of La Stampa (13 March), remembering that 30% of international GDP and the biggest source of technological innovation comes from the 100 most densely-populated cities in the world, a fact confirmed by a recent McKinsey survey. Those cities are precisely where international competition is placing its highest bets: either you’re in or you’re doomed to the wastelands. A huge challenge and Italy is also involved, with Milan in the front line for the unique conditions that developed there recently. Milan the metropolis, of course, key player in a growth process that affects all of Italy and which demands planning, hands-on engagement, and a sense of responsibility from the entire ruling class. Not just politicians. A ruling class that also needs to get “smart”: lively, fast, creative, productive.
Which Milan? First of all, a city at the heart of Europe.
“We could try to define a city like Milan in terms of time units,” we read in Huffington Post Italia. An hour by train to Turin, Bologna or Verona. An hour to fly to Rome, Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich, and not much more to get to Paris or London. An hour there and an hour back. All in a day. Commuting. Quick turnarounds for business meetings but also for life encounters. An hour means it’s central. Milan, in the fast, creative heart of Europe.”
High-speed trains and improved efficiency at airports are changing economic, social, and even sentimental and family geography. The new dimensions of both physical and digital interconnections require a reaction from those who govern Milan now and will do so in the future. Actions regarding essential issues like services, mobility, organization of urban areas, changes in professional and personal schedules. Fundamental political issues considering that both Milan and Turin are about to vote for new mayors. Who is worrying about how to deal with the future of MiTo, the great integrated Milan-Turin metropolis that represents far more than the current financial and cultural ties?
The centrality of Milan is geographical, an historical tradition and a current situation. This city has always been open, even its urban plan is rounded, with no sharp or cutting edges, even during times of conflict it has been welcoming and fundamentally accepting. Milan plays an economic role in the Italy seeking a European dimension. In a radius of 60 kilometres, Italy produces 25% of its exports, and manufacturing with added value is at the same level: a record-breaking share in the EU context. This metropolis (“Greater Milan”) is home to more than three million people, including 500,000 non-Italians. There are more than 200,000 students (with almost 20,000 from abroad, a number that has risen in recent years). Then there are 288,000 businesses headquartered in the city, of which 123 boast a turnover in excess of a billion euros (more than in Munich or Barcelona). Let’s not forget the 3,100 foreign multinationals, spotlighting the city’s international character. “A great, super-metropolitan Milan,” says Gianfelice Rocca, president of Assolombarda industrial association, in the preface to the interesting Milano metropoli possibile [Milan, A Possible Metropolis], edited by Vittorio Biondi and published by Marsilio.
Let’s focus on the descriptor “possible” to proceed with our reasoning, considering what there is already and looking ahead. That “possible” expresses a huge cultural, social and – naturally – political challenge.
Point of fact, Milan already has a metropolitan dimension, but it has to grow fast to safeguard and drive its competitiveness. It has made giant steps forward in recent years, in pursuit of quality development, after the doldrums of economic and administrative insecurity, after the decline of traditional economic and political codes. The city began to recover in the first decade of the Noughties, with Expo serving as a catalyst for innovation, but it can’t stop now.
With the underpinning of a manufacturing industry that accounts for 29% of GDP (which we discussed in last week’s blog), and already way ahead of the ambitious 20% target Brussels has laid down for the entire EU by 2020, Assolombarda talks about “five cities in one”: innovation, beauty, production, wellness, creativity. These are significant indicators that are already supported by plans and schemes under way, with businesses aware that “Italy can only fly if Milan flies”.
The future challenges posed by the Expo site, with the “Human Technopole”, the scientific halls of the Università Statale, and the arrival of a series of cutting-edge companies both the most famous multinationals and the most creative start-ups, are all pointing in this direction.
It will be essential to take further steps, like qualifying Milan as “smart city”, working on all aspects of innovation in the context of the “knowledge-based economy”: production processes, products, relationships, skills, research, new hybrids that graft creative talent onto venerable manufacturing expertise. The city also has to push on with the other aces it has up its sleeve: its sharing economy – as part of circular economy culture – will need to work on territory, energies, human and social capital, acceptance, as Aldo Bonomi explains so well (Il Sole24Ore, 13 March). And innovation. It’s worth underscoring this key word. Ongoing innovation.