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The distribution of advanced business services in Northern Italy: towards a polycentric metropolis model?

Luca Garavaglia

Résumés

L’article traite de l'organisation spatiale des services de pointe aux entreprises dans les villes et les systèmes productifs locaux du Nord de l'Italie et analyse leurs nouvelles formes d’inscription dans l’espace des réseaux économiques. L’objectif de l’article est aussi de fournir des preuves empiriques afin de tester l'hypothèse selon laquelle l'Italie du Nord serait devenue une ville-région pleinement intégrée et polycentrique. L'analyse de la répartition et de la densité des services de pointe dans les territoires du nord de l'Italie dessine un scénario de spécialisation territoriale croissante. Non seulement on observe une division du travail et des compétences de plus en plus clairement définies entre les systèmes locaux de production et les systèmes urbains, mais on constate également des différences assez nettes dans les gammes de services offerts par les villes ayant les mêmes caractéristiques socio-économiques. De plus, il existe une relation d’influence mutuelle entre les offres de services aux entreprises des différentes villes du nord de l'Italie. Le texte présente des indices d’une hiérarchie urbaine en matière de services aux entreprises qui transcende les frontières métropolitaines et régionales, et qui trouve sa cohérence à l’échelle de l'Italie du Nord dans son ensemble. Cette hiérarchie intègre Milan qui apparaît comme le premier prestataire de services de pointe, mais aussi de nombreuses villes plus petites qui présentent une offre de services spécialisés qui répond aux besoins des chaînes de production locales et leur permet de rester compétitives au sein de la macro-région.

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1. Northern Italy as a polycentric system

  • 1 Progetto Nord, promoted in 2007 by Fondazione IRSO and coordinated by prof. Paolo Perulli (Universi (...)
  • 2 The configuration of Northern Italy as a city-region is not a new idea. For more than twenty years, (...)

1This essay discusses the spatial organization of advanced business services in Northern Italian territories, analysing the new forms taken by economic networks with the intention of providing evidence to evaluate the research hypothesis describing Northern Italy as a fully integrated city-region, in the form of a polycentric metropolis. This reflection is a result of the research I have undertaken over the last three years for Progetto Nord, a research program organized by Fondazione IRSO of Milan1. With its various lines of inquiry focused on the economy, society and environment of Northern Italy, Progetto Nord has contributed to conceptualizing Northern Italy as a system of interconnected networks spreading over a macro-region of almost 26 million inhabitants (Bagnasco, 2009), according to Scott’s model of global-city regions (1998). Under this perspective2, Northern Italy can be represented as a vast territorial platform embedded in global markets, in which actors of local production systems organize common policies and strategies to efficiently adjust their internal economic and social dynamics, in order to sustain their competitiveness in global markets.

  • 3  EU regional policy DG (Wintjes e Hollanders, 2012) describes most Northern Italian regions (Lombar (...)

2City-regions can be defined as «dense polarized masses of capital, labor, and social life that are bound up in intricate ways in intensifying and far flung extra-national relationships» (Scott 2006); they are agglomerations of highly flexible production systems, capable of quickly reconfiguring themselves in reaction to changes in the market. In Northern Italy one can find all the typical characteristics of city-regions, as outlined by scientific literature; from business services, cultural and professional networks and information production systems to a huge variety of manufacturing sectors3 (contrary to the dominant trend towards the diminishment industrial activities in developed countries: Scott, 1998).

  • 4 These factors contribute to higher welfare levels than in other Italian regions (Demetrio, 2012) an (...)

3In Italian industrial geography, the northern regions are home to the most export-oriented enterprises (including those concerning high-quality “Made in Italy” products: Butera and De Michelis, 2011) as well as the most innovation-oriented enterprises (Lombardy is the eighth European region for R&D expenditures, while Northern Italy as a whole receives the most R&D investments from foreign firms in Italy and collects about 84% of all patents registered in Italy: Butera, 2010)4. The industrial system of Northern Italy is a cluster of production chains that have evolved from industrial districts, mostly composed of very small enterprises (Bagnasco, 1998; Butera, 1990) to trans-territorial, knowledge-based networks (CSS, 2007) in which medium-sized firms (Corò and Micelli, 2006; Coltorti, 2007; Corò and Grandinetti, 2007) are emerging as strategic agencies (Pichierri, 2002), organizing the production chain and providing access to advanced business services and global markets (Gereffi and Bair, 2001; Gereffi, Lee, De Marchi, 2010). Northern regions, in particular Lombardy and Veneto, are home to those leading medium-sized firms playing a pivotal role in industrial innovation (Mediobanca-Unioncamere Report, 2012).

4In a scenario in which trans-territorial networks are becoming more and more important as drivers of economic development and competitiveness, considering the whole of Northern Italy as a city-region allows for an effective representation of the new spatial forms of production chains that came into being after the industrial districts era. The advent of the information economy (Castells, 2000) drastically lowered space-dependent transaction costs (spatial entropy), thus forcing isolated clusters such as the Northern industrial districts to regroup at a larger scale, composing trans-territorial networks connected by flows of workers, information and knowledge benefiting from low transaction costs and agglomeration economies (Scott, 1998). Consequently, local production systems in Northern Italy, each with its own individual characteristics regarding social divisions of labour, technologies, know-how and trust, developed mutual interaction networks made possible by the presence of positive externalities at city-region scale (Scott, 1998), whose competitive strength is stronger than the sum of those of its components.

5Recent research conducted by Roberto Grandinetti for Progetto Nord (Grandinetti et al. 2010) highlighted that small and medium-sized firms in Veneto are no longer limiting their collaboration networks to the local dimension, nor are they completely globalized. Business networks tend to be mostly built at the macro-regional scale, where firms seek and find managerial resources, strategic suppliers of goods and services, competitors or other actors with whom alliances can be made. Thus, Northern Italy emerges as a space of transactions and flows, in which supply chains and innovation platforms are assembled, and labour markets are formed. At this macro-regional layer the knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS) needed to gain access to global markets such as research and development, quality control, marketing, etc (Grandinetti, 2010) become available to enterprise networks. Agencies producing KIBS boost the production and circulation of knowledge (Muller and Zenker, 2001), but first and foremost manage relationships between firms and territories, enabling new levels of collective action in order to create development opportunities.

6KIBS agencies help enterprises in finding partners for innovation, often suggesting synergies between supply chains and between sectors. In Northern Italy, private and public agencies providing services for knowledge and globalization are located near the “best performing” medium-sized firms or, more frequently, in urban areas. Most tertiary activities are concentrated in cities (Grandinetti, 2010), since the vertical disintegration of production processes gave cities important roles as providers of advanced services to the industries of the city-region (Scott, 1998; Perulli, 2010). In Northern Italy the transition from economic systems based on manufacturing to systems focused on knowledge took place through a strengthening of urban functions (CSS, 2007).The cities became engines of growth (Cipolletta, 2005) through the development of advanced business services that were previously internalized in large enterprises (management control, marketing, design, finance, etc.).

  • 5 The "3T" model about creativity in the city (Florida, 2003) emphasized the role of social and cultu (...)

7The competitiveness of cities is determined by the density of services, knowledge and activities in the urban core, which allow enterprises to take advantage of scalar economies in services and to access networks dedicated to product specialization and the dissemination of technology. This is what happens for the “design district” of Milan, bound by strong synergies to manufacturing industries throughout all of Northern Italy (Bertola, Sangiorgi and Simonelli, 2002). Enterprises are also attracted to cities by the presence of proximity networks generated by populations of knowledge workers who concentrate in the urban area (Butera et al., 2008; Bonomi, 2012). Those networks can create contamination, allow fast circulation of new ideas and concepts, and support creativity (Tinagli and Florida, 2005)5.

8In the current scenario of pervasive territorial competition, the consistency of the services offered to business networks by cities is greater than the one generated by local production systems, since in order to gain full access to cities’ services, a certain amount of knowledge about the specific urban system and its actors is required (Calafati, 2009). This necessity generates territorial loyalty in economic actors, as determined by the time and costs required to learn how to organize activities and networks in the individual socio-economical milieu of each city. As a result, the variety of services offered by Northern Italian cities (even by the smaller ones) is very wide, being the historical result of the interaction between the city center and peripheral production systems.

  • 6  Milan is home to 42% of all MNE’s offices in Italy; nearly 3.000 multinational companies with abou (...)

9In Northern Italy’s urban hierarchies the undisputed nodal role of Milan comes to the fore (Magatti, 2005; Ciborra, 2005). Milan is the main gateway for exchange with global networks. Its stature as a global city (Sassen, 1991), highlighted by the studies of Taylor on global business services networks (world city network: Taylor 2004), is defined not only by the abundance of multinational companies6 or by institutions such as the Stock Exchange and the Fair, but also by the presence of advanced business services related to finance, innovation and knowledge, tightly integrated into a large production platform connected to global markets (Bonomi, 2012).

10This differentiates Milan from the other Italian global city, Rome. In his latest study on dyadic relationships among cities, Taylor (2012) pointed out that Milan is more connected on a global scale than Rome, because of its superior offer of financial and accounting services and its strong ties with North American and Far East productive systems. Rome on the other hand offers some global services such as consulting and advertising, and networks dedicated to national and international political functions.

11The presence of a global city which is a concentration of many functions related to globalization should not lead to the underestimation of the role of the other urban centers of Northern Italy. The macro-region is characterized by the presence of a great number of urban nodes (Turri, 2000), each one with its individual specializations in business service activities, strongly linked to local manufacturing systems, granting a widespread delivery of advanced services to production. Turri describes Northern Italy as a single, enormous city, where boundaries once existing between urban nodes have dissolved as a result of transformations occurring in the second half of the twentieth century, when growing interpenetrations of flows between territories led to an "explosion of spaces" (Lefebvre, 1979), melding the cities in the macro-region into a single interconnected system, spreading from Turin to the Adriatic Sea. In fact, Northern Italy can be described as a polycentric metropolis, according to the concept proposed by Hall and Pain (2006a; 2006b, 2008), who described city-regions as clusters of towns (usually numbering between 10 and 50) which share the same functional network and gather around one or more larger central cities, which ensures the presence of advanced services for global competition.

12Polycentric metropolises are at once spaces of competition and cooperation, in which complex economic dynamics unravel and several scales of government coexist (infra-municipal, provincial, district, regional, etc.). It is a phenomenon initially observed in Asia, but also typical of many European urban regions: the South-East of England, the Randstad, Central Belgium, Rhine/Ruhr, Rhine-Main, Northern Switzerland, the Paris region, the Greater Dublin area etc. (Brenner, 1999; Hall, Pain and Green 2006).

13The polycentric metropolis model enables the focalization on a further element of specificity of Northern Italy. If global cities are defined by their external networks, polycentric metropolises are instead defined by the internal ones: they are located in great city-regions where flows of people and information are concentrated, drawing their strength from the new functional division of labour in space that connects urban nodes and local industrial systems in a dense web of relations (Gilson, Sabel and Scott, 2009). At this territorial dimension, enterprises find the critical mass of business networks and advanced business services they need to access global markets, but at the same time retain the ability to maintain direct, strong connections (at negligible costs) with their partners, as in industrial district networks.

14Therefore, to understand Northern Italy’s dynamics as a polycentric metropolis, we must map and analyse the connections linking urban systems with trans-territorial production systems. Those business networks, thanks to the high density of physical, organizational and ITC infrastructures, are able to distribute their local offices (management and control offices, financial offices, industrial facilities, etc.) anywhere in the macro-region (Taylor, Evans, Pain 2006, Taylor, Evans, Pain, 2008; Feltrin et al, 2010). De facto, the governance of internal flows in the polycentric metropolis is largely defined by business and corporate networks, rather than by the state’s administration hierarchies (Hall, Pain 2006a).

15In the following pages I will try to provide some evidence to support the hypothesis that Northern Italy is a polycentric metropolis, by investigating the spatial distribution of specializations regarding advanced business services, including all knowledge-intensive service activities. A representation of the availability of advanced services in Northern Italy will be discussed, in order to identify the functions for which the territories are more, or perhaps less synchronized. Appropriate territorial dimensions for projects and policies aimed at growth and innovation of governance-demanding, trans-territorial supply chains (Bagnasco, 2009) will also be defined.

2. Advanced business services in Northern Italian metropolitan areas and medium-sized cities

  • 7  Tertiary specializations were identified according to the ATECO 2007 categorization, with data for (...)

16The data available in national and regional archives on the distribution of advanced business services (design, advertising, research and development, ICT, management consulting and accounting, financial assets, logistics, etc.: Perulli and Garavaglia 2010) in Northern Italy only provides information about the presence of employees and local units of enterprises. During Progetto Nord’s research activities, data was collected for over thirty tertiary specializations7 and compared to data regarding resident population and active population, thus obtaining density indexes for each metropolitan area, for each urban area and for each industrial district of Northern Italy.

17This data allowed us to map the territorial distribution of a wide range of tertiary activities in urban centers and in local production systems of Northern Italy. In the past, similar studies were compiled for individual cities, but never extensively over a macro-regional dimension. The territorial unit chosen for analysis was the Local Labour System, defined by ISTAT (Italian National Statistic Institute) in order to encompass most of the commuter flows generated by local systems. This layer ignores administrative (provincial or regional) boundaries and gives prominence to the extension of flows of people, knowledge and creativity, allowing researchers to accurately identify the area of direct influence of an urban center on its hinterland.

  • 8 All 266 local labor systems of Northern Italy have been analysed, with up to 34 tertiary activities (...)
  • 9 The identification of metropolitan systems adopted in this essay has been determined according to t (...)

18Data elaboration produced a topology of the distribution of advanced business services in Northern Italy, with a significant level of territorial detail for individual specializations.However, this essay is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion of the huge amount of information collected and processed8: a partial synthesis is displayed in Table 1, which presents, for all metropolitan centers of Northern Italy9, density indicators regarding clusters of tertiary activities that are strategically relevant to the spatial organization of production described as compared to the values recorded in Milan, which presents the highest density for almost all the activities observed. To provide an example of the information collected about smaller urban systems, Table 2 gathers indicators of density of the same activities in all the cities of Emilia-Romagna.

19Since the available data only gives information about the presence of local business units and employees, with no reference to the characteristics of the enterprises (organization, division of tasks and roles, financial results), evidence produced by the analysis cannot be more than circumstantial, and tells us nothing about the actual jobs carried out by workers, nor about the level of specialization of service activities. It is nonetheless possible to deduct some findings from the comparison of aggregated territorial data:

2.1 Business services are mostly concentrated in urban areas

20According to available data, the highest density of business services and advanced tertiary activities is found in urban systems: the bigger the city, the higher the density. Business services of a more standardized type (computer services, accounting and management, legal services, entertainment activities, cultural services) are widely spread in all urban centers, even in medium and small-sized centres. ”Rare" services (design, financial assets, trade fairs, advertising, market research, ICT) demonstrate a greater degree of regional selectivity, being allocated almost exclusively in urban centers and major metropolitan areas. Most of those “rare” services are characterized by high contents of knowledge and/or creativity. The availability of such services in the local system depends strictly on the capacity of the territory to train specialized professionals (due to the presence of universities and higher education centers) and to ensure the presence of a "critical mass" of knowledge workers supporting the circulation of information through professional and relational networks, as well as the generation or the attraction of knowledge-focused enterprises. Rural and alpine areas have very little infrastructure to support business services, while the industrial districts (85 local labour systems out of a total of 266) can claim some expertise in service activities closely related to production and management (informatics, logistics, business administration, personnel recruitment) but for all other business service specializations their capacities are significantly lower than those recorded in urban areas.

2.2 The metropolis of Milan provides services for globalization to the whole of Northern Italy

  • 10 Thanks to its Borsa Valori (Stock Exchange), Milan is one of the five financial markets in Europe: (...)

21Data on business services distribution endorses and highlights the role of Milan as first supplier of advanced business services to the entire macro-region: The presence of those activities in Milan is significantly larger, both in absolute terms and in relative density, than in all other metropolitan and urban centers (see Table 1: the only exception is the cluster of activities related to research and development, for which the highest density –but not the highest presence of enterprises and workers- is recorded in Trieste). Milan is a hub of most of the crucial functions needed to access global markets (financial services, management consulting, ICT, advertising, design, etc.). The concentration of banking and financial services is very high, making Milan the only city in Northern Italy to boast a significant presence of back-office services such as monetary intermediation, management of mutual funds, administration of financial markets and holding activities of financial groups10.

22This is also true for the cluster of services related to the information society: telecommunications, publishing, audio and video production, and software production. The density of employees and companies registered in the Local Labour System of Milan is twice the average value of other major metropolitan areas. In these activities, the densification of knowledge workers (Butera et al., 2008) in Milan reaches a “critical mass” allowing the organization of dense professional networks. The same happens for the design system, whose networks are embedded in institutions such as the Triennale, the Salone del Mobile, the Polytechnic and, in an informal way, in city spaces dedicated to socialization and leisure, in online forums and virtual spaces, and in open associations (such as the network of Esterni), offering a wide range of mainstream and underground events dedicated to design and its applications (Bertola, Sangiorgi and Simonelli, 2002).

23This is a further confirmation of the role of Milan as a world-city and as the main globalization platform for the whole macro-region, a concept that was already pinpointed by Taylor (Taylor, 2004; Taylor, 2012). All production chains operating in Northern Italy look to Milan when they have to find and organize the rare services needed to enter and compete in international markets, while in secondary urban centres they find more common services, synergic to the characteristics of the local production system. For more advanced business service functions, Milan’s competitors are not the cities of Northern Italy, but other global cities.

2.3 Northern Italian cities and metropolitan areas show strong specializations in specific business services activities

24Another relevant aspect in the analysis of the spatial organization of economic functions in Northern Italy is related to the degree of differentiation in urban availability of advanced business services.

25In the absence of more refined indicators, the comparison of local availability of knowledge-intensive business services gives a rough but effective image of the capacity of Northern Italy’s cities to represent themselves as embedded in a localized system of flows and thus to organize their business services in complementarity with those of other urban or metropolitan areas.

  • 11 Verona is historically the link between the Po Valley and Northern Europe, and is the main logistic (...)
  • 12  AREA Science Park, founded in 1978, is the first multisectoral S&T park in Italy, now counting 2,3 (...)
  • 13 Turin enforced research activities in high-tech sectors with its Strategic Plan (Rosso, 2005) and w (...)

26We found strong evidence in favour of a high degree of specialization in cities. This is valid for metropolitan areas, but also for medium-sized cities and even for the smallest urban areas: Bologna in creativity-focused activities (advertising, design, media); Verona in logistics11 and finance; Trieste12 and Turin13 in research activities; Padua in accounting and management services; Vicenza in business administration; Genoa, Piacenza and Novara in logistics; the metropolitan area of Veneto and the "metropolis of the Via Emilia" in trade fairs, etc. This is evidence of the existence of a coordination of the availability of services, composing a cohesive mosaic in which local service ranges tend to be integrated, rather than redundant.

27This coordination is often evident in emerging metropolitan areas, where previously independent urban systems are merging (Feltrin et al., 2010). Within these areas, the specialization of urban nodes in selected ranges of activities is more evident, and duplications in local business services are very rare. The strongest expression of these dynamics in Northern Italy can be found within the metropolitan area of Milan, where the availability of advanced business services from the metropolitan core is superior to that of all other cities. The cities located in proximity to Milan, such as Varese, Como, Monza, Pavia, Lodi in Lombardy, Novara and Vercelli in Piedmont, either show a very weak presence of most rare business services needed to access global services and markets or present specializations in just a narrow range of activities. The further from the core we go, the more rare business services gradually reappear. An example can be observed comparing the cities of Bergamo and Brescia, whose advanced business services are similar in numbers (presence of firms and employees), but very different in range: Brescia, which is further from Milan, is characterized by a much wider range of functions, also providing services that firms from Bergamo, which is closer to the metropolitan core and more embedded in its economic networks, retrieve instead in Milan. Brescia is certainly coordinating in some way with nearby urban centers, but it seems to be oriented towards Verona (especially for logistic services) rather than towards the cities of western Lombardy (Perulli and Garavaglia 2006; Perulli and Garavaglia, 2010).

28The other major metropolitan areas of Northern Italy are governed by similar dynamics: in Veneto, Padua is home to a concentration of advanced functions dedicated to education, research, information society, accounting, and managerial and legal services, while Venice contributes to the system with its specialization in cultural services, professional conferences and tourist services. Treviso, industrial node of the emerging Veneto metropolitan system, has a secondary role and depends on Padua and Venice for most business services, which indicates a growing complementarity between the offers of advanced services of the two cities (Perulli and Garavaglia, 2010).

29Between cities along the Via Emilia the duplication of tertiary functions is more common (see Table 2). Nevertheless, local peaks of density in some advanced service activities are emerging, counterbalanced by low densities in other cities nearby: design activities and leisure activities are concentrated in Modena, management services in Reggio-Emilia, and cultural activities in Parma. So far, the merging of a metropolitan system connecting these cities has not received any governance guide from urban or regional actors and the integration of urban offers of advanced business services is limited to the strongest, most important functions of each individual city. Local concentration of a limited range of tertiary activities is probably more a response to the growing influence of Bologna, geographically adjacent, than the result of cooperation/competition dynamics between the medium-sized cities of the Via Emilia. It is still uncertain if the integration of flows and functions in that area will evolve in an autonomous metropolitan system, strongly linked to local industrial districts in order to produce an offer of business services alternative to the one generated by Bologna, or instead, if the regional capital’s influence will prevail, relegating other cities in the area to serving positions, at least in terms of the offer of advanced and rare services.

2.4 The regional layer is relevant in shaping the spatial distribution of advanced business services

30The analysis of the spatial distribution of tertiary activities in Northern Italy’s Local Labour Systems highlights significant differences between regions, especially regarding business services whose availability requires public policies of supra-local scale,such as in high-tech districts (Trigilia, 2005). This is the case for Research and Development activities: while in Veneto these types of functions are highly concentrated in a very limited number of Local Labour Systems (the largest cities: Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Venice), in Emilia-Romagna they are spread among most cities and industrial districts, including non-urban territories. The latter model could have been crucially influenced by the regional policies produced by the Emilia-Romagna Region to sustain local production systems; policies that led to the organization of research centers and networks dedicated to industrial district and agro-food clusters, and to the construction of a system of incentives for innovation (Ciciotti et al., 2010). Regional policies for Research and Technology Development are aimed toward centralization in Friuli-Venezia Giulia (R&D activities huddle in Trieste, where the AREA Science Park is located), in Trentino Alto-Adige (the main research pole is in the Trento Local Labour System, strongly linked with the University of Trento) and in Piemont. In this last case, regional planning (Conti and Salone, 2011) has enabled the concentration of advanced research activities in Torino but, in the meantime, it has also identified areas of local excellence in production through the creation of research centers dedicated to local specializations in all quadrants of the region.

31Policies from the regional layer are also very relevant when the spatial distribution of logistics and exhibition services is considered, since those activities require a great investment in infrastructures, usually provided by public actors or by public-private partnerships. The localization of logistics services is strongly influenced by regional choices. In Piedmont, the regional government plays a leading role in logistics, by investing in infrastructures and planning, as well as by acquiring shares of the companies administrating inland hubs, with the objective of sustaining the organization of logistic clusters in Novara and Alessandria, along EU Corridor 24 Genoa-Rotterdam. The fair-exhibition system presents different regional models: some regions are focused on a single city , as it is for Milan in Lombardy, and for Turin in Piedmont, while some others share exhibition events between cities (Corò, 2010).

3. Scenario perspectives: emergence of hierarchies and alliances

32The analysis of the distribution and density of advanced business services in Northern Italy describes a scenario of growing specialization. Not only is the division of responsibilities between production systems and urban systems clearly defined, but there are also great differences in the range of services offered by cities with similar socio-economic characteristics. We found indications of the presence of urban hierarchies exceeding metropolitan and regional boundaries, and affecting the whole of Northern Italy. This occurs in Milan, which emerges as the first provider of advanced business services, with a secondary node in Bologna and a number of minor nodes specialized in a narrow range of activities (Torino, Verona, Padova-Venezia, Genova, Trieste, Trento, Brescia, Rimini). These hierarchies are still under consolidation, they are unclear in their extension and intensity and also very vulnerable to the changes taking place in the flows of goods, people, information and knowledge in the macro-region. The new high-speed railway connecting the cities of Turin, Milan, Bologna, Florence and Rome will certainly play a role in strengthening the interdependence on that axis, and will contribute to the re-design of urban hierarchies in the "metropolis of the Via Emilia" and in all North-Western territories.

33In particular, we observe the emergence of interdependencies between urban offers, showing the presence of systemic relations (mostly generated by business networks) at macro-regional scale. While Milan is the strongest force in this system, its influence is not pervasive to all Northern Italy, since an enormous variety of smaller cities play a crucial role in providing customized services catering to the particular needs of local production systems. Northern Italian local systems are mutually adjusting their offers of advanced business services, forming an '"archipelago economy", (Veltz, 1996) rich in horizontal networks both within the macro-region and with global value chains and markets. This happens according to a complex, loosely regulated model that is yet to be investigated.

34We see a scenario of a polycentric metropolis (Hall e Pain 2006a; 2008), characterized by a high elasticity in response to changes in markets and in production geometries. Smaller cities are not required to provide rare services, which business networks can already find in the major metropolitan centers, and tend to specialize instead in a limited number of business services that respond to the needs of their own local system. The great variety of business services, provided by a plethora of cities in Northern Italy, helps reduce diseconomies and enables the creation of agglomeration economies (Scott, 1998). New assemblages (Sassen, 2008) are being forged between systems previously unsynchronized, both in metropolitan areas and in smaller cities:

  • On the Milan-Turin axis, two cities recently connected by a high-speed railway that facilitates fast commuting flows, we witness experiments of coordination between the two metropolitan nodes in the fields of formation and research with growing integration between Polytechnic universities, in culture and entertainment, and in the production of local collective competition goods and KIBS (project MiTo, promoted by the Chambers of Commerce). The city of Turin is struggling to integrate its offer of services with Milan, whose sphere of influence already extends across Eastern Piedmont,, affirming its role as a center specialized in high-tech research and knowledge production.

  • In the metropolitan area of central Veneto, in which a growing integration of urban functions is taking place in business services (Perulli, 2010), urban and regional governments are designing policies to regulate the interdependencies between Padua, Venice and Treviso. The area is the subject of major infrastructural projects which ease the flows of goods and people, like the new highway junction near Venice, the SFMR - metropolitan railway system, or the new train station of San Lazzaro in Padua, which is intended to be the main gateway for fast connection with Venice (Feltrin et al, 2010; Perullli, 2010).

  • On the border between Lombardy and Veneto, in the “Adigarda” metropolis (Carbognin et al., 2004) encompassing Verona, Brescia, Trento, Mantova and Vicenza, the sharing of dense business networks and the presence of huge mobility flows between cities (commuters, metropolitan businessmen, tourists) are leading to a specialization of urban centers in terms of services offered. Verona focuses on logistics, financial and health activities, Trieste on research, and Brescia on business services. Experiments of governance have been undertaken in the area to organize metropolitan relations between cities and to build common strategies for socio-economic development, as in the case of the project “Rete di Città” (Perulli and Garavaglia, 2006).

  • Along the Via Emilia a progressive, spontaneous syncronization of business services is taking place, forged by centripetal tensions towards Bologna and by cooperation/competition dynamics between minor cities and industrial districts. The outcome of this process will certainly be influenced by the growing integration of the offers of advanced globalization services between Milan and Bologna.

  • On the Adriatic coastline, in the new emerging metropolis that has its center in Rimini but for some functions already extends to Ravenna, superior urban functions are being synchronized between the different urban nodes, especially regarding fairs, tourist services and leisure services but also in knowledge and research systems.

  • Thanks to strong local and regional policies for the development of R&D activities, Trento and Trieste focused on knowledge-intensive functions to climb the urban hierarchies of the city-region. Their influence, for a limited range of functions related to research and innovation, is extended far beyond regional boundaries and encompasses the whole of Northern Italy. Similar processes of urban specialization are organizing themselves all over the city-region, even at sub-regional scale.

  • All over Northern Italy, the reorganization of trans-territorial value chains is influencing the subdivision of roles and functions and consequently the offers of business services between cities and between industrial districts specialized in similar or complementary activities. An example lies in the growing synchronization of advanced business services and local collective competition goods between Local Labour Systems in the agri-food value chains regarding cities in Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto (CSS, 2011).

35The polycentric structure of Northern Italy presents strong regulatory issues, in order to reduce the negative effects of territorial competition (Brosio, 1999). The competition in the system is both horizontal (between local systems, competing for the top positions in urban hierarchies and value chains) and vertical (between government layers, to define the very context in which the competition takes place). Different forms and layers of governance coexist, and sometimes collide, in polycentric metropolises, their strength and influence depending mainly on the ability to promote development and to adjust social and economic tensions.

36Informal regulatory models generated by trans-territorial business networks seem to be predominant in Northern Italy, while regulation by public actors is certainly difficult to establish, due to the vastness of the area and the high number of government layers involved. The national layer is not very active in the search for efficient governance forms dedicated to the Northern Italian polycentric metropolis, and so far has not produced a strategy to sustain the competitiveness of that system. Also Regional governments, even with the new functions and resources granted by the recent reform of Part V of the Italian Constitution (Dallara and Rizzi 2005), have made no effort to regulate inter-regional dynamics and networks. There is no sign of regional directorate forms (Scott, 1998) with enough legitimacy, independence and resources to provide efficient regulation to the competition between cities and territories in the macro-region.

  • 14  In Italy, despite a long debate (Rotelli, 1999), a legislation on metropolitan areas is still lack (...)

37Nevertheless, even in the absence of institutional pathways14 and dedicated resources, bottom-up experiments of coordination between local systems are common in Northern Italy. Their promoters are local governments, and, increasingly, institutional brokers (Tajani, 2010) such as chambers of commerce, associations representing enterprises and workers, and KIBS agencies (Grandinetti, 2010). Polyarchies dominating Northern cities (Calafati, 2009) are fully aware that their advantages in the territorial competition within the polycentric metropolis are not only defined by local economic factors, but also by the social, political and scalar milieu of the macro-region (Brenner 2004), and by the quality and density of the trans-territorial networks. Therefore, they recognize the need to organize new geographies of territorial governance in order to protect and enhance those competitive advantages (Ercole, 1998). This occurs at all urban dimensions: metropolitan cities seek to strengthen their dominant position in hierarchies, while medium-sized cities look for allies to reach the critical mass needed to constitute a node in the socio-economic fabric of the city-region. Urban and local coalitions negotiate common strategies on a trans-territorial scale to define new development paths for economic actors, to attract new functions, and to rationalize the efforts for the production of local collective competition goods for the business networks acting across Northern Italy. These strategies, ultimately, aim to widen the geographical reach (Beauregard 1995) of the local system.

38Such processes are re-shaping the internal, external, hierarchical and functional boundaries of local systems in Northern Italy, generating new alliances between cities and local production systems intended to sustain competitiveness both within the polycentric metropolis and in global networks. These alliances are often weakly structured, and since they lack dedicated resources or governing powers they are heavily dependent on political choices. In most cases they are not able to generate and sustain long-lasting strategies or effective interventions. However, they constitute original experiments of organizing logics (Sassen 2008) trying to design new institutional assemblages in a macro-region where the scalar power of the State is not able to reduce spatial conflicts.

39Local policies extended to trans-territorial scale are mostly intended to facilitate the flow of information and knowledge, to attract enterprises or to help the existing ones to survive and grow. For most cities, this implies the re-organization of their offer of business, formation and cultural services. Yet, these policies are also proposing “new strategic visions” (Pasqui, 2005) to local actors, building a proper framework for the circulation of trust and encouraging the organization of trans-territorial networks capable of developing “glocal” business strategies.

Table 1) Advanced services in Northern Italian metropolitan areas: density of workers (presence of workers / resident population), compared to the values of Milan (Milan = 1)

Table 1) Advanced services in Northern Italian metropolitan areas: density of workers (presence of workers / resident population), compared to the values of Milan (Milan = 1)

Values in the table express density in service activities as a % of the density recorded in Milan
Values in red indicate the highest density for each activity (not counting Milan’s values)

Source: our on ISTAT and regional data, 2009.

Table 2 - Advanced services in urban Local Labour Systems of Emilia-Romagna: density of workers (workers / resident population), compared to regional average values (Emilia-Romagna = 1)

Table 2 - Advanced services in urban Local Labour Systems of Emilia-Romagna: density of workers (workers / resident population), compared to regional average values (Emilia-Romagna = 1)

Empty cells express a density (workers / resident population) lower than the regional average value.
Values in black express a density /(workers / resident population) higher than the regional average value
Values in red express a density (workers / resident population) higher than twice the regional average value

Source: our elaboration on ISTAT and regional data, 2009.

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Notes

1 Progetto Nord, promoted in 2007 by Fondazione IRSO and coordinated by prof. Paolo Perulli (University of East Piedmont) is a research program analysing Northern Italy as a “network of networks” and studying internal interdependencies among businesses, institutions, service systems, and knowledge systems (Perulli and Pichierri, 2010; Conti, 2010; Perulli, 2010; Perulli, 2012).

2 The configuration of Northern Italy as a city-region is not a new idea. For more than twenty years, scholars and researchers have been studying the interactions between Northern Italian territories (Fondazione Agnelli, 1992; CSS, 2007; Perulli and Pichierri, 2010), local production systems (Bonomi, 1997; Berta, 2007), urban forms (Turri 2000), endowments of territorial capital (Camagni and Dotti, 2010), peculiar enterprise models (Butera and De Michelis, 2011), urban development models (Turri, 2000), the particular balance between the economy, society and environment (Ciciotti, 2010).

3  EU regional policy DG (Wintjes e Hollanders, 2012) describes most Northern Italian regions (Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Emilia-Romagna) as Skilled technology regions (the exception lies in the Provincia Autonoma di Trento, recognized as one of the regional “public knowledge centres” thanks to its high Research and Technology Development capacity).

4 These factors contribute to higher welfare levels than in other Italian regions (Demetrio, 2012) and characterize Northern Italy as one of the European regions with a greater presence of wealth (Eurostat data, 2008), together with Benelux, the vast region from Austria to West Germany and the major metropolitan areas of Paris and London.

5 The "3T" model about creativity in the city (Florida, 2003) emphasized the role of social and cultural aspects in supporting the competitiveness of urban economies. The analysis of advanced business services presented in this article shows an echo of these issues with the analysis of data regarding the density of cultural and entertainment activities in Northern Italy cities and local systems.

6  Milan is home to 42% of all MNE’s offices in Italy; nearly 3.000 multinational companies with about 320.000 employees are located in the city. These companies not only operate in the service industry, but also in high-tech manufacturing activities in the chemical, pharmaceutical, electronics and mechanics sectors (Onida, 2007)

7  Tertiary specializations were identified according to the ATECO 2007 categorization, with data for the year 2009(latest available data).

8 All 266 local labor systems of Northern Italy have been analysed, with up to 34 tertiary activities listed for each of them. Readers can find additional information on regional services distribution in the volumes produced by Progetto Nord (Conti, 2010; Perulli, 2010; Perulli e Garavaglia, 2010). Moreover, extensive research results have been published for all Local Labor Systems of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, while for other regions only data regarding major cities (over 50.000 inhabitants), provincial capital cities and industrial districts have been collected so far.

9 The identification of metropolitan systems adopted in this essay has been determined according to the studies of Paolo Feltrin for Progetto Nord (Feltrin et al., 2010). Metropolitan areas in Northern Italy are highly variable in size, sometimes including more than one Local Labour System: this is what happens in the "metropolis of the Via Emilia", extended from Parma to Modena and Reggio and connected to the adjoining metropolitan area of Bologna.

10 Thanks to its Borsa Valori (Stock Exchange), Milan is one of the five financial markets in Europe: the Local Labour System of Milan hosts the offices of 125 banks, of which 55 represent international groups (ABI data, 2012) and a much greater number of companies engaged in financial activities (data for year 2009 count 1.883 local units and more than 44.000 employees in banking activities, and 3.995 local units of other financial services – without counting insurance activities). Recently, mergers of some of the greatest Italian banks (in Milan, it is worth mentioning at least Unicredit Group and Intesa San Paolo) led to an even greater concentration of banking functions on the node of Milan (similar mergers are also responsible for the high density of financial assets in Verona, home of the Cassa di Risparmio di Verona group). Besides this, an increasing role of small local banks, often joined in federated networks, has also been observed (Corò, 2010) in providing credit and financial services to local production systems.

11 Verona is historically the link between the Po Valley and Northern Europe, and is the main logistic area for goods transiting through the Brennero Pass (the busiest alpine pass, with 39.1 mil. tons of traffic in 2011; database Confetra, 2012).

12  AREA Science Park, founded in 1978, is the first multisectoral S&T park in Italy, now counting 2,306 employees (56% of which are directly involved in research), 67 companies and 21 research centers. AREA has developed networking activities, with nearly 350 partners from 33 countries, and helped to the production of more than 1400 patents in the last ten years (database AREA, 2012). AREA is active at the regional scale (Friuli Venezia-Giulia) as a provider of KIBS for local production systems, due to his Innovation Network, a network of centers specialized in technology transfer to SMEs.

13 Turin enforced research activities in high-tech sectors with its Strategic Plan (Rosso, 2005) and with the creation of S&T parks in the metropolitan area.

14  In Italy, despite a long debate (Rotelli, 1999), a legislation on metropolitan areas is still lacking. Metropolitan areas were first established by law n. 142/1990 and, later, by law n. 45/2009, but those provisions had no implementation. Recently, law n.135/2012 recognized Turin, Milan, Venice, Genoa, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Bari and Naples as metropolitan areas, and disposed the activation of local governments dedicated to that dimension (as well as the abrogation of the Province institute in those areas), but it is still uncertain if this reform will effectively take place and when.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1) Advanced services in Northern Italian metropolitan areas: density of workers (presence of workers / resident population), compared to the values of Milan (Milan = 1)
Légende Values in the table express density in service activities as a % of the density recorded in MilanValues in red indicate the highest density for each activity (not counting Milan’s values)
Crédits Source: our on ISTAT and regional data, 2009.
URL http://metropoles.revues.org/docannexe/image/4889/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 312k
Titre Table 2 - Advanced services in urban Local Labour Systems of Emilia-Romagna: density of workers (workers / resident population), compared to regional average values (Emilia-Romagna = 1)
Légende Empty cells express a density (workers / resident population) lower than the regional average value. Values in black express a density /(workers / resident population) higher than the regional average valueValues in red express a density (workers / resident population) higher than twice the regional average value
Crédits Source: our elaboration on ISTAT and regional data, 2009.
URL http://metropoles.revues.org/docannexe/image/4889/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 299k
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Référence électronique

Luca Garavaglia, « The distribution of advanced business services in Northern Italy: towards a polycentric metropolis model? », Métropoles [En ligne], 14 | 2014, mis en ligne le 24 juin 2014, consulté le 28 mars 2017. URL : http://metropoles.revues.org/4889

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Auteur

Luca Garavaglia

Post-doc fellow, Università del Piemonte Orientale, Dipartimento di Giurisprudenza, Scienze Politiche Economiche e Sociali, DIGSPES.
luca.garavaglia@sp.unipmn.it

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