Public-private collaborations for the regeneration of productive territories. The case of medium-sized companies in Northern Italy.


  • Cristiana Mattioli DAStU Politecnico di Milano


industrial territories, public-private collaboration, territorial regeneration, attractiveness, sustainability




Starting from the ongoing processes of transformation in dynamic industrial contexts, the paper discusses the need to redefine the role of guidance of public actors at different scales, while promoting new forms of public-private governance systems aimed at territorial regeneration.

The thesis of the paper is that with the transition to post-industrial forms of production, the territory is not only a node within networks and flows, but also a strategic resource, expendable on the global market. Moreover, the health and livability of local contexts become fundamental factors in attracting skilled labour. A new pact must be forged between industry and society. It is essential that businesses take collective responsibility not only for reviving economic development, but also for doing so in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. The idea of the territory as a repository of resources to be used for global competition must be abandoned in favour of a policy of regeneration.

The paper will discuss these issues by focusing on the northern part of Italy, in particular the triangle between Milan, Venice and Bologna, which is one of the most dynamic economic areas in Europe. Composed of medium-sized cities and diffuse urbanisations, it is an intermediate territorial context, outside both the metropolitan areas and the inner ones. It is characterised by thousands of competitive medium-sized industrial companies, well integrated into global supply chains. They are the result of the development of existing small companies or foreign investments with strong local impacts. Negotiations between small public administrations and large private companies often reveal asymmetries of power. In the worst cases, new land-consuming industrial projects are built in an already congested and polluted area, where abandoned industries can be also found, in marginal and fragile areas. In the best cases, large companies are located in planned, oversized industrial zones. These existing specialised areas, functionally and physically separated from urban systems, are usually of poor quality in terms of environmental and service performance. For example, they lack collective services, have too much paved surface area and associated problems with heat islands and water treatment, have vacant spaces and are not accessible by collective or active forms of mobility.

In view of these criticalities, the paper will propose the identification of instruments and procedures capable of stimulating the conscious participation of companies, at least the most dynamic and advanced ones, to channel part of their resources into urban reform interventions. Business associations and trade unions can also play an important intermediary role, bringing together and linking private and public interests.

Two main issues emerge. On the one hand, in the case of industrial expansions or new settlements, it is important that the public authorities are not satisfied with the architectural and landscape quality of parts of the urban area, but are able to act in a more comprehensive way, diverting some of the private added value and rent to redevelopment. A specific land trust can be envisaged to combine extensions with land remediation, even in different locations, or public works and facilities. On the other hand, at a time of severe cuts in public funding, forms of secondary welfare can provide an opportunity for urban regeneration through the creation of new public-private or private-private partnerships aimed at improving the efficiency, sustainability, and habitability of existing industrial areas. An energy community, a reforestation campaign, the ‘adoption’ of parts of the urban fabric, more structured ‘consortia’ aimed at integrated territorial projects can all be opportunities to increase local attractiveness and collective well-being.


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