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Right to the city – The special case of ALER houses in Giambellino district

Introduction to the right to the city

According to Lefebvre, the right to the city is the possibility for everyone to enjoy of the goods constituted by the urban organization of the territory and the equal possibility for everyone to participate at the decisions above the transformations. The approach to participation implied consequences in the public action for the increment of urban capabilities, because it means to make available opportunities in terms of physical infrastructure, for example the presence of accessible spaces for pedestrian, and in terms of conditions for the exercise of citizenship. As Harvey affirmed, claim the right to the city means claiming a form of power of decision on urbanization processes and on the way our cities are built and rebuilt, acting in direct and radical way. Following the discourse of Vicari, to build politeness and beauty in our cities, it occurs an action both, from the low for the affirmation of the rights and recognition, and from the top for the alternative uses of the city. It remains of competence of the public responsibility to guarantee basic services for the exercise of the citizens’ rights, as the right to housing. Cecchini wrote about the conditions that permit the exercise of the right to housing. He mentions the action of institutionalizing of the right to housing itself and the Article 42 of Italian Constitutions for the use of the property taking care of the social function and for the regulations of the interests of the owner in function of the collective interests and constitutional values. According to the social vision, there could be a potential illegitimacy to in leaving underutilized a real estate in a situation of lack of the spaces. Another important contribution above the theme comes from Salento, who argues that the activities of private sector may be regulated following the principle of social licence, according to which in the fundamental sectors, the economic activities have to be applied in favor of the society and not the contrary.

Urban regeneration

Sometime, the rise of inequalities and limitations to the exercise of the right to the city are not only the result of market dynamics, but they are the sub-produced effect of public policies. As supported by Ostanel, the processes of exclusion could be produced by programmes of state-led, urban programmes, conducted by the public sector. Policies of regeneration in some districts brought to the expulsion of the weak category. This phenomenon is called gentrification and it is favored by the diffusion of mono-functional sectors, for example the diffusion of pubs for young people, causing the banalization of the urban use of the district and the consequently expulsion of a part of local inhabitants. The so called “social mixing policies” are justified by the assumption of the problematization of the concentrations of fragile peoples in the ethnic districts. For this reason, the European Commission tries to affirm in the periods of founds’ programming, integrate models of
intervention, that are sustainable and opened to social innovation. The European Committee for the coordination of social construction industry defines the term of “social housing” as the whole of the activities useful for the furniture of accommodations and services with a strong social connotation, adequate to everyone who find difficulties in satisfying his personal residential need. In the point of view of Ostanel, there are cases in which political policies produced interesting results in the field of innovation-regeneration through the action from the low.
In the policies of urban regeneration, there is the central figure of the city makers, who have the important role to catch and promote the agency of the social subjects. According to Lazzarino, the agency could be interpreted in two meanings. On one side, it represents the transformative ability of subjects to produce direct effects on their lives. On the other side, it is referred to the ability of the subjects to realize cultural projects through their action. It is in this second declination of the concept that Lazzarino finds the basis for cultural-based projects of urban regeneration, that are far from the traditional approach. According to Evans, 2005, traditional approaches for the urban regeneration follow the three main models showed below. Firstly, the creation of new cultural spaces in order to trigger a process of qualification and urban development. Secondly, the cultural regeneration actuated by private operators without links to a public draft, as it happened with the Savona-Tortona district in Milan. Lastly, cultural projects of small dimensions, linked to the valorisation of material and non-material patrimony, re-qualify spaces and real estates in order to reactivate the local identities.

Mercato Lorenteggio

The proposal by Lazzarino is from an anthropological matrix, with an immersive approach to recognize the flux of meanings that people and groups attribute to their practices. This is called “cultural-based regeneration” and it is applied in the context of marginality or periphery where they are concentrated cultural diversity, slackening of the social policies, inequalities and residential discomfort. It implies a daily exercise of the public operator constantly in dialogue with the residents in order to make the subject’s competences emerge and build with them paths of local development. In this way it is created a process of collaborative change making, through the reciprocal adaptability between social change and change planning. A concrete case is that of Mercato Lorenteggio, a town, covered market in the Giambellino-Lorenteggio district, where there is one of the largest areas of public, residential constructions in the South-western periphery of Milan. It was built in the after-war period and during the Nineties experienced a crisis due to the expansion of the great distribution that brought to the degradation of the spaces, dismissing of the activities and alienation of private actors. However, from 2012, thanks to a public announcement and to the support of the entire district, together with the Dynamoscopio cultural association and a red of local actors, few commercium remained active succeeded in renewing the gestion and in dedicating an internal space to social inclusion activities oriented to the district. Mercato Lorenteggio resulted as a socio-cultural apparatus for the regeneration of periphery, where consolidate practices of social cohesion and integrate projects. It received the 2013-2016 contributions by Fondazione Cariplo and Fondazione Unipolis with the 2015 Culturability national reward. Today, it represents a pioneering experience of communitarian welfare, based on the accessibility and the co-production of culture, auto promotion of the community and social-responsible market.

The composition of Giambellino district

Lorenteggio is a quadrilateral of about 2700 lodgings, built between the end of the Thirties and the beginning of the Forties, property of ALER Milan (Azienda Lombarda Edilizia Residenziale). Milan. It was lived by families who moved house in Milan to find job in fabrics and today it is a multi-ethnic district with more than 40% of foreign nationality residents, with a strong concentration of ancient people, who live alone, and with a 70% of the residents who receive an income under the 15,000 euro of ISEE (Indicatore della Situazione Economica Equivalente). Between the end of the Sixties and the first half of the Seventies, Giambellino district of Milan housed at the same time the most pellagrous anti-state criminals and some of the major artists of the Italian, musical scene. Today in Giambellino there is a housing emergency that need to be embraced.
The application of the right to housing and the right to the city in this district is really emblematic. The situation is very well depicted by a radio inquest on Shareradio in June 2019 realized by adolescence of the center of juvenile aggregation of the social cooperative Comunità del Giambellino to a mother and a daughter, who were abusively occupying a public apartment. They told the daily fear they live of being leaved, the anxiety of non-knowing if at the end of a scholastic day, it will be a home where to come back to eat, do homework and sleep.

The right to housing and (non)interventions by ALER

Thousands of people are attending in the graduation to accede to popular houses, that are not assigned. On a total of 2667 lodgings, more than 900 are empty, then about the half of the latter has been occupied. During the summer of 2018, Lombardy region, guided by Attilio Fontana of Lega, asked the military intervention. According to the last census, one of two people in the district is not the owner of the space where he lives and the 25,7% of the residents is foreign. The material conditions of streets and buildings are awful. The maintenance is task of ALER, the Lombard, edificial, residential public body. It was directly charged by the region because of the profound crisis lived in 2009, due to a decreased public contribution and the lack of capability by families to pay the rent.
The action of ALER in the qualification of houses is really criticized by the Lorenteggio-Giambellino committee of residents. They accuse ALER to spend money in evacuations and not for arranging the buildings. The same committee operates a social activism of a solidarity stamp, read by accusations only for criminal functions. Born in 2013, the committee created shared vegetable gardens, organized courses of Italian language and for after-school time, gave life to a soup kitchen, distributed food to who needed, opened legal help-desk and a family counselling. Although it recognizes the illegality in defending the occupying families, the committee act in the name of the residential exasperation.
Following a path of mobilization of the inhabitants, in 2015 Lombardy Region, ALER and the city of Milan announced the realization of the Masterplan, a plan of upgrading, of 90 million euro, 60 of them coming from Europe. In this direction, in 2017 ALER, the municipality and the region firmed with syndicates a protocol to manage the transfer of the tenants from the palaces involved in the works. However, after four years and two years before the deadline indicated by the European Community, in the district works are defunct and the only interventions done by ALER were the evacuations. In February 2019 the labour union pulled back its firm on the Protocol of agreement, because they did not agree on the repressive approach to abusive occupations acted by ALER, without focusing on the single, familiar situations. According to the committee, the priority has to be given to the agreed and participated consensus of the families for the transfer to another place without breaking social and human relations and without giving the possibility of regularization to the most difficult situations. In fact, the activists would like that the apartments were assigned to families attending in list, in order to give to tenants the possibility to refurbish them. They see speculation in leaving empty the lodges, because that justify the demolition of buildings and the consequential requalification, without focusing on people, the real interested subjects. Non-intervention represents also a tactical move aimed to induce people to move away from non-livable conditions.


The brief overview on the particular reality that is Giambellino brings us again to the meaning inside of the right to the city, that put at the center of attention the human being and his accessibility in living his closer environment. The Committee of Residents of the district gives voice to the people’s needs in the district, although acting out of institutionalized forms and even out of legality. The open question, that the analysis of this case leaves us, resides in the legitimacy of illegal actions taken by informal and local associations of residents to fill the gap of inactivity of the institutions. Because in this case, it is the out-of-legal entity that better valorizes and prioritizes the human character in every action.

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