Urban planning in Italy: why we must design to retain our communities

Senior architect Vittorio Caponetto, a specialist in urban regeneration, outlines how cities in Italy are changing, and how architects must rise to the challenge to design for vibrancy and quality of life, to retain our urban communities.

Urban communities are changing in Italy

Uncertainty has increased, both from a work and social point of view, as numerous changes have taken place, from the pandemic to the economic and war crises.

Today, in Italy, most people see the purchasing power of their wages reduced compared to that of previous generations. For younger generations, it is hard to save money. The concept of homeownership is diminishing. In large cities, such as Milan or Rome, the price of properties remains high. Social housing interventions are increasing.

Technological development also makes it possible to work remotely. Therefore, the number of people who are choosing to leave the city is growing. They are relocating to places in which there is a greater possibility of living in cheaper homes and being closer to nature.

Many young workers also know that the prospect of a secure job is an almost impossible goal. Many are moving overseas to pursue alternative careers. For this reason, renting, rather than buying a property, is a way for them to manage their lives more flexibly.

People of all generations are leaving the city. What must we do to make the urban environment more attractive?

Strategies for urban planners to consider:

More rental options for the younger generation

One option for the main cities in Italy is to model new developments on the student accommodation formula. Unfortunately, this still won’t be accessible to everyone, in economic terms, but considering controlled rents in cities like Milan might make renting in the city more achievable.

Spaces can be redesigned to blur the boundaries between work and leisure. Communal areas can be created in kitchens, living rooms, study rooms and conference rooms. There can be areas for leisure and sport. Architects can plan multi-functional buildings to act as homes, offices and places of recreation at the same time.

Make the city more ‘green’

Sustainability today must include embracing a different way of working, devising incentives to undertake smart working or co-working and increasing the focus on wellbeing.

Architects need to consider the use of local ma­terials by breaking down the distance that supplies need to travel, therefore reducing C02. In the longer term, the value of local craftsmanship needs to return to the centre.

Urban planners must promote actions that conserve energy and build climate and emergency resilience.

To improve air quality, the development of sustainable mobi­lity must be consolidated, promoting the increased use of transport such as bicycles, scoo­ters and electric motorcycles, and sharing schemes. We must limit, to the point of abandoning, fossil fuels, and re­duce the number of times that we are forced into city traffic, remaining unproducti­ve, unsatisfied and stressed.

15-minute city principals

It is important to rediscover the ‘neighbourhood’ dimension of the city, making sure that every resident has access to almost all services within a 15-minute walking distance.

In the 15-minute city, we have to embrace a lifestyle of proximity, imagining cities as suitable for pedestrians and forgetting the idea of car usage as the main way to move from one place to another.

Public transport

Urban planners must manage the movement of people around the city and distribute the journeys throughout the day, combining this organisation with an enhancement of light mobility. People’s flow can be managed rationally by reorganising working times and encouraging hybrid working between the office and at home.

Public transport, pedestrian and cycle routes and electric mobility are tools already in place. Under current building environmental design goals, which involve reducing the use of cars and implementing eco-friendly transport, the buildings will include the construction of bicycle racks and parking spaces reserved for green vehicles. The sharing of cars and bicycles will be provided in the vicinity of the residences.

Public transport and light mobility can be encouraged by identifying fast routes dedicated only to buses, bikes and electric scooters, separated from car traffic.


Aware of the close relationship between architectural design and space management, urban planners will need to implement actions to strengthen the urban space against decay and crime. A well-designed and well-maintained place is a place to feel safe.

Increase the vitality of spaces

Vitality requires different types of people who use and share spaces throughout the day. This implies considering the different functions in order to have a rich and lively environment, avoiding conflicts of use.

Create/strengthen the sense of belonging

The feeling of "owning" a place can increase the excitement of using it and, more importantly, taking care of it, making the place more resistant to crime and fear of crime.

In support of each new development project, there should be a diagnosis of the security profile of the area and a preliminary risk assessment activity, starting from the reading of the relationships and urban factors that can contribute to increasing the safety of the urban space itself.

An assessment of the propensity for urban security should take into account the relationship between urban space and its functions. Mapping the security level of the area in the current state must be provided, selecting specific territorial indicators - georeferenced parameters, which can be represented in geographical form (GIS software) referring to the morphological, functional and the use characteristics of the area; subsequently, maps of the safety level of the area will be produced to simulate the safety profile achieved in different scenarios/design alternatives.

Case study: Barcelona

Over the border in Spain, Salvador Rueda founded and directs the Urban Ecology Agency. To improve the quality of life for its residents, he has devised a revolutionary ‘Urban Mobility Plan’ to change the city and the way it is lived by people, alongside a green infrastructure plan that will be implemented throughout the metropolitan city.

These plans started to be rolled out in 2014. The audacious goal is to change the way inhabitants move, freeing up more and more space in favour of pedestrians and non-motorised transport. Many potential activities can take place in these liberated and recaptured spaces.

There are nine urban blocks, the perimeter of each becoming the system for fast transport and public networks, while the interior is intended for the exclusive use of residents, pedestrians and bicycles.

Inside these blocks, the speed of vehicles is reduced to 10 km per hour on a single lane.

Case study: Milan

Milan, along with Turin, was the largest industrial area in Italy until the 1980s. Relocation policies have led to the progressive abandonment of large areas of the city.

The urban planning strategies of the last decades have therefore concentrated on recovering the abandoned areas rather than on carrying out new urban expansions.

Chapman Taylor is working inside a masterplan within Milan that includes the largest social housing intervention in Italy and a development of mixed functions, including a science and art district.

The recovery of this former slaughterhouse is today the largest urban sustainable regeneration project in the city.

Case study: Arese

We created a new masterplan concept for Arese, just outside Milan.

A completely new neighbourhood, where you can live, work and enjoy leisure activities. A place inserted in a natural context with almost zero environmental impact. In the six-hectare area, we designed a masterplan for a car-free zone, equipped with residences for young professionals and families. Buildings with common spaces for the community, open and digitally connected areas, coworking spaces, shops, sports areas, and kiosks in the park with outdoor libraries. The design embodies the principles of the ‘15-minute city’ where amenities are within easy reach of one’s home.

Energy autonomous buildings were planned to accumulate 105% of energy, following the principles of the Living Building Challenge and PEB (plus energy buildings) principles.

Close by, the ancient farmhouses allowed us to study the appropriate use of local materials and to maintain an identity in the architectural language of the residences.


Chapman Taylor is an expert in urban planning and regeneration. If you’d like to learn more about these projects or have one of your own to discuss, please get in touch.

About the Author

Vittorio Caponetto

Senior Architect, Milan

Vittorio joined Chapman Taylor’s Milan studio in 2015, where he specialises in large and sustainable mixed-use schemes and urban regeneration, including heritage-sensitive schemes such as the multi-award-winning NOI Techpark in Bolzano and the Aria urban regeneration masterplan in Milan.

Prior to joining Chapman Taylor, Vittorio established Sp10studio, the work of which has been published in international journals and presented at conferences and workshops. The studio was included in the biographical dictionary illustrated catalogue for the 2006 Architecture Biennale in Venice and its work was exhibited at the 2014 Architecture Biennale.

He graduated in architecture from the University of Genoa, where he took courses in design directed by Francesco Venezia.

Areas of expertise:

Mixed-use / Urban Regeneration / Heritage / Concept Design / Sustainability

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