chapter  12
Disconnected cities: dealing with competitiveness and social integration
Pages 20

In general, therefore, the growth of an urban economy based on international flows has required the development of urban policies able to act systemically on the internal and external linkages of the metropolitan area. The growing demand for centrality by advanced services and high-skilled workers, as well as the centralization of economic activities of excellence, have increased the congestion of urban centres and have deteriorated their habitability. Consequently public intervention aimed at improving mobility and enhancing soft factors has become necessary. The capacity of these cities to compete in attracting global flows of capital and talent is grounded also on these aspects. In this respect the case of Milan is emblematic of the persistence of conflicts between the external attractiveness and the quality of the “space of places” (Castells 1996). The strong international attractiveness of Milan is mainly favoured by the multi-sectorial nature of the local economic system and by the strength of its financial sector. Nevertheless, external attractiveness is off-set by various obstacles: the still limited adequacy of the urban public transportation system; its scant endowment with soft factors; the absence of multilevel governance on the scale of the urban region. These three aspects instead explain the competitive strength of cities like Munich and Barcelona, which have launched processes of political innovation and have invested massively in these aspects. Governing large urban regions is one of the main challenges facing the urban policies of our cities. At the level of the urban region, locational dynamics and commuter flows show that the dominant dynamics at present do not assume the features typical of urban sprawl. Rather than creating an indistinct urban continuum around the main urban centre, new productive and residential locations have occurred in areas where local centralities already existed, or they have contributed to creating new ones. The six urban regions are characterized, in fact, in their urban continuity, by the existence of “decentralized centres” specialized in specific productive functions and offering distinct residential quality. These urban regions include a plurality of territories with specific identities and do not merge into a magmatic “diffused city”. In these regions the relationship between the main urban centre and the surrounding area has become highly complex. In some cities an integrated regional pattern is strongly evident. It results from specific policies aimed at transferring high-quality productive and residential urban functions to the regional government: this is the case of Munich, Copenhagen and, to a lesser extent, Barcelona and Lyon (see Chapter 3). This refocusing (recentrage) of metropolitan areas has had generally very positive effects because it has reduced central congestion (Munich), has eased commuter flows and the consequent traffic problems (Lyon), and has revived former industrial areas at strong risk of decay (Barcelona). Where this process has not been pronounced, as in Milan and Manchester, a traditional dualism persists between the core city, which is hyper-specialized in advanced tertiary services, and the peripheries, increasingly characterized by scant attractiveness, in which industrial areas remain. This failure to refocus is responsible for persisting problems of traffic congestion, but also for the increasing social and economic dualism between centre and periphery.