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The La Scala opera house, Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Belgioioso, the facade of Brera: Giuseppe Piermarini arrived in Milan in 1769 and, over the course of his thirty years there, changed the face of the city. Everyone recognizes his architectural work, but few know that he also designed the Porta Venezia gardens, the first public park in Milan. In 1871, the capital of Lombardy conceded the role of ‘political capital’ to Rome, establishing itself instead as the capital of everything else – starting in 1881, when journalist Ruggero Bonghi called it the ‘moral capital’ on occasion of the first national Industrial Exposition inside the gardens of Porta Venezia.

In 1970, two centuries after the Piermarini gardens were created, Milan’s Parco Nord was developed in the city’s peri-urban area. Initially it was just a vacant urban space, a ‘backroom’ of the city. Then someone realized that those fields could be useful to halting unchecked urbanization. Trees were planted in the park and then parts of it was cleared in order to create other usable areas. Today it occupies 793 hectares. Since 1983, 260,000 trees have been planted, 40 kilometers of bike paths have been paved, 28 playing fields, and 1100 benches have been installed. In 1974, 110 hectares in the area northwest of the city, licensed to Italia Nostra, became known as the Boscoincittà, the first urban reforestation project in Italy. “At a time when people thought it was a crazy thing to do,” remembers its director, Silvio Anderloni. In 1990 the Parco Agricolo Sud Milan was established, which today includes the agricultural and wooded areas of sixty towns, occupying more than 50% of the metropolitan area for a total of 47,000 hectares. For the past five years Stefano Boeri’s Vertical Forest has marked the edge of the Isola neighborhood, housing more than 2,000 trees and shrubs.

Between November 20th – 21st Milan’s Triennale hosted the World Forum on Urban Forestry, with work tables, debates, conferences, and guests from all around the world sharing their experiences. The first trees of the ForestaMi project were planted in front of the museum by Giuseppe Sala, president of the council Giuseppe Conte, and architect Stefano Boeri, with a dark coat and shovel in hand. ForestaMi is a fund that was created by a memorandum of understanding between municipalities, metropolitan cities, and parks to plant three million trees by 2030. It will first be necessary to achieve other intermediate objectives which are also part of the agreement: identify public and private spaces in which to plant trees, implement new financing models, and experiment with new methods of public involvement. The ForestaMi fund will be managed by a scientific committee made up of experts from local universities and will be overseen by a watchdog committee. 

Most of the companies which already fund the planting and management of Milan’s public green spaces are interested in the city center to help bolster their image. The ForestaMi project makes it possible to break free from this focus on visibility. Planting and managing green spaces on the outskirts of the city is made attractive to institutions and companies because they become participants in an unified project, one that also involves the city’s residents. Among the references is the example set by New York: private citizens, businesses, companies, and major investors planted one million trees in ten years, an initiative which began in 2007 and reached its goal two years earlier than expected.

The metropolitan city. It occupies 6.6% of the region and claims 22% of its total population. 52% of this land is agricultural and 7% wooded. More than half of its surface area is unpopulated. The metropolitan city is the second Italian province in terms of agriculture. While in Lombardy there are 629 square meters of green area per inhabitant (in Italy there are 1700, and in Europe 3200), in the city of Milan the per capita green area is less than 18 square meters. Cities are not only most responsible for CO2 emissions and other pollutants, but are also the first victims. Bringing forests into cities is a way to reduce CO2 emissions and pollutants in the area, mitigate temperatures in the summer and winter, make cities more beautiful, and increase the value of real estate.

Technical tools, financial and cultural quantification. The researchers of Milan’s Polytechnic University have been entrusted with scientific supervision of the project. Data regarding the city’s hot areas combined with the population’s vulnerability factor – or rather, the geographic distribution of children and of adults over 70 years old, – made it possible to identify risk indices and areas in which action must be a priority (in accordance with the availability of space in which to introduce green). The city’s risk indices can be identified with a precision that narrows down to single neighborhoods and streets. The areas in the metropolitan city with the most highly polluting emissions are those with the highest concentration of residents and of road infrastructure. Shopping centers and their relative parking areas – made up of dozens of hectares of concrete surface – contribute to an increase in the temperature and impermeability of the ground.

Over the years, Parco Nord has cost the equivalent of five kilometers of low mountain highway, but the benefits as they relate to quality of life, health, and an increase in property value must also be quantified in financial terms. The figures regarding public green areas can be consulted on Milano Geoportale and i-Tree, which included private areas in its census. Meanwhile, Specifind is an online tool which helps to identify the best species to be planted depending on location and on the effects one wants to obtain.

Other projects in Milan. Among the first areas in the city in which it will be possible to plant trees are the road reliquaries – areas acquired as state property for the creation of road infrastructure, yet which have remained unused and on the margins. The city’s seven abandoned railway stations will play an incredibly important role, with more than 50% designated to become park land. Even Milan’s Conservatory is designing a campus outside of the city center which will be open to the neighborhood and immersed in green: a wooded area that until now has been occupied by drug dealers and is known as the ‘Boschetto della droga’ [the Thicket of Drugs]. “The wooded area in Rogoredo is demonstration of the fact that a green space alone does not bring value to a neighborhood. It must also be taken care of,” explains the director of the conservatory, Raffaello Vignali. “The new campus will transform the Boschetto of drugs into the Boschetto of music.”

Speaking at WFUF, council president Giuseppe Conte stated that protecting the environment is an ethical imperative and announced the extension of the Green Bonus (a 36% tax deduction for the re-greening of communal areas in apartment buildings) and the allocation of €30 million for the Parco Italia project.  High water in Venice and 12 million trees cut down one year ago in Friuli and Veneto mandate action for the protection of Italy’s environmental patrimony and its national landscape. Florence and Pisa recently risked flooding due to inadequate management of the region’s mountain areas. “More outlying towns risk being neglected because they are less politically relevant,” warned Giovanni Senesi. “On the other hand, urban reforestation requires a change in paradigm which leads city and countryside to take care of one another.”

In Italy there are fourteen metropolitan cities in which 22 million people live. The national patrimony of forest land has grown in recent years, now covering approximately 40% of the country – 12 million hectares. Consumption of land in urban and peri-urban areas has also increased. The increase in wooded surfaces is concentrated in certain areas and does not concern cities or vast areas like the Po Valley and the coasts. The forum stimulated talk of reforestation projects on various scales: from the urban level in which ForestaMi works, to the national and international levels. Parco Italia is a national reforestation project which aims to reconnect various national wooded areas through green corridors, in order to unite them in a single ecosystem. At the international level, the Great Green Wall project foresees the construction of a green wall in central Africa, measuring 8,000 km long and 15 km wide.

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