Daniele Bucci, Alessio Franconi, Federico Piovesan, and Silvia Tagliazucchi
Our contribution is based on a case study of the systemic, human-centered and iterative approach employed by OvestLab, Modena, and reflects on relevant implications for the implementation of a circular economy in Italy.
OvestLab is an ongoing experimentation that contributes to current debates within academia, local administrations and civil society on urban vacants, namely buildings and spaces that are no longer serving their purpose as places of production, market exchange and social interaction. It also shows how a circular approach to commerce, supported by interdisciplinary expertise, can ensure sustained revenues, reduce material consumption and address territorial changes due to complex variable forces, such as technological innovations and market volatility. Finally, OvestLab offers an example of how knowledge exchange with similar initiatives in other countries, enabled by an online platform, fosters interterritorial learning that is beneficial to all parties involved.
From a methodological point of view, our analysis is informed by two main sources. Firstly, one of the authors has been involved with OvestLab from its inception, both as part of the executive board in one of the associations responsible for the project and as a member of a local artist collective. Secondly, we integrated her description and reflection with documents written both as intermediary outputs for the project or by other actors not directly involved with OvestLab.
Located in the West part of Modena, OvestLab is part of the city’s Villaggio Artigiano (Artisans Village), which for many years represented a virtuous example of collaboration between the local administration and small private enterprises. Since the 2008 financial crisis, however, the Village experienced significant socio-economic decline, exacerbated by an increase in vacant buildings that served both residential and productive purposes.
OvestLab is based in a former factory that, after closing ten years ago, has recently been requalified to become a hub for local open spaces and shared initiatives that address a number of multifaceted territorial issues, among which the lack of public spaces. The project is led by two associations, namely Amigdala and the Archivio Architetti Cesare Leonardi.
Conceptually, OvestLab wants to promote initiatives that are founded on the sense of community shared by local stakeholders (which is undoubtedly fragmented but still present); that reflect upon alternative imaginaries to guide actions addressing both ecological and economic issues; and that propose new symbolic and cultural meanings to spaces that can support the resilience of the territory and its community.
To analyze the collaborative actions currently ongoing as part of the Village’s regeneration process, we draw a number of theoretical guidelines from systemic design literature:
- An evaluation of the regeneration process not only through its final output but also the intermediate steps that led to it while at a meso level, defining the processes and circular design skills necessary to reverse the obsolescence of urban vacants and spaces.
- How new interactions that originate from a node within the urban fabric to create a network of new relations, can be more inclusive of previously unengaged citizens, and activate new social dynamics that are valuable for the local community.
- How processes of distributed governance among local stakeholders foster a sense of community while offering new spaces that local actors can adapt to their needs and characteristics.
- How allowing local communities to autonomously define and manage their relation to the space favors new forms of autopoiesis within organizations and transdisciplinary cultural projects managed in a decentralized fashion.
- How a spontaneous phenomenological structure that values action over planning can be employed to work iteratively and better adapt the reactions of the context while also promoting latent potential and resources, which may already be present in the territory or can be integrated with it.
- How working daily at the change of the local reality while also seeking dialogical opportunities with actors that operate at different territorial scales (regional, national and European) enables mutual learning and adds value both within the local community and the extraterritorial one.
Our aim is to contextualize these concepts through the analysis of the following actions:
- Supporting a number of initiatives – namely local gruppi di acquisto solidale (GAS, ethical purchasing groups), Genuino Clandestino and Alimentazione Ribelle – who aim at reducing food waste and promote distributed food production that revolves around local producers. This is an example of how local actors are adapting the space according to their specific necessity.
- Using furniture produced with recycled or reused materials during workshops that promote upcycling and artisanal practices and engage citizens of all ages.
- Creating, together with CivicWise and Ostello San Filippo Neri, a platform for distributed accommodation that capitalizes on the availability of vacant and underused buildings; thus applying the recycle and reuse ethos not only to product but also service design.
- Publishing a collaborative magazine to build a collective narration of the project and foster mutual learning among people of different ages, backgrounds and professions that include local actors as well as external collaborators.
- OvestLab is part of CivicFactories, an international network of territorial experimentations on urban regeneration, which includes initiatives in Paris, Valencia and Santa Cruz. This allows the local community to communicate and share best practices, which are informed by direct learning feedbacks and are enabled by CivicWise’s P2P online platform for glocal learning.
Keywords: circular economy, systemic approach, meso level, environmental impact, close loop system
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