1There is no national urban policy in Italy. Studies into urban policies in Italy have shown them to have been absent from the national political agenda until 1990 and that subsequent initiatives have been fragmented, according to some authors because of a lack of reliable means to co-ordinate them and for co-operation (Urbani, 1988; Bramezza, 2007, Dematteis, 2012).
2The theme of urban policy in Italy has been recently addressed by the Italian Council for Social Sciences (CSS). Although not referring only to the influence of the national government on cities, the CSS stressed how "in our country there is a lack of awareness of the specificity and multidimensionality that inevitably characterize urban problems. Such awareness is quite well-established in other European and North American countries, where it emerged already in the late 60s, resulting in the establishment of strategies and programs at different levels, as well as of specific institutional and governmental instruments. In Italy, the institutionalization of a national policy for the city is known to be very belated” (2011: 157).
3An overview of the most recent urban initiatives by the national government highlights how this situation remains unchanged, and that the main feature of urban policies in Italy is their incremental adaptation to the dominant European policy paradigms. By urban policies we mean here those initiatives undertaken by the national government with the (implicit or explicit) goal of producing solutions to urban problems.
4Notwithstanding the absence of a national urban policy, the urban issue in Italy throws up an important set of problems requiring solution. With regard to the urbanization process, it is sufficient here to remind that the largest metropolitan areas in Italy occupy about the 17% of the country’s landmass, providing space for 63% of its industrial activity and 71% of its advanced service sector (Censis, 2008). This gives rise to problems regarding economic development, environmental sustainability and social inclusion in urban contexts.
5The starting point of our analysis can be identified with the establishment in 1987 of a “Ministry for of urban areas” (Ministero per i problemi delle aree urbane). In our interpretation, this event indicates an access of urban issues onto the institutional agenda, therefore offering a temporal point of reference to this analysis. In analyzing the urban policies enacted in Italy since 1987 we will take into account in the first place explicit and direct policies, since it is only through their activation that the urban question has been introduced not only into the problems agenda, but also into the solutions agenda. We make reference here to d'Albergo's (2010) typology of urban policy.
6Referring to d'Albergo, we define urban policies as indirect “when the decision makers’ main aim is to provide local actors with conditions and resources (political, legitimization, instrumental, financial, cognitive) to take on urban challenges through their own policies” (141). Indirect urban policies can be connected to what Meny and Tohenig defined as politiques constitutives: “La politique constitutive délègue le traitement du contenu. Elle émet une contrainte ou une coercition faible sur les assujettis des politiques qu'elle prétend traiter” (1996, 602). The urban dimension of indirect policies can be implicit or explicit. Those explicit and indirect urban policies undertaken in Italy can be identified in an institutional reform oriented toward the creation of metropolitan governments. Despite being present in public debate since the sixties, this issue was introduced onto the institutional agenda though norms produced in the nineties concerning the constitution of “metropolitan cities” as a new level of government. However, this provision has not been implemented yet. Implicit and indirect policies in turn are represented by a set of actions oriented towards the definition of new institutional arrangements, the redistribution of functions and jurisdictions, the reshaping of the relations between different levels of government and the redefinition of the structure of local government through the attribution of new powers to executive boards, in particular to mayors.
7According to d'Albergo “national urban policies are to be considered direct when state actions confront causes or consequences of urban challenges without the interposition of other actors - namely, infra-national governments” (ibidem). Direct and explicit urban policies in Italy can be mainly identified in two kinds of programmes: i) area-based programmes, aimed at fostering social inclusion, competitiveness and economic growth and ii) local pacts for security promoted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Those policies that are here defined as mainstream are “directly but only implicitly urban” (idem, 141). Mainstream policies have an effect across the whole of the country and, therefore, also in urban areas even though they are not designed to have an impact in urban areas alone. Among mainstream policies, here housing and infrastructural policies will be taken into account due to their relevant impact on urban areas.
8Within the field of public policy analysis a great number of models for the identification of policy typologies have been produced. On the one hand, the most widespread models described in public policy analysis (among others: Lowi 1969; Wilson, 1980) are based on macro-variables, such as the distribution of costs and benefits or the likelihood of the use of coercion. This makes these models useful in analyzing any kind of public policy, regardless of its domain or the governmental level it is produced by. On the other hand, the typology system proposed by d’Albergo adopts as its main variable the relationship between policies and cities. This system is therefore particularly appropriate for the purpose of this study, which focuses exclusively on what the national government does (or doesn’t do) for urban areas.
9In the first section of this article we will propose a historical contextualization of the urban issue in Italy, and a reconstruction of the complex set of actors involved in different ways in the production of urban policies. In the second section we will take into account indirect policies, involving all those programmes aimed at creating the institutional conditions to enable actors who are not part of the government to tackle urban challenges. The third section will focus on those policies, herein defined as direct, that are aimed at tackling urban challenges directly. More in particular, we make reference here to area-based programmes – whose goal is the social and economic re-qualification of urban areas - and to urban security policies that have shown increased importance within the national political agenda in the last ten years. In the fourth and last section we will propose some explanatory factors that we believe can throw light on the distinctive features of urban policies and their historical evolution in the Italian context.
10The features of urban policies in Italy can be better identified on the basis of their policy subsystem, which can be defined in common with Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993) as the set of the actors affected by a common policy issue.
- 1 The Delors dynamic takes its name from the President of the European Commission between 1985 and 1 (...)
- 2 “I do not have money for cities”, by Carlo Tognoli. In “la Repubblica”, 7th February 1989.
11The creation in 1987 of a Ministry for urban area problems can be considered the beginning of explicit urban policies at a national level. What we must stress here is how cities and local government in that period had acquired importance in the political debate within the European Union due to the Delors1 dynamic, through which “the urban question began to grow at the end of the ‘80s” (Le Galès, 2006: 90). According to the first occupant of this new ministerial position, the establishment of his Ministry was due to the recognition on the part of the government of the special nature of urban problems: “The urban question is a national question, but a recent acquisition in ideas and culture, not yet in decisions and facts”2.
12Urbani (1988) also refers to the absence of a city culture, emphasizing how until the creation of the Ministry no “national policy concerning urban areas” existed in Italy. Certainly, not only can the creation of a ministry be ascribed to the acquisition of a shared culture but also – if not above-all – to a need to distribute economic and political resources within the ambit of coalition relationships. The important point remains that the urban question explicitly arrived on the government agenda for the first time. Subsequent events did not confirm the ambitious goals that had been a main element in the establishment of the government, and the Ministry had a more limited responsibility for urban area problems than foreseen. In particular, the Ministry had the job, subsequently largely ignored, of initiating processes for innovation in infrastructure: “the field of activities is therefore very wide and generic and regards the further development or creation of infrastructure or services in urban or metropolitan areas” (idem: 141)
- 3 The Department for the Problems of Urban Areas was part of the Presidency of the Council of Minist (...)
13In 1993, following the political crisis of the early nineties, the Ministry disappeared3 giving rise to a continuing situation of fragmentation in urban policies, and ignoring the wishes of those who believed that: “there is a strong need for co-ordination between the central administrative bodies (....). The solution could be that of giving the new Ministry the task of co-ordinating the policies of the other central administrations dealing with towns and cities” (idem: 149).
14The creation of a ministry can be considered as an indicator of the urban question making an explicit arrival on the national political agenda. Nevertheless, even after its suppression policies of an explicitly urban nature also continued to be enacted, often as a result of external pressure, in particular from the European Union (see par.3). The closure of the Ministry, however, gave rise to a enduring fragmentation of the system of actors involved in urban policies decision making and implementation processes. Considering only actors from within the government (and so excluding actors from a non-national level, those from civil society, economic actors and stakeholders) involved in the programs considered in this article, we can establish the following list.
- 4 From http://www.governo.it/Presidenza/DSET/index.html
15The Department for the Development of Local Economy within the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. It has responsibility for policies regarding urban areas in as far as it “takes part in the preliminary phase of government provisions that have economic and financial implications for local economies”4. In particular the Department has responsibilities concerning the implementation of Area Contracts (law 662/1996) and for Development Programmes (law 236/93).
16CIPE (Inter-ministerial Committee for Economic Planning), whose members consist of the Prime Minister, twelve Ministers and the President of the State-Regional Conference. CIPE has an important role above-all as far as mainstream urban policies are concerned (see par. 2) since it is responsible for implementing the Strategic Infrastructure Plan as provided for in the Legge Obiettivo (443/2001).
- 5 The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport was set up by Law 300/1999, merging the responsibilit (...)
17The Ministry of Infrastructure. The Directorate General for Local Development, Planning and International Projects, (Dicoter) within the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport5 was in existence as part of this Ministry up to 2003. Among its responsibilities were plans and programmes for local development, the system of cities, and the management of programmes promoted by the EU. With reference to this latter, there was an administrative directorate within Dicoter specifically dealing with the Co-ordination of the national aspect and with European Programmes and projects for urban and territorial development. Dicoter has encouraged and initiated explicit and directly integrated urban policies in the form of area based programmes and integrated development policies, and had, furthermore, responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the EU’s Urban and Urbact programmes.
18The Ministry of Internal Affairs is an important actor in urban policy making not only because it has responsibility for local finance (Central Directorate for Local Finance), but also because it has recently promoted a security policy for towns and cities that is acquiring political importance, in which it acts as co-signatory of security pacts with local governments.
- 6 Since 2008, when Milan’s candidacy won, national policy has been engaged in the management of EXPO (...)
19The Ministry for Economic Development is a 40% stakeholder in Expo Milan 2015 Management Company Spa6. Its Department for Development and Economic Cohesion has responsibility for the allocation of funds from the European Regional Development Fund and from the European Social Fund.
- 7 From http://www.governo.it/Presidenza/CSCA/
- 8 Ibid ; ANCI and UPI are respectively the National Association of Italian Local Authorities and the (...)
20Finally, the State – City and Local Authorities Conference (set up in 1996). While being more of a governmental instrument for urban policies than a policy actor, it has, however, to be taken into account due to its importance as a “collegial body with a consultative and decisional role, a permanent institutional seat for comparison and connection between the State and local authority bodies”7. The Conference undoubtedly exercises an influence on national urban policies and can itself be considered part of a national policy for towns and cities aimed at institutionalizing multilevel governance networks. The Conference: “is the institutional seat looking at matters regarding local authority organization, finance, personnel, and public services, and at all other questions submitted to the Conference by the Prime Minister or their delegate, including those requested by the Presidents of ANCI and UPI”8. Responsibility for organizing the Conference is entrusted to the Ministry for Relations with the Regions and to the Department for Regional Affairs and Local Authorities.
21The list of government actors variously entitled to be involved in policy processes concerning urban matters is therefore long (fig.1) and the network that connects them to other actors in horizontal and vertical governance relationships is complex. Their main characteristic is not so much their number but the fragmentation of the system and the overlapping between the functions of the different stakeholders. Fragmentation is also the result of the absence of actors responsible for the coordination of the ensemble. This is a feature and indicator of the fragmentation of urban policy itself.
22For nearly forty years, Italian local authorities have not been affected – other than indirectly – by institutional reform processes. This period of stability was interrupted in the early nineties, due to a combination of factors endogenous to the political system (above all a crisis of legitimization caused by the corruption scandals known as tangentopoli) and of factors exogenous to the political system, such as the need for new institutional arrangements oriented toward the strategic positioning of geographical areas engaged in global economic competition.
23These factors brought about a reform process that have lasted an entire decade and cannot yet be considered concluded. This process led to urban policies in their «implicit and indirect» form, since the actions produced do not have an explicitly urban focus (but are mainly aimed at the decentralization of state functions and at an affirmation of the principle of subsidiarity), nor do they have the goal of tackling urban challenges directly, but rather that of putting local governments in a condition to face problems emerging on the agenda.
24It is within this framework that the norms defined by Segatori (2003) as “the turning point laws” were enacted: laws no. 142 in 1990 and no. 81 in 1993. The distinctive features of the Italian institutional milieu, however, have determined the destiny of institutional policies in Italy, as stressed by Lanzalaco who defined them as characterized by a “vicious circle” composed of both a “declamatory reformism” and a “tacit gradualism” (46). This paradox brought about a “mutual de-legitimization between enacted policies and desired interventions” (ibidem). This has entailed a persisting incompleteness for important institutional innovations, from fiscal federalism to metropolitan reform.
25Although it is difficult to find urban policies within the Italian institutional agenda before the 1990’s, Law no. 142 (published in 1990) brought about significant changes in the institutional framework of Italian municipalities. Among these changes is the introduction of the “metropolitan city”, one of the reforms still awaiting implementation (see par.3). Additionally, Law no. 142 reshapes the distribution of power between city councils and their executive bodies, strengthening the latter and giving them authority over the “administrative affairs that are not by law under the competences either of the city council or of the mayor"(L.142/1990, art. 35, section 2). Moreover Law no. 142 provides cities and provinces with statutory authority.
26At the same time, an administrative reform of city authorities, aimed at the managerialization of the public administration on the basis of the 1990’s mainstream policy paradigms, was started. In the context of this reform process the possibility of recruiting highly qualified external staff/consultants with fixed-term contracts was introduced for the first time.
27However, the most substantial changes to the institutional framework of Italian local authorities were introduced by Law no. 81 of 1993, which substantially modified the balance of power within local authority bodies, resulting in a drastic redistribution in favour of mayors. The law introduced for the first time the direct election of mayors and the adoption of a majority system for the election of the council members. The mandate for the latter is linked to that of the mayor, so that passing a possible motion of no confidence in the mayor would lead to the dissolution of the council. This law also gives the mayor authority to appoint or remove deputy mayors and administrative officers. The explicit aim of Law no. 81 was to reinforce the stability of local governments, on the basis of the legitimization of the mayor's authority deriving from a direct popular mandate. As a consequence, the executive boards have been provided with a higher degree of autonomy from the councils and political parties, which were suffering from a very serious lack of legitimacy at the time the Law was approved.
28Empowerment of the mayor’s role is not unique in Europe. On the contrary, in the same period it is possible to observe across the entire continent a “renewed personalization of local power” (Martins, Rodriguez Alvarez, 2007) due to a “reform movement that travelled across Europe” (146) and that has provided mayors with “more powers and legitimacy than in the past” on the basis of the idea that “only cities with strong mayors can play a strategic game in the international arena” (ibidem).
29This administrative reform was accompanied in the same period by a decentralization process that entailed the rise of the concept of “subsidiarity”, on the basis of which every function that is not explicitly assigned to higher level of government (e.g. the Regional or National Government), is devolved to lower levels (Provinces and Municipalities). According to Law no. 59/1997, local government is responsible for all the functions that “do not require unitary administration at regional level”. This principle was introduced into the Constitution itself, through reform of Chapter V in 2001.
30Beyond the promotion of new forms of decentralization, the reforms enacted in the nineties had the objective of renewing the public administration as a whole (and, therefore, also the public administrations in cities), on the basis of the widely-spread belief that “along with the presidential-like strengthening of a mayor's role, guarantees of “democratic-ness” and effectiveness in favour of citizens had to be enforced” (Segatori, 2003: 126). According to Governa and Salone “the principles which inspired these laws (local authorities' autonomy, subsidiarity, responsibility, public structures to be appropriate for carrying out the responsibilities assigned to them, flexibility in interinstitutional relationships, citizen participation in collective choices, streamlining bureaucracy) were part of the movement toward gradual decentralization of administrative and political action” (2004, 801).
31These reforms then, beyond representing an institutional innovation for what regards the distribution of governmental functions, mark a deep change even in administrative culture. Capano stresses how along with the institutional reform a “strengthening of local governments' organisational and administrative capacity” has been carried out “through a reform of the system of controls, the introduction of city managers and of economic accountability and the possibility of linking managers' salaries to results” (2002: 56). In short, the main goal of the administrative reform was a paradigm change in the administrative culture, aimed at adapting the Italian administration to the dominant principles of new public management and customer satisfaction, oriented towards the introduction into the public sector of a managerial culture typical of the business sector.
32The decentralization process found definitive legitimisation with the reform of Chapter V of the Constitution (Constitutional Law no. 3/2001) that introduced important innovation such as the equal status of the different levels of local government (municipalities, provences and regions), the attribution of regulatory autonomy to Local Authorities, Provinces, and Metropolitan Cities as regards the organization and execution of their functions (Constitution, art.117), and the recognition of local government financial autonomy. Therefore, the reforms carried out in the 1990’s were characterized by significant ambition, and have somehow represented a turning point in the institutional arrangement of local government. However, their actual impact on the functioning of administrations seems rather limited compared to the ambitions of those who promoted them (Capano, 2002).
- 9 Since 1999, local authorities have been required to contribute to the achievement of the objective (...)
33This is due to the persisting tension between centralism and decentralisation that features strongly in the Italian public administration and which has never disappeared, not even during the period of institutional innovation that characterized the nineties. Indeed, along with the attribution of new functions, the space of action in policy making available to local government has been substantially reduced by new financial rules. Law no. 448/1998 established for the first time an internal stability pact, that severely limited the autonomy of local governments in drawing up their budgets (establishing strict limits on the amount of debt allowed)9.
34Although on the one hand the internal stability pact constrained local governments in developing budget policy, on the other hand the decentralisation process continued as regards functions. The latter reached a new stage with the approval of the Law no. 42 of 2009 on fiscal federalism. The law provided for significant changes such as the introduction of “standard expenditure” in place of “historical expenditure” in determining the funding transfers from the State to local administrations: “the national law identifies the taxes that can be levied by local authorities and provinces, also in replacement or transformation of previously existing ones, and also through the attribution to local authorities and provinces themselves of previously national tax revenue or parts of tax revenue” (art.112).
- 10 The national government will benefit of half of the resources derived from the taxation of propert (...)
35Nevertheless, along with the approval of the norms on fiscal federalism, one of the most important taxes for local authority revenues – ICI (Council property tax) – was abolished by national decree no. 93/2008. This brought about an important shortage in local authority budgets that was not completely balanced by national supplementary transfers. This tax was re-introduced in 2011 under the name of Imposta Municipale Unica (Single Council Tax) to deal with the debt crisis Italy faced. However, this confirmed the centralist approach of the national government, who benefits from part of the revenues from this tax10. Within this framework Allegretti and Allulli have spoken of an “asymmetric subsidiarity, in which the growth of functional responsibilities assigned to local governments proceeds along with a restriction of their resources and autonomous decision making space over their use” (2007, 112).
36The Italian legislation relative to metropolitan areas began with the law 142/1990. In this document two levels of local government were identified: the Metropolitan Cities and Municipalities. Three governmental bodies were established for the Metropolitan City: the Metropolitan Council, the Executive Council and the Metropolitan Mayor. The law required the new boundaries of metropolitan areas to be established within one year. It also envisaged the possibility for the municipalities within the metropolitan borders to merge and for provincial capitals to be split in metropolitan municipalities. Rome, Milan, Genoa, Naples, Turin, Bologna, Florence, Venice and Bari were indicated as Metropolitan Cities in the document.
37Prior to the approval of Law no. 142 of 1990, the multiplicity of possible solutions to these difficult problems was a strong feature of the public debate over metropolitan areas that took place between supporters of the “structural” thesis, the proponents of the “public choice” solution, and finally those of the neo-regionalist approaches. This debate - still ongoing - sees the first group maintaining a need for institutional reform and a redefinition of government levels, mainly motivated by the two above-mentioned arguments, while the second and third groups are in favour of a “functional” solution in the conviction that a spontaneous co-ordination of policy actors through forms of inclusive governance may guarantee a more effective government of the larger areas (Dente 1997; Rotelli, 1999; Kübler and Heinelt, 2005; Lefèvre 2009).
38These features of the metropolitan reform in Italy show the paradoxical coexistence of a legislative production oriented toward a strongly structural system with governance practices of a mainly functionalist nature. This is the situation brought about by approval of Law no. 142/1990 and remains unchanged even following repeated legislative initiatives (also laws at a constitutional level) aimed at introducing metropolitan cities as institutions within the Italian State structure. All of the laws nos. 436/1993, 265/1999, constitutional law no. 3/2001 and law no. 42/2009 had the goal of establishing a new institutional level, all of them based on the same structural approach, all of them bringing about the same policy fiasco (Bovens and t’Hart, 2005).
39Much has been written on the factors behind the failure of institutional reform. Among many other authors, Ferri stressed how even the last legislative measure lacked of an “adequate consideration of the policy implementation phase and of the risks of inter-institutional conflicts, with particular regard to those between local authorities in the main towns and the other smaller authorities within the metropolitan area” (2008: 261). More in general, however, it is useful to resort to Brenner’s (2003) contribution focused on the two waves of metropolitan reform in Europe. The spread of structural solutions to problems related to “metropolitanization” took place between the sixties and the seventies, while already in the early eighties the approach in mainstream urban policies had undergone a crisis, and a new dominant functionalist approach had imposed itself.
40Within this framework Bobbio (2002) highlights how Italian reform was proposed “late” and therefore “without success”, while in Europe a bottom-up approach was spreading, in which “most metropolitan problems are addressed through purpose-oriented networks of coordination and cooperation involving municipalities, governmental agencies at various level, as well as private service providers” (Kubler e Heinelt: 2005, 10).
41Following the approval of Law 42 in 2009, political attention on the issue of metropolitan reform decreased, before any significant progress towards the implementation of the established institutional reform was made. The policy agenda has focused again on Metropolitan Cities in August 2012, when the national government has envisaged in its decree on the review of public spending (L.135/2012) the implementation of the reform by the end of 2013 (this deadline has subsequently postponed for a year by the financial law of 2012). It is still too early to say whether this measure is bound to be successful. However, an important novelty can be identified in this initiative, compared to previous ones: the process for establishing the Metropolitan City has been considerably simplified, and the number of actors involved in this process drastically reduced. The law 135/2012 faces the issue of the territorial definition of the Metropolitan City identifying its boundaries with those of the corresponding Province, which ceases to exist with the implementation of the reform. A Metropolitan Conference comprising the President of the Province and the mayors of the concerned municipalities is established in each Metropolitan City. The conference must produce a provisional status of the Metropolitan City within the ninety days preceding the date of establishment of the new institution. Even if this deadline is not to be complied with, the Metropolitan City should be established and the mayor of the provincial capital should be automatically appointed as the new metropolitan mayor. Each Metropolitan City is governed by a mayor and a Metropolitan Council consisting of 10 to 16 councilors (depending on the number of inhabitants). The Metropolitan Council is responsible for the approval of the final Statute. Depending on the Statute, the Metropolitan Council and the Mayor can be elected either directly (by citizens) or by mayors and councilors of the municipalities, as a second-level institutional body. The provincial capital, on the proposal of its council, can be subdivided into metropolitan municipalities endowed with a certain degree of autonomy. The process of establishment of the metropolitan city is thus considerably simplified by the introduction of a precise deadline (for the approval of the statute) and by the removal of the possible intervention of the Regions in the process as veto-players.
42However, the proposed reform has some limitation, especially with regard to the functions of the Metropolitan City and the democratic legitimacy of this new institutional level. With respect to the functions of the Metropolitan Cities, it is noteworthy that there is no provision for the decentralization of functions from the Regions to the Metropolitan Cities. The Metropolitan City simply acquires the powers previously held by municipalities and provinces. This situation creates the risk of dualism and inter-institutional conflict.
43With regard to the democratic legitimacy of the decision-making processes, it is reasonable to wonder whether a council composed of sixteen members, whose activity is unpaid, is sufficient to ensure the representativeness of metropolitan cities of more than one million inhabitants. The reform does not provide solutions to the issue raised by CSS, that states: “the system to be established should entail solutions, or alternatively should create the conditions, for Metropolitan Cities to autonomously find solutions to the issues of political representativeness, with particular regard to the legitimization of new forms of expression (e.g. telematic), additionally to those of the residents, who in various ways use and pay taxes in the city” (2011: 177).
44The latest measure on institutional reform, however, appears to be consistent with what Brenner defines a “locational policy” of metropolitan areas: “metropolitan reform strategies represent an important instance of a new ‘locational policy’ (Standortpolitik) through which local and regional growth machines are attempting to enhance the competitive advantages of strategic regional economies” (2003: 302). In this context, it is clear why demands for the democratization and redistribution of resources have given way to financial priorities. It is no coincidence that the latest measure on metropolitan cities is contained in a law, whose main goal is the limitation of public spending.
45The so-called mainstream policies have been affected in the last three decades by a process of change mainly oriented towards an adaptation of the policy paradigms dominating at a European and extra-European level. This change can be seen in the context of the crisis being experienced by European welfare systems and of the arrival of new policies oriented toward the economic competitiveness of geographical areas. This entailed on the one hand a shift from the prevalence of redistributive policies towards that of distributive policies, and on the other hand the activation of rescaling processes that redefined public policy decision-making levels. It is possible to give account of this twofold process briefly taking into account two important sectors of implicit and direct urban policy: housing policy and infrastructure policy.
- 11 The housing market had been regulated by the so-called “fair rent” up to the end of the eighties, (...)
46Housing policy underwent a change at a national level, starting in the late eighties, that mirrors a change in macro-structural conditions and the rise of a new market-oriented policy paradigm. The so-called equo-canone (fair rent) introduced by law no. 392/1978 regulated the market up to the end of the eighties, determining a certain degree of stability in rental prices11. Housing policy was characterized by a high degree of centralization, due to the low level of autonomy left to local governments in this matter. This high degree of regulation and centralization ceased to exist after the end of the eighties.
47For the first time in 1992 the possibility of renting houses without applying rent control was allowed. Since then housing policy has been characterized by three main goals: i) market deregulation, ii) compensation for market failure through distributive policies, iii) responding to emergency situations. Regulation of rent levels was completely abolished by law no. 431/1998. The wave of market deregulation brought about important trade-offs between the availability of “goods considered to be necessary for a decent life” (Donolo, 1997: 132) and a reliance on the dynamics of the market as regards their allocation.
48Among the policy sectors, that related to infrastructure is one of the most important as regards impact on urban areas. Being one of the hard policies oriented towards economic competitiveness (Hall, 2007), infrastructure policy has a particularly relevant role due to its economic and political prominence. The economic importance can be ascribed to the constant growth of investments in this sector that occurred for nearly a decade (between 1995 and 2003), notwithstanding the concurrent restriction on public spending. The political importance is due to the tension between the centralism and decentralization that characterizes infrastructure policy, highlighting a major unresolved problem in Italian urban policy. Since 2000, infrastructural policy has undergone a process of centralization that does not appear coherent with the decentralization principles that were being introduced into the Constitution itself in the same period.
49This process has been accompanied by a reduction in the evaluation of environmental impact, and a promotion of public-private partnerships as a means of financing infrastructural policies. The re-centralization of this policy domain was pursued from 2001 on through law no. 443/2001 (the so-called Legge Obiettivo) whose implementation is in the hands of the CIPE.
- 12 Controversial infrastructural programme aimed at the protection of Venetian buildings from the pro (...)
50According to CIPE deliberation no. 69/2008, the programme consists of 137 public works at a total cost of 174 million euro. Only 2.7% of these resources come from local authority budgets. Nevertheless, a high percentage of these resources is destined to urban projects. The Mo.S.E12 project in Venice benefits from 21.2% of the total resources. Some 15.5% of the total amount is destined for the building of new underground lines. Apart from these projects, the majority share of investments is devoted to infrastructure projects that have a direct impact on urban areas, such as housing, high speed railways, and the bridge over the Strait of Messina.
- 13 Note of ANCI’s Steering Committee (May, 17th, 2006).
51Infrastructural policies, therefore, can be considered as part of a wider urban policy, even though not explicitly formulated as such. Nevertheless, in developing infrastructure policies local authorities are seen as policy takers rather than policy makers, despite the important resources at their disposal. The limits to this centralization have been often highlighted: already in 2006 the National Association of Italian Local Authorities (ANCI) called for the formulation of a new infrastructure plan that, “unlike law no. 443/2001, should start with local authority needs and plans initiated by them at local level, bringing them together in a national plan for projects agreed at local level”13.
52Projects that can be considered part of early urban policies started to appear in Italy from the end of the eighties, as a result of the introduction of urban issues within the national political agenda. As in other European countries, direct and explicit urban policies were activated with three main goals: i) urban competitiveness and economic growth, ii) social cohesion and the struggle against exclusion, iii) urban security. The first two goals were typical of those area based programmes that started in the 1990’s. The following decade was influenced by the introduction of a new and different policy paradigm that put the issue of urban security at the centre of the political agenda. By area based programmes we intend those courses of action oriented towards specific underprivileged areas within cities. These programmes do not represent the whole set of direct and explicit urban policies produced in Italy in the last two decades, since many of them target urban areas or even city regions as a whole. Governa and Salone (2004) highlighted the relevance of these programmes that “prefigure interactive and contractual action procedures, in close relationship to the territory and to local actors, and also take the form of an explicit search for dialogue among the various intervening sectors” (804).
53Explicit and direct policies are characterized by the inadequateness of the resources allocated, when compared to mainstream policies. The greater part of area-based programs in Italy are promoted and managed by the General Directorate for Local Development (Dicoter) within the Ministry of Infrastructure, and by the CIPE, thereby confirming their role as key actors in the field of Italian urban policy. These policies can be divided into two main categories: i) activities undertaken in response to initiatives from EU institutions (in the case of the Urban program and of regional funds made available through the Community Support Framework) and ii) activities undertaken autonomously at the initiative of the national government.
54Programs promoted on the basis of EU fundings emerged together with the appearance of the urban question on the European political agenda. Such programs cannot be considered as part of the national urban policy. However, they are of interest since, on the one hand, they require national government to supervise them, and on the other, they assume a role as vectors, through which the instruments and goals of public policy have been diffused within the national context.
55The process of Europeanization of urban policies, brought about by the introduction of the “Urban” programs that started in the nineties, gave rise to Complex Urban Programmes (PUC). These programs were born as “public housing programs and developed as housing policies with a wider scope to, above all, correct the single-function nature of certain urban neighborhoods and the consequent lack of proper services, enabling the upgrading of entire parts of towns and cities” (Monea, Iorio, Gimigliano, 2005: 30). The Complex Plans are so defined because they integrate different policy instruments (instruments for social, urban planning and economic policy) to allow upgrading of urban areas, also drawing on the experience of the Politique de la Ville already operational for a decade in France. The category of Complex Urban Programs comprises the following schemes.
Integrated Intervention Programs (Programmi Integrati di Intervento). Created under law no. 179/1992, they can be identified “by the presence of a plurality of functions, by the integration of various types of activity including urban regeneration activities, by having a size such as to require urban reorganisation, and by the possible involvement of several operators and various public and private financial resources” (art.16).
Urban Renewal Programmes (Programmi di Recupero Urbano). Provided for under law no. 493/1993, they are aimed at public housing redevelopment, at expanding public residential housing, and at carrying out works for primary urbanization. PRU were particularly important since, for the first time, they integrated housing policy instruments with other kinds of policy tools aimed at the overall redevelopment of urban areas.
Urban Renewal and Local Sustainable Development Programs (Programmi di Riqualificazione Urbana e Sviluppo Sostenibile del Territorio). They were introduced by Ministerial Decree 21/12/1994 in order to foster an integrated intervention aimed at giving a “facelift” to the planning and economic development policies in urban areas. These are programmes that make use of and extend the goals of the PRU, but do not deal exclusively with individual local authorities but, rather, cover wider areas involving several administrations.
Neighborhood Contracts (Contratti di Quartiere). Financed under the Ministerial Decree of 22/10/1997, these programmes aimed at the upgrading of buildings, urban facilities and social aspects in run-down areas. They provide for carrying out works relative to urbanisation infrastructure and residential development. One of the important features of the Neighborhood Contract is the attention paid to citizen participation in the urban transformation process. Subsequent to the first call for tenders in 1997, the Ministry of Infrastructure issued a decree on 30th December 2002 authorizing an invitation for tenders for “Contratti di Quartiere II”.
- 14 Aversa, Bagheria, Bitonto, Brindisi, Caltagirone, Campobasso, Catanzaro, Cava de’ tirreni, Cinisell (...)
Urban Italy. This program was born on the basis of the consensus originating from the European Community Urban Programme. It funded initiatives planned by 20 local authorities14 that had applied for European funds without being selected as winners. The government’s 2001 Budget law allocated a sum of about one hundred million euro to this programme.
56The Complex Urban Programmes activated in the nineties, however, had a short life: over time they have been replaced by programmes that are no longer based on investment of public resources, but rather on placing cities in an economically competitive situation in order to attract private investment. Such public investments for re-qualification and urban regeneration that are still active are funded through resources coming from the European Union and are co-financed by regions and municipalities.
57Therefore, the Italian urban agenda is now dominated by economic growth issues, and the city is increasingly seen as a growth machine15. This is confirmed by the experimentation in Italy of Zone Franche Urbane (Urban Enterprise Zones), previously experimented in the French context16 where Zone franches urbaines are “inter-municipal areas of pre-established minimum sizes where tax concession programmes exist for small and micro sized enterprises”17. The main feature of the program is, therefore, that of providing for urban areas which can encourage the development of enterprise through tax and contribution exemptions. The Zone Franche Urbane device is significant since it does not refer generically to run–down areas but does make direct reference to the urban question, directly involving the local authorities in the policy implementation process. Local authorities are also required to “identify areas, draw up project proposals, and to specify ways of managing and planning possible associated investments to be made in the area in order to maximize the overall effect of the activities”18. However, the experimentation with the ZFUs ended one year after it started due to the absence of economic resources, confirming the inefficacy of incremental adaptation to dominant paradigms that characterizes urban policy in Italy. Indeed, with the exception of a few single positive experiences, territorial programs have rarely been adopted in accordance with the specific needs of the cities. Most often they consisted in the mimetic adoption of practices already experienced elsewhere. As stressed by Governa and Salone: “in many cases, the territory is simply viewed as a kind of passive support for action, modeled by processes external to it. Consequently, local development is reduced to a set of completely decontextualized policies. (...) There are few cases in which the interactions of subjects with the material and non-material funds specific to a territory are systematically analyzed, planned and validated” (2004: 815).
- 19 the new season of Local Security Pacts starting in 2006, signed as before by local bodies and the (...)
58From the late 1990’s, a change in priority was made to problems on the Italian urban policy agenda. The topic of security assumes a previously unknown central role among challenging urban issues. Urban security policies were originally seen as area-based programmes, variations on the French model of Local Security Contracts which had been integrated into Contrats de Ville and, therefore, were presented as one of the instruments aimed at resolving social-economic hardship on the outskirts of urban areas and the consequent problems of illegality. In Italy this integration did not happen, but originally a move had been made towards creating protocols to set up “co-ordinated initiatives for the overall government of security in towns and cities”. Between 1998 and 2005, 194 protocols were signed, mainly featuring a public “reaffirmation of the co-responsibility of the Mayor and the Prefect for the state of security of that specific community” (Amendola, 2008). The protocols were actually “emergency responses” (ibid) destined to disappear without producing any significant results. Even if the protocols were maintained, at least in their stated objectives, the intention of promoting integrated security policies19 is characterised by the central aspect given to the repression of illegality by means of greater co-ordination between local and national police forces. Between 2006 and 2009, some 40 Local Pacts were signed by Prefects and local authorities (above-all at urban level). The importance of the Pacts as a national urban policy is confirmed by the signing in March 2007 of a protocol between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and ANCI, and duly called the “Pact for Security between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and ANCI”.
59Following the end of the ZFU experiment in Italy there were no explicit or direct urban policy until 2012 when, in its decree on Economic Development, the government envisaged the establishment of a National Plan for cities (art. 12 DL 83/2012) in order to revitalize urban areas, especially those which were run-down. It is a program of public works that should result in the provision of new infrastructures, urban redevelopment, and the building of car parks, homes and schools.
60The instrument provided for the implementation of the plan is the "urban development contract ", in which of all the public and private actors involved in public works in a specific area are defined and the commitments of each stakeholders are regulated. The National Plan for the city is made up of all the development contracts promoted by the individual municipalities involved.
61The decision making center seems to be identified at a municipal level, while a secondary role seems to be attributed to the Regions which, instead, have so far decided policies related to construction and redevelopment of the city. This orientation is due perhaps to the belief that in this way the timing of the Plan will be accelerated. It is not a novelty. Already in July 2006 the national government directly provided 13 metropolitan municipalities with 99 million euro of funding to reduce homelessness. Before producing and implementing such a policy again, it probably would be worthwhile evaluating to what extent the previous programme has been implemented.
62As stated in the Decree, the projects to be financed by the new plan must be "ready to be implemented." This condition is essential for an initiative that aims to contribute to inverting the negative economic cycle and boosting the economy. However, not only is the target not supported by adequate financing, but the timing of such finance is not consistent with the intention of starting programmes rapidly.
- 20 The transfer of financial resources from the national state to local governments has undergone a pr (...)
63Overall, the modest budget corresponds to 224 million euro (which is included in a special fund set up at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport) over the six year period from 2012 to 2017. There are 10 million euro available for 2012; 24 for 2013, 40 in 2014 and 50 for each of the subsequent three years. Moreover, if the objective of this program is to transfer resources to the cities to address the problems caused by the financial crisis, this goal is in total contrast with the substantial cuts in transfers to local authorities in recent years20, and by the constraints of the internal stability pact.
64The evidence hitherto presented sheds light on two main features that characterize the whole set of both indirect and direct urban policies produced in Italy from 1987 on: i) they do not work together to define a homogeneous and coherent policy, due to the high degree of fragmentation among them, and ii) they are driven by a process of incremental adaptation to imperatives and dominant paradigms in urban policy at European level. By policy paradigm we intend here the “framework of ideas and standards that specifies not only the goals of policy and the kind of instruments that can be used to attain them but also the very nature of the problems they are meant to be addressing” (Hall, 1993: 279). The adaptation process in Italy is characterized as incremental since it “renounces a global vision, it focuses exclusively on marginal variations introduced by the solutions proposed” (Bobbio 1996: 94).
- 21 A model that in Jessop’s interpretation has replaced the Keynesian Welfare National State.
65The spread of new dominant paradigms in urban policy has been highlighted, among others, by Jessop (2002), who contextualizes this phenomenon within what he defines as a Schumpeterian Workfare Postnational Regime, within which “the importance of the national scale of policymaking and implementation is being seriously challenged, as local, regional and supranational levels of government and social partnership gain new power”21. The first and most significant change in urban policy in Italy is the shift from its implicit to its explicit nature. Before the 1990’s, urban policy was essentially composed of mainstream programs, whose impact on cities had an implicit nature. The explanatory factors taken into account here show how this change has been induced by exogenous determinants (the reorganization of the global economy, Europeanization of public policy, and the judicial crisis in the Italian political system at the end of the eighties) in a system that would not have changed.
66With the end of the 1980’s, processes of political rescaling and reorganization of the spatial hierarchy of political power came to fruition throughout Europe. In Italy, this process brought about the definition of a new governance structure: "in Italy these dynamics had a significant acceleration in the 1990’s" (Ramella, 2006: 101). The change has occurred in the context of an institutional structure that had remained substantially unchanged since the founding of the Republic: it was not, therefore, a gradual change resulting from endogenous determinants, but a rapid change and a traumatic break in continuity after a period of relative stability.
67The change which occurred, however, has given rise to a set of programmes that taken together do not represent a coherent urban policy. The absence of an urban policy in Italy, and the incremental nature of adaptation to dominant paradigms can be explained by two main determining factors: i) first, the nature of the institutional context, and ii) secondly, the highly fragmented subsystem of urban policies.
68With regard to the institutional dimension, the formulation of a national urban policy in Italy has run into an obstacle, on the one hand in the process of regionalization and, on the other hand, (paradoxically) in the strongly institutionalized role of municipal authorities, which are seen by national government as policy takers rather than policy makers. The establishment of regional governments in Italy represents the only reform oriented towards decentralization of state functions produced up to the beginning of the 1990’s. It is a controversial reform since, as noted by Ginsborg, “there was nothing to stop the regional governments from becoming new repositories for the abuse of power on an intermediate level between the communes and the National government” (2003: 327).
69The institution building process that established the regions, however, did not proceed without consequence for urban issues. Rather, it led to a redefinition of the dynamics and relationships between centre and periphery that "gave rise to an unprecedented institutional system, within which local governments have been forced to shape new relationships with regional governments, that overlapped with the existing ones with the central government "(Adorni and Magagnoli, 2005: 56). Regions took the shape of new “centres” that city governments had to deal with, a new institutional actor producing public policies. This tension between instances of decentralization and the stability of local institutional arrangements can be considered as one of the causes for national governments’ identification of the regions as the main instrument for institutional innovation in Italy.
70The institutional variable can be considered as the determining factor in a continuing tension between the predominance (in terms of economic resources) of mainstream policies and the emergence of explicitly urban policies. If, on the one hand, mainstream policies mirror a highly centralized institutional structure and relegate municipalities and local authorities to the role of policy takers, on the other hand explicit and direct urban policy provide local governments with the role of policy makers, at least in the phase of implementation of public policy.
71This tendency towards centralization seems to be strengthened by a regional institutional structure that took the shape of a “centralization toward the bottom” rather than a “decentralization from above” (Adorni and Magagnoli, 2005). Among others, CSS has recently put forward the hypothesis that the delay and the limitations of urban policies in Italy should be ascribed to a "rigid uniformity of the institutional Italian system” (2011: 164). This interpretation is, however, unsatisfactory, as the uniformity of the institutional Napoleonic system was not an obstacle to the emergence of urban policies in other countries: it is sufficient here to refer to the Politique de la Ville in France.
72The rise of explicitly urban policy such as the area based programmes, on the contrary, can be ascribed to the impact of Europeanization and of Communitarian policies, and to the need for answers to policy problems raised by new urban challenges. Of course, the emergence of multilevel governance (European Union, states, regions, local authorities) and the principle of subsidiarity on the one hand produced a clear hierarchy, at least from a formal point of view, in decision-making processes but, on the other hand, in most cases it brought about a slowing down and complication of decision making processes. The increased fragmentation of responsibilities between different levels of government in Italy created an ambiguous situation for urban issues within the national agenda.
73Thus, each level of government took the view that since it held a "part in the urban function", its role was essential in the phase of formulation and negotiation of policy making. At the same time, all levels of government considered their participation in making a contribution not essential in the implementation phase. Unfortunately, however, it is in the negotiation phase that many urban policy programs fail in Italy. This is due to a strong regional centralism that has revived decision-making bodies in which formal institutional roles have been considered to be more relevant than the content of policy solutions.
- 22 By policy subsystem we mean “The set of actors who are involved in dealing with a policy problem” ( (...)
74It is not possible in the domain of Italian urban policies to identify individual policy entrepreneurs at national level willing to invest in the promotion of urban policies. Unlike France and the United Kingdom, portfolios explicitly related to urban issues do not exist at national government level in Italy (following the abolition of the Ministry of urban areas). The fragmentation of responsibilities in the urban policy subsystem22 raised contradictions and conflicts that have so far prevented agreement and consolidation of a coherent policy for Italian cities.
75At the same time, when policy actors at the national level have promoted programs geared to urban areas, they have used time constrained tools (such as area-based programmes), neither following them up to a consolidation stage, nor satisfying two basic requirements for the institutionalization of public policies: the depersonalization of the processes and their independence from the legitimizing resources of those actors who have promoted them (Lanzalaco, 1995).
76The absence of an urban policy in Italy was partially compensated for by the activation of policy transfer processes. From District Contracts to the Zone Franche Urbane, a good part of the area-based programs activated in Italy copy the French Politique de la Ville experience. If a willingness to learn and the activation of policy transfer processes can actually respond to existing policy problems, it can also be that transferring policies from other countries takes the form of a symbolic policy aimed at legitimizing decisions already taken and priorities already established. This can be an obstacle for the development and consolidation of urban policy, since a program can be successful in one context, and fail in a different context where there are different problems.
77The set of critical elements that emerge in the analysis of urban policies enacted in Italy on a national scale shows how an incremental adaptation to the dominant policy paradigms and a persistent condition of fragmentation are their main features. They are composed of a set of courses of action that still do not seem to amount to a coherent and comprehensive policy, which is what would be needed to provide answers to the new problems faced by cities in a global economic age and, even more so, when such an age is in a period of crisis. Recently, the fragmentation of the policy subsystem has been addressed through the establishment within the government the Interministerial Committee for Urban Policy. It is a very recent decision whose outcome is difficult to predict. Furthermore, it can be observed how this Committee is a tool that can be useful for handling fragmentation rather than for reducing it. However, it is a significant indicator of the relevance that the urban question has recently acquired within the political agenda.
78Can area-based programmes, which entail a more important role for municipalities (as the recent National Plan for Cities seems to demonstrate), be the key for a successful urban policy in Italy? It is too early to answer this question. The strong demand for local autonomy, that mirrors a need for a reduction in fragmentation among levels of government, seems to go in this direction. Nor can the importance of the rise in self-organized practices by local authorities be underestimated. However, for the moment, they are indicators of what could be defined as “federalism by default” rather than bottom up policy making.