Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Franco Corsico, who many consider to be the architect of Torino’s successful regional plan. Corsico is a professor of urban planning at Politechnico di Torino and he served as deputy mayor in charge of planning under Valentino Castellani.
I expected a fairly standard interview, but Corsico really wanted to hear about our grand SB 375 experiment in California. So we talked a lot about our shared challenges (parochialism, NIMBYs, lack of incentives) and different ways to approach those challenges. Many times, after hearing about a problem we have in California, he laughed and shook his head and said “Tutto il mondo e paese” – which means “all the world is a village.”
Corsico’s time in public office came at an historic time in Torino and Italy, following a wave of political scandal and corruption in the early 1990s that toppled the traditional political party structure in Torino and many other Italian cities and allowed, for the very first time, the direct election of mayors. Corsico’s boss Castellani was thus the first directly-elected mayor of Torino and, as a university professor himself, was unaffiliated with the political elite. His administration marked a turning point in the civic life of Torino, and the appointment of respected, non-political figures like Franco Corsico added to the Administration’s credibility.
Corsico oversaw the creation and implementation of three important plans that form the basis for Torino’s transformation:
* the Urban Masterplan – A mandatory document, similar to the General Plan which outlines the land use and transportation policy for the city. When Corsico became deputy mayor, the Urban Masterplan was 35 years old and highly auto-centric and favorable of industry. He oversaw the update of the Masterplan with a new focus on revitalization of older neighborhoods, integration with the surrounding region, and expanding transit, pedestrian zones and bicycle infrastructure.
* the Strategic Plan for Torino and Regione Piemonte – A new, collaborative, voluntary document that outlined a vision for the region’s future, including transportation, land use, economy, social integration and regional collaboration. Very similar to our SCS, but Torino did it without any mandates or incentives. The plan is implemented by a hodge-podge of players, including municipalities, transport agencies and NGOs.
* Neighborhoods Unit – a plan and, later, a governmental unit to oversee the regeneration of the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Created the first interdepartmental task force to deal with wide-ranging problems in urban neighborhoods and a bottom-up process to engage residents in developing regeneration plans.
Here are some highlights from my conversation with Franco Corsico:
On cities and change:
“Cities do not wait for plans to be implemented. They move on. So you make a plan, and begin to implement it, and along the way projects get built, and they aren’t always exactly what you planned for. So you have to be flexible and adapt.”
On reducing auto dependence:
“Cars are highly successful because they are so adaptable to diverse lifestyles and needs. With this single mode you can do short trips, long trips, go to work, go on vacation, go to nightclubs, grocery stores, school etc etc. In order to compete with the car, we must design communities that have interconnections of many types. Transport systems must be flexible and adaptable and diverse. Neighborhoods must have access to not just one mode, but many: long-distance trains, local streetcars, bike paths, buses etc.”
On regional collaboration:
“The urgency of the economic situation in the 1980s and 1990s drove the regional collaboration. Since the plan has achieved some success, the excitement has waned. Now there is less urgency.”
“The regional planning approach was only somewhat successful because each city did not recognize the benefit of this approach and was afraid of losing power. There were not enough incentives.”
On the economic benefits of urban transformation:
“Torino’s plan was, in essence, a Keynesian investment in infrastructure to maintain the base of employment and consumer spending during the economic crisis. It also spurred private investment, particularly in housing in the urban renewal areas.”
“Historically, new homebuyers have gone to the outlying areas to buy housing, because in the city center the prices are high and the condition of the housing is substandard. Only later did people realize the increased costs associated with transportation and the lack of services and amenities. Through implementation of the plan, we are improving the quality of the older neighborhoods and demonstrating that better services are available, especially when it comes to transportation.”