About Niguarda (AN) is an area-based project of community development and community animation. Funded within a competitive call issued by Cariplo Foundation, aimed at ‘building and strengthening bonds in local communities’, it lasts between May 2013 and April 2016.
The promoters are seven NGOs, partnered by local authorities (Housing Department – Municipality of Milan; District Council n. 9): mainly social cooperatives and associations active in community animation, youth policy, intercultural mediation and education, and consultancy on immigration issues). Also the Ecomuseum Milan North (whose goal is to appreciate the social, cultural and environmental heritage of the area, in collaboration with the local community) is a member of the partnership behind AN.
The aim of the project is the enhancement of social cohesion, by changing the public image of the neighbourhood via self-help and community participation, and supporting the engagement of the local community, especially the youth. The increase in cooperation and the support to an inclusive identity that takes into consideration neighbourhood diversity (to be achieved with an active use of public spaces, starting from the opening of a community centre), are the main goals of the project.
The seven partners, with the support of volunteers and other institutions and NGOs, have been managing 12 activities, coordinated via 4 thematic roundtables (neighbourhood and housing; welcoming diversity; youth; and networking) (Diapason, 2013): ‘Read, do, play’ aims at using public places for cultural and social activities (e.g., bookcrossing and gaming); the ‘Social Day’, targeting pupils of secondary schools, is aimed at supporting volunteering and social causes; ‘close parents’ is aimed at creating self-help groups among parents that may experience difficulties (families with new-borns; with disabled children; immigrants dealing with family reunion); ‘supportive women’ is an action to empower immigrant women through art; “colourful Niguarda” is aimed at putting together youth and elderly to map the social and cultural heritage of the neighbourhood; ‘tell about yourself’ is an intercultural lab on diversity and identity for teens; ‘training and information’ is a set of refresher courses for professionals and volunteers working with immigrant users; ‘becoming mediators’ is a training activity for youngsters interested in becoming tutors of immigrant newcomer peers; ‘stitching and stitching up’ is an action to create intercultural (women’s) groups in mutual learning using needlecraft as a common ground; ‘neighbourhood compilation’ is aimed at acknowledging and appraising local amateur musicians; ‘xenophilia’ is an action to promote international cooperation and volunteering among upper secondary school students; ‘neighbour’s grass… is mine, too!’ is aimed at organizing community parties in public spaces.
These planned actions have been integrated with other small events and activities that come up as chances of participation and spontaneous activism. A fine tuning was needed also because the district has been stage of shocking events that could jeopardize community life: on 11 May 2013 three people were killed and two injured by a person with mental problems, whose immigrant background and undocumented status was strongly underlined by political entrepreneurs of fear; on June 2013 the parish summer camp was closed after intimidation from drug dealers (Ghezzi, 2014).
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Diversity is at the very core of the project, with a complex understanding of it that may be considered aware of intersectional issues and of a hyper-diverse environment. On the one hand, different kinds of diversities are taken into account: age, gender, origin and background. On the other hand, these diversities are both considered in their interaction (with actions aimed at putting together youth and elderly, natives and migrants) and in their intersection (focusing, for example, on the specific condition of immigrant women and ‘second generation’ youth), also with a strong attention on lifestyles (e.g. on cultural production through music; on the use of public spaces; on different ways of making social relations according to different group characteristics; on the promotion of solidarity at local and international level). The discourse on diversity is based on the idea that it may be positive as long as there are conditions for interaction, reciprocity and solidarity.
Main factors influencing success or failure
Potential factors of success may come from a rich network that gathers experts and volunteers, with a sound division of labour and collaboration among actors. Also, the network seems quite open and sensitive to changes, since different activities have been fine-tuned in progress, with the involvement of other local players. The fact that the targets are different and mixed may have protected this action from negative politicization and schismogenetic processes when criminal offenses mentioned-above happened.
The main question mark about projects like AN concerns their long-term sustainability. On the one hand, this project can enjoy a longer duration than other activities (e.g., those funded by the European Fund for the Integration of non-EU immigrants, that last less than one year), on the other hand the competitive call issued by Cariplo Foundation also rated ripple effects and sustainability. Some of the activities may have a spontaneous continuation: the project is a kick-off for self-help, peer social relations, intergroup contacts. On the other hand, more structural dimensions (e.g. the management of the community centre, the role of community animators) may require a longer-term support that it is difficult to foresee.
As a wide-scope project of community development and animation that includes diversity in its very core aim, AN shows the possibility to enhance social cohesion and creative spaces of encounter also in complex environments where a negative mood toward diversity may develop. The use of a wide, skilled and motivated network sensitive to the district’s social conditions and diversity is the prerequisite for the structuring of a large but consistent set of actions targeting different populations and their interaction.
This is a potentially innovative point that may turn a weakness in Italian policy-making (short-term, small-scale projects) in a strength, e.g. by coordinating little and fragmented initiatives into a common vision.
Website: About Niguarda
 The political entrepreneur is an actor that looks for political advantages (votes, popularity, career…) by supporting discourses and measures that pleases that rise his/her consent. The political entrepreneur of fear is the actor, who achieve this goal by creating, inflating, and/or tickling fears in his/her potential constituency (Olson 1965; Dal Lago and Palidda 2010).