Cenni Changes (CC) is a project of urban regeneration that keeps together two sides: architectural and social. The initiative started with an international competition announcement, promoted by the Social Housing Foundation (SHF), to select the best renewal project meeting social and aesthetic criteria defined by the Foundation itself. The idea was to build some apartment blocks mixing people from different backgrounds and social classes, to live together and create spaces of encounter and social cohesion: these goals have to be achieved by creating communal areas and community animation (Fondazione Housing Sociale, 2012). Thus, this is a neighbourhood-based initiative. As the construction site was started, also the social part of the project was kicked off, with the selection of to-be dwellers.
The project involves a number of partners: besides the promoter SHF, a Foundation whose aim is to set and manage social housing projects, Lombardy Real Estate Fund is the sponsor partner, made up by different financiers engaged in social housing investment (among the others: Cariplo Foundation, Region Lombardy, Telecom Italia, banks). The Fund is managed by Polaris Real Estate IMCO Inc., an Investment Management Company. While SHF manages architectural renewal, social issues are up to a social housing cooperative society, i.e. DAR=CASA, whose deed is to provide low cost accommodation to people in need (see the dedicated chapter).
10% of the apartments have been entrusted to the Cariplo Foundation, that co-finances NGOs willing to buy them. The grant is provided via a competitive call to NGOs making the best residential projects. Another 10% of the apartments are allocated from the municipality of Milan (so, there is also a public partnership in the project) at a “social rent”, i.e. low, fixed rent for welfare recipients. All the others apartments have been allocated through a competition notice by the cooperative DAR=CASA. This resulted into a mix of dwellers, most under 35 years, but also with a not negligible number of retired tenants (mostly among the social rent ones).
The move to the new apartments was accompanied by DAR=CASA, with meetings and social events with the to-be tenants before and during their settlement, to increase socialization chances. DAR=CASA provides the tenants with continuing support, managing common areas and their use, and programming events and actions. Though, the idea is that in a while the tenants will have to manage independently socialization activities (Infodar, 2013).
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Diversity is at the very basis of the project. The initiative, indeed, is an urban regeneration one, that aims to qualify this area via an organized social mix and a juxtaposition of diversities in the same buildings. Young people, old people, people from different socio-economic status and different backgrounds share common spaces (specifically designed and managed for this purpose). There seem to be a trust in the positive effects of diversity and in its capability in foster social cohesion, but at the same time promoters consider that the process of inclusion and integration is not spontaneous, and needs to be steered and promoted by experts.
The mix of quite a number of diversities in the housing project and in the related socialization activity may be hinted to as an attention to hyper-diversity, to the plurality of urban experiences and inhabitants, that also need fine-tuned housing policy (‘standard’ public housing is mixed with other forms of social and subsidized rental) and a specific attention to social cohesion.
Main factors influencing success or failure
According to the interviewed member of SHF, the main weakness concerns funding. Nowadays, even if there is a public-private partnership, public actors provide mainly organisational support but poor or no funding: the project is actually funded mostly by private financiers. Up to now, this has ensured the sustainability of the project, but in a long-term perspective the lack of a structured social housing policy supported by the public sector may challenge the sustainability and reproducibility of projects like CC.
The main strength of CC is the combination of an architectural and social action, achieved thanks to a strongly integrated network of actors. Indeed, the creation of spaces of encounter, realised with the specific aim to foster social cohesion and managed by specific professionals, can have an actual positive impact on the new inhabitants, and their participation into the local community. Though, this factor of success is also the one requiring resources that usually are not foreseen in renewal projects. According to the interviewee, the public sector, conversely, is focusing on the refurbishment of the existing building stock, not so much on investments in new social housing projects, also due to the crisis – but existing buildings are more difficult to change, to create meeting places for socialization.
CC is an example of urban regeneration involving a public-private partnership (even if with a stronger weight of the private sector, involved in a ‘social market’), that aims to foster social cohesion creating spaces of encounter, focusing directly on diversity and on an attention on social mix. The good cooperation in such an articulated and complex network may be insured by the strong links among some of them. For example, among associates and shareholders with embedded ownership; among those sharing a common cultural background in social economy; among those sharing trust coming from long-lasting activity, collaboration and belonging to strong “pillars” of local society (e.g. Catholic NGOs). The cohesion action may be favoured by the selection of tenants, that actually excludes very disadvantaged groups, but focuses more on that in-between group of those not poor enough to access public housing and not rich enough to access housing market on their own.
This kind of actions can achieve a relevant result in terms of innovation if long-term sustainability of social and housing projects are taken into account. In the case of CC, the type of partnership involving actors with different mandates but common backgrounds can favourably support a positive outcome for social and housing mix efforts.
Website: Cenni di Cambiamento