Framing the Socio-Spatial Regeneration of Fragile Mountain Regions. Insights from the Alta Valtellina Case.


  • Francesca Mazza Politecnico di Milano
  • Andrea Arcidiacono Politecnico di Milano
  • Stefano Di Vita Politecnico di Milano
  • Francesca Vigotti Politecnico di Milano


spatial planning , cross-border, Research-by-design , alpine region




This contribution derives from collaborative efforts in academic research and teaching at Politecnico di Milano, Department of Architecture and Urban Studies (DAStU), focusing on the socio-spatial regeneration of fragile mountain regions.

In the European context, mountain regions face multiple challenges, including climate and ecological crises, depopulation, abandonment of the built heritage and landscapes, and depletion of natural resources. These challenges often exceed traditional administrative boundaries, institutional levels, and planning and intervention scales. Furthermore, the current spatial planning systems and policy tools frequently struggle to cope with the increasing complexity of these contexts, particularly in anticipation of global climate and societal changes.

Within this framework, our study focuses on Alta Valtellina, a border mountain area between Italy and Switzerland in the Lombard Alps, selected as a pilot case due to the complex interplay between the following conditions: (i) concentration of socio-spatial disparities (between landscape, production, and tourism excellences, on the one hand, and depopulation, shrinkage, and abandonment, on the other) amid a transformative phase connected to the climate crisis; (ii) the overlap of multiple spatial planning tools; (iii) active participation and involvement in multi-level cross-border cooperation initiatives (at national and international levels);  (iv) the forthcoming Winter Olympic Games 2026, serving both as a risk to increase fragilities and divides, and as an opportunity to boost a long-term regional development. 

This contribution introduces the analytical and project-based methodology tested on the Alta Valtellina region, deriving from our ongoing research and teaching activities. The proposed methodology adopts a cross-scalar, interdisciplinary, and place-based approach, further supported by interaction and engagement with relevant stakeholders and local communities, including cultural associations, municipal administrations, academic experts, and technical professionals.

At the intersection between research and teaching, the proposal considers the multiplicity of challenges for a remote mountain region such as the Alta Valtellina (e.g. abandonment, over-tourism, and climate change) by developing a research-by-design approach. By interplaying urban and regional planning, landscape design, and architectural and urban preservation and management, the contribution aims to spatialize cross-scalar phenomena, dynamics, policies and plans to identify transborder projects of multi-level and multi-dimensional regeneration. A spatial vision for the Alta Valtellina region will be validated through territorial projects for two different nodes set in two small municipalities, presenting heterogeneous conditions although sharing territorial proximity and common characteristics: the municipal area of Sondalo, affected by a long-term process of contraction, and the municipal area of Bormio, a renowned destination challenged by transitions of mountain and ski tourism. Thus, the paper will present some first considerations and suggestions starting from the preliminary outcomes of the abovementioned research-by-design experience, which tackle the main challenges and key issues as posed within the EUSALP framework (e.g. adaptation to climate change; tourism diversification; transitions dynamics of rural landscapes and built environment).

As a result, we point out new spatial interpretative frameworks and strategic projects that capture the complexity of the involved processes, challenging established narratives by applying a multidisciplinary approach that aims to rebuild cross-border relations, cross multiple planning scales, and integrate intangible with physical components.

Given the promising outcomes, the proposed methodology aims to evolve into a transferable and replicable model, offering a comprehensive approach to address the challenges of socio-spatial regeneration in fragile mountain regions.


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