Our Association has presented itself on the European Sustainable Cities Platform (Transformative Action 44).
- Involve citizens through participatory implementation
- Encourage local private and civic engagement
- Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
- Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
Our district has an enormous cultural heritage, the last part of the heart of one of Europe’s most significant cities to still have a living community, but is being emptied by mass tourism which brings few advantages to local community, with overwhelming waste, high prices, air pollution, evictions.
Over half the local children have at least one parent born abroad (may be Senegal, China, USA or Germany).
The challenge: rebuilding an extended local community, including “natives” and “immigrants” of different social backgrounds, religions, political views, on a bottom-up base in one of Europe’s most symbolic historic centres; educating a community along principles of “zero waste”, self-help, civic education, respect. Identity: garden, history, trees, monuments belong to those, wherever they may be born, who accept stewardship for them.
Families take turns to keep the garden open most of the year around, our area is for everybody who wants to keep Oltrarno alive.
– With self-managed football team Lebowski we have created the only pro bono football school in Florence, to which about 1/4 of the local children (boys and girls) belong
– community orchestra involving all local residents, focused on making everybody play/sing/participate
– Community garden and CSA
– hosting simple mass community events (birthday parties, school parties, etc.) on two principles: 1) everybody is invited 2) sorting to achieve zero waste.
– educating children on their cultural heritage/stewardship through tours/visits to historical sites
– involving local high schools through projects, where students discover the district, learn how to co-manage Commons, share in everyday life, learn how to provide security to the community
– stakeholders/allies: “native” and “immigrant” families; the UNESCO office of the city of Florence; Sportello Eco Equo (ecology/equity office of Florence City Government); Progetto Muse (Florence municipality initative for culture, museums, etc.); the “Whites” of Florence’s “Calcio Fiorentino“; football fans both of the Lebowski and Florentina teams; kindergartens, elementary and high schools; all community gardens of Florence which meet at the Nidiaci to decide a common policy; associations cooperating with the Catholic parish (we are totally non denominational but have established good relations with the Church, receiving a visit from the Archbishop); the “Fierucola“, Florence’s market of local farmers and craftsmen; international Creative Mornings initiative (we host the Florentine events); surviving craftspeople (carpenters, bronze workers, restorers, iron smiths, etc.); local committees fighting pollution and traffic; the Istituto de’ Bardi established in 1806 to support craftspeople in Oltrarno; Institute of Biometeorology of the National Research Council which monitors air pollution at the garden; MAG Firenze non interesting bearing loans to the needy; Centro Commerciale Naturale di Via de’ Serragli bringing together shopkeepers, restaurants etc. of the district; local historians both in Italy and abroad; American International League of Florence ONLUS; Albergo Popolare, hosting the homeless of Florence; Progetto Arcobaleno supporting families/individuals in difficulty; Banda della Polverosa student orchestra; Little Free Library worldwide booksharing; CIVISM, an initiative bringing together all the “commoning” experiences of Florence.
On request, we can provide statements of support by any of the above, after the summer holidays.
In these five years, we have saved the only safe “green” space for children for the Oltrarno, involved hundreds of residents in an experience of self-management, brought together people from all over the world, given the district awareness of its identity, united local community, bridged gap between “natives” and “immigrants”, created an experiment going beyond “state” and “private” spaces, become an example for all bottom-up initiatives in Florence.
In times of increasing ethnic conflict, we have shown how people of very diverse background can work together.
We cover a geographically small area (little more than 1 km2), with only a few thousand surviving inhabitants (over half have abandoned the district) but in a place which has enormous symbolic significance also for any other “historic centre” in Europe.
Quantification of success is impossible, because we cannot win against gentrification, mass tourism industry, evictions, entertainment industry.
We have however created unprecedented community ties, solved many personal difficulties, brought residents to patronise local shops, cut down waste, educated a generatiion of children to a culture of solidarity and sustainability, built bridges uniting “natives” and “immigrants”, saved many children and young people from dangerous choices, rebuilt a local identity, become an example for the whole city, created relations between city dwellers and local farmers.
We have not “decarbonised” Florence, we have only been the first to monitor air pollution in the centre of the city.
In June, the City of Florence promoted an initiative by “Futuro Vegetale” to symbolically plant iris rhizomes at the Nidiaci: the iris (“giglio”) is the heraldic plant of Florence, and the Nidiaci is seen as the symbol of the rebirth of the city.
We want other bottom-up experiences in European historic centres to contact us and share experiences.
We have had poor relations with most municipal institutions, very good relations with some.
It is hard – but possible – to work for five years on a totally pro bono basis.
The main lesson is to avoid two extreme: kowtowing to the government, or becoming “antisystem” extremists.
Self-organisation preserves its own dignity, never sells out, but has to be open to a very wide range of human choices and opinions.