The impractical supremacy of local identity on the worthless soils of Mappano
© Pileri and Scalenghe. 2016
Received: 14 March 2016
Accepted: 3 May 2016
Published: 20 May 2016
Soil is under pressure worldwide. In Italy, in the last two decades, land consumption has reached an average rate of 8 m2, demonstrating the failure of urban planning in controlling these phenomena. Despite the renewed recognition of the central role of soil resources, which has triggered numerous initiatives and actions, soil resources are still seen as a second-tier priority. No governance body exists to coordinate initiatives to ensure that soils are appropriately represented in decision-making processes. Global Soil Partnership draws our attention to the need for coordination to avoid fragmentation of efforts and wastage of resources. Both at a global and at a local level, the area of fertile soils is limited and is increasingly under pressure by competing land uses for settlement, infrastructure, raw materials extraction, agriculture, and forestry.
Discussion and Evaluation
Here, we show that an administrative event, such as the creation of a new small municipality, can take place without any consideration of land and soil risks. This is particularly problematic in the Italian context as recent studies demonstrate that increasing local power in land use decisions coupled with weak control by the central administration and the high fragmentation and small dimension of municipalities has boosted land consumption. The fragmentation of municipalities has been detrimental to land conservation.
The case study of Mappano (in the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont on the periphery of the regional capital city of Turin) is emblematic to demonstrate the role played by the supremacy of local identity or local interests despite the acknowledged importance of the key role played by soil everywhere. The contradiction highlighted by this case raises discussion amid some crucial issues as to the role of local urban planning and the protection of soil, which cannot be fragmented or subject to local short-term visions/interests.
In this perspective, urban planning has to address soil and land issues by introducing new rules and competences at the local level and beyond.
The deterioration of the natural environment is today perceived as a serious problem and our self-reliance on unlimited technological development has declined. Many natural commodities deserve attention because they are finite. This is the case for soil: soil absorbs and filters rainwater; enables the safe decomposition of waste; provides raw materials such as clay, sand, and gravel; sustains infrastructures; conserves archaeological and other cultural remains; and is a key reserve of biodiversity. Soil underpins almost all food production, and is becoming evermore precious due to increasing human pressure (Gerland et al. 2014; Salvati 2015). Among the causes of degradation of soil, water and air resources (Haase and Nuissl 2007; Scalenghe and Ajmone Marsan 2009; Yang and Lo 2002; Vaz and Nijkamp 2014) in both developed and developing countries, urban sprawl is seen as responsible for social exclusion (Power 2001), increasing social costs (Burchell et al. 2002; Deal and Schunk 2004), and a threat to public health (Wells et al. 2007). Urban sprawl, due to its low densities, is clearly inefficient as it regards land and soil use. Members of so-called “more primitive” societies, when observing a surface soil layer, distinguish between soil strata according to colour and texture, how easily they can be worked, and the best match between soil and crop type (Dubiez et al. 2014). Normally, in these societies, people are aware of changes in the surface layers of soils that are due to anthropogenic activities or environmental changes. Members of the most developed societies have a perception of soil that is limited to its direct effects on human health (Kim et al. 2014; Quansah et al. 2001; Vandermoere 2006); the perception of soil is the perception of risk rather than the potential of the soil itself (Vandermoere 2008).
Furthermore, as the world becomes more globalized and interlinked, the theoretically homogenizing effects of globalization have produced an extraordinary shift in the opposite direction (Schnell 2013). And although local choices were key driving factors of soil and landscape management at a wider scale, as implicit costs in transforming any single hectare of soil affect a much larger group of people than those who authorized the transformation (Malucelli et al. 2014), the supremacy of the local identity is counterintuitively the main driver of social actions in more developed countries. This is a small case study involving a few thousand citizens. In it, there is an open social and institutional conflict with soil at the centre of the debate. The intrinsic characteristics of the soil itself are unknown to all parties involved.
Mappano as a case study
Permanent settlements (from the thirteenth century) in Mappano depicted this area as the swamp of Caselle because of the properties of its soils (De Matteis and Ferlaino 2003). In the fifteenth century, Antonio de Amapano (from whom possibly originates the name “Mappano”) began to reclaim the territory, constructing farms in which, among other crops, rice was cultivated. In the sixteenth century, further human intervention on the landscape was undertaken with the construction of a net of irrigation canals. During the nineteenth century, the presence of drainage channels and large open spaces in the area attracted many families of washers, an activity that characterises the suburbs of Turin. The first church in Mappano was built in 1850. The settlement, in that period, consisted of a group of farms scattered along the road between Turin and Leinì that did not expand significantly during the boom after the Second World War. In the 1970s, the Turin metropolitan area experienced a rapid increase in the population in the belt formed by the municipalities of the metropolitan area most distant from the centre of Turin. The first belt, which had already grown enormously, slowed its growth in the same period.
In a good geographical location, not far from the main city and close to major axes and connection points (the Turin-Milan motorway, the ring motorway, and the airport), the ‘mappanese’ territory developed during the 1980s in a fairly concentrated way around a traditional core. Mappano extends mainly in the municipalities of Caselle Torinese and Borgaro Torinese, respectively 60 and 30 % of its residents in 2001. As we shall see, Mappano is ideally located for the installation of residential and administrative activities of the municipalities in the Turin basin (especially Borgaro and Caselle), since they exist in a suburban area close to thoroughfares with a central core around which to focus the planning of residential and productive activities, as provided by the instruments of land regulation in force. In Mappano, most of the houses were built in the decade between 1961 and 1971 with a significant recovery of the buildings from 1981 onwards. The dynamics here are similar to those of Borgaro, where there is a drop in construction between 1971 and 1981 that then resumed in correspondence with the significant increase of the population in the decade from 1981 to 1991. Units with 16–30 or more than 30 homes increased substantially in the period between 1981 and 1991. The majority of housing is owner-occupied by individuals.
In 1992, a referendum for the unification of the scattered territory of Mappano within a single municipality began the formal statement of the principle of identity. The municipalities of Borgaro Torinese, Caselle Torinese, Leinì and Settimo Torinese deliberated over a “restricted ‘mappanese’ area” (5.5 km2 and 6427 inhabitants in 2001). The City of Turin did not produce any resolution. The Committee for the Establishment of Mappano identified instead an enlarged area, 10.5 km2 (7080 inhabitants in 2001). Comparing the two areas, major changes occur in the number and extent of farms and the number of farm employees (the latter mainly related to the inclusion, or not, of the district of Fornacino, which was disputed between Leinì and Settimo Torinese).
To read properly the evolutionary dynamics of the ‘mappanese,’ a useful comparison is with the largest metropolitan basin where the aggregate of the municipalities within which we can locate the area of Mappano: the Conferenza Metropolitana di Torino, CoMeTo (established by Piemonte Regional Laws 142/1990 and 265/2000) (De Matteis and Ferlaino 2003). The supra-municipal entity CoMeTo, 38 municipalities of the metropolitan area of Torino, increased in population by 6 % during the 1980s, although less than in the previous decade (14 %): managers, professionals, employees and entrepreneurs are present to a greater extent in the main City of Torino while workers and self-employed showed a greater tendency to reside in the north and south suburban area of Turin with a massive industrial development (Ferlaino et al. 1994).
Area, population, population density, from municipal to the metropolitan (1981)
Persons km−2 (2001)
Housing valuea (106 €)
Cometo (without Torino)
To the north of the planned town there is a large production area established, around which there are areas of completion, and an area of the tertiary sector consolidated near the border of Leinì. In general, we can observe a compact town and a classification of production areas and services that tends to maintain the character of the compactness. In Borgaro (PRGC 21/02/1994 and following eight modifications) there are large areas of production, service areas/plants and a few residential buildings. There is also a large residential area of expansion into the industrial zones. The rest of the land is for agricultural purposes except for a small production area (partially completed) and an equally small residential area near the border of Turin. Leinì (PRGC 21/02/2000 and following fifteen modifications) forecasted a much lower extension of agricultural land. In the area of Turin that is considered a part of the “mappanese territory,” there are small service areas. Settimo (PRGC 07/10/1991 and following 32 modifications) is almost entirely agricultural, with the exception of a few consolidated production areas on the border of Leinì in the frazione of Fornacino. There is also a small residential area in this zone. The territory of Leinì on the border of Caselle has a residential area that is traditionally part of Mappano, with production areas in large part consolidated up to Fornacino, which are again at present residential areas. In the report of the PRGC of Settimo Torinese, the word ‘Mappano’ is mentioned only once and there is no specific map attached.
There are agencies that have jurisdiction over the entire territory, as with the case of waste disposal, water services, security, and justice, the whole area is considered a single territory. So it is with the prefecture, the police, the fire department, the criminal judiciary, the public prosecutor. Justices of the Peace, the sub-offices of the District Court, prosecutors, and the local Catholic diocese all consider the Mappano area as an extension of Turin. A project called “PRUSST 2010 plan” envisaged investments of around 500 million EUR, of which approximately two-thirds are private and the rest public. PRUSST was prepared by the municipality of Settimo Torinese in agreement with the municipalities of Torino, Brandizzo, and Borgaro Torinese planning a connection and completion of the Green Crown creating an inter-connected park between urban parks (in Borgaro and Turin) and regional parks (La Mandria Park and the Po River) to form a corridor. The plan for the area of BorSetTo (from the names of the signatory municipalities) is another similar intervention of inter-institutional cooperation and coordination. BorSetTo involves approximately 3 million square meters to be used as public park, residential areas and services (12 % of the total area), and a technology center in the Mappano area belonging to Borgaro Torinese.
The municipalities of Borgaro Torinese, Caselle Torinese, Settimo Torinese jointly with San Benigno, San Mauro Torinese and Volpiano (URL http://www.unionenet.it) since 2011 have formed the Union of Municipalities of North-East Turin (since 2015, the Municipality of Leinì adhered to the Union NET, bringing the total number of the union itself to seven). Union NET has as its primary objective the associated management and coordinated community services for an increased usability according to the principles of simplification and cost containment.
In December 2002, the Region of Piedmont, in implementing agenda n. 556 of 18 June 2002 of the Regional Council, entrusted IRES (Institute for Economic and Social Research, Piedmont) with the task of conducting a study about the size of the territory, its population, and its optimal economic and social structures, assuming the institution of the new municipality of Mappano or other administrative solutions would meet the needs of a reorganized “mappanese” territory. This need arises from the difficulty of governing a frazione divided among five municipalities (Borgaro Torinese, Caselle Torinese, Leinì, Settimo Torinese, Turin) as well as the difficulties in organizing daily activities and services for the inhabitants of Mappano. A partial response to the needs of the ‘mappanesi’ came with the establishment of Mappano-CIM (Consorzio Intercomunale Mappano) by three municipalities of the common area (Borgaro Torinese, Caselle Torinese, and Leinì). Interviews with the mayors of the municipalities in the basin administration in 2002 (De Matteis and Ferlaino 2003) revealed a need for joint planning of the territory and greater protection (e.g., through the recent request to create a codified regional rather than inter-city park in order to protect it from any political changes of mind within individual municipalities). The hypothesis of the amalgamation of Mappano is favored by the mayors of municipalities in the administrative basin despite the 1992 referendum not being accepted. The merger of municipalities is an institution governed by law 142/1990 and art. 15 of Legislative Decree no. N. 267/2000, which provides that two or more contiguous municipalities can be merged (this concept has been taken into account and enforced by law n. 56/2014). This hypothesis has been considered only by the Mayor of Leinì, in our interview, as a hypothesis viable in the long term to coordinate comprehensively the different activities of the municipalities in the administrative basin of Mappano. At the moment, however, the hypothesis seems less likely.
There are seven different assumptions guiding the political-institutional debate: (1) the consortium, (2) the merger, (3) the incorporation of a single municipality, (4) the establishment of a new municipality, (5) the union of municipalities, (6) of the Convention, (7) or simply maintaining the status quo. These various hypotheses have different probabilities of success and offer different opportunities. The consortium is a functional tool, more and more oriented to the management of efficient “public market” services and, as the crisis of the CIM, less and less able to respond to the needs of nature and identity. The fusion of the municipalities making up Mappano is a legislatively viable hypothesis, but requires a socio-economic identity of the whole basin, as well as a common desire among institutional constituents, which, according to contemporary analyses, currently exists. The incorporation of a municipality is an ‘institutionally viable hypothesis,’ but one burdened by the negative outcome of the previous referendum and still feeling the detrimental historical identity of a not inconsiderable part of the local population. It could then respond to functional needs but at the expense of identity. The establishment of a new municipality is certainly the tool that best answers the question of identity locally, but is subject to two major obstacles: in accordance with current regulations it was not feasible in the short to medium term due to a lack of population (7080 residents in place of the 10,000 once requested) and also different visions of space identity, which are scarcely shared within the proposal. The union is a common way forward, even if in a rather unusual and original way, as there seems to be a marriage made in Italy to meet the needs of sub-regional municipalities: Originality of the path in the form of regional subsidies, and ability to define an institutional model largely to be built to meet the identity of Mappano and the functional requirements of its basin. The convention is an instrument that quite possibly fulfils the functional requirements and also identity. It is a solution that would use previous experience, because it appears to be the nearest “legal translation” of the instrument of a reformed consortium. Finally, the “status quo” is also mentioned as a likely scenario because it can avoid the set-up costs of any instrument and the emergence of conflicts and latent needs. In January of 2013 interviews were carried out with the mayors of the municipalities in the administrative basin of Mappano, the chairman of the Committee for the Establishment of a Common Mappano and the President of the Municipality.
In January 2013, we interviewed a few people who, from our point of view, could summarize the key facts in the ‘Mappano’ story.
Francesco Grassi (President of the Mappano Committee since 2007) said that «The current situation does not work because it was imposed from above. Union will not become fusion [and] physical proximity between citizens and administrators is very important. The region has delegated the final decision directly to the citizens. » The soil capability of the territory of Mappano is unknown to him.
Luca Baracco (Mayor of Caselle Torinese) said that «The costs will be paid by the citizens [and] the municipality of Caselle risks financial distress. In addition, reducing the number of inhabitants’ instability becomes an administrative burden. In the referendum of 2012, the ‘yes’ side formally won although voter turnout amounted to less than 10 % of those who had the right to vote. The Region of Piedmont initially proposed funding the creation of the new municipality of Mappano with 100,000 EUR and to reward the neighboring municipalities with 30,000 EUR each. I suppose that the costs to create the new municipality will be paid directly by all its citizens. My town will drop to 14,000 inhabitants, which will have a practical significance and symbolic meaning: there is a real risk of financial collapse. Dissemination has not been made at all by the provincial and regional stakeholders.» Land capabilities of the territories of Caselle Torinese and Mappano are unknown to him.
Vincenzo Barrea (Mayor of Borgaro Torinese) said that «Mappano represents the paradigm of the overall situation of Italy today. The area of Mappano has only recently been reclaimed as it previously was mainly marshes. Administrative problems that prompted the creation of the Committee for the City of Mappano were almost all resolved with the Consorzio Intercomunale that has worked for several years. The main need for Mappano as an independent town is genuine but it is anti-historical. To self-finance the new municipality the new town will have to practice a dissipative land planning. I see favourably the union of municipalities preserving the identity of their citizens. » Land capabilities of the territories of Borgaro Torinese and Mappano are unknown to him.
Aldo Corgiat (Mayor of Settimo Torinese) said that «The citizens of my town are against losing territory in favour of citizens who are not from Settimo Torinese but, who, in reality are from Caselle Torinese. The referendum (paid for by all citizens of Piemonte) was a cross-party decision. Initially, my proposal was to simulate a hypothetical but accurate budget and plan for the new city, but no one accepted this idea. A confinement basin was planned for an area of over 900,000 m2 adjacent to the tributaries of rivers to protect Settimo Torinese from flooding and downstream erosion by storing water for a limited period of time. The maintenance of this area for years was paid by the municipality of Settimo Torinese at a cost of some 4 million EUR to the community. This area is one that would be gained from the new town, which has no formal requirement for maintenance 1 . That one is the only area for new potential development ». Land capabilities of the territories of Settimo Torinese and Mappano are unknown to him.
Leinì Town Council was closed down due to mafia infiltration by the Ndrangheta calabrese since 23-03-2012. Rita Piermatti (Special Commissioner of Leinì ex arts. 143–144 d.lgs. 267/2000) has not been interviewed.
In major Italian cities, the population dynamics of the last decades describe, between 1951 and 2010, a general reduction of the residents within the city (25 % average decrease) that is opposed to an increase of about 10 % among the first and the second urban belts (source ISTAT).
Consumption of soil in the municipalities where the new municipality of Mappano is to become independent. Data in km2
One of the subjects of this paper deals with the acknowledged impacts of the decision to create a new micro municipality as a spin-off of existing and larger ones, on the environmental/landscape matrix, in which soil or land is an emblematic issue.
To clarify the use of terms, we call ‘administrative fragmentation’ both the high number of institutional policy makers that decide on environmental and social issues on the territory and the increase in the number of smaller decision makers. In this way, several units govern the landscape, each maximising its own goal on a small territory with an added need for inter-agency dialogue and coordination.
From the land consumption point of view, fragmentation is a serious menace as it is a process that separates and divides the continuity of the landscape. We cannot forget the available data illustrating that in small towns, the most common type of residence is the single-family home that continues to survive because of its perverse symbiosis with the private car, which in turn paradoxically survives only by consuming non-renewable energy resources such as petrol and diesel.
Besides, focusing on soil, data in Fig. 4 remind us that if one municipality splits into two smaller ones with fewer inhabitants, the risk of consuming more land per new inhabitant is higher than before. This is due also to the Italian peculiarity where a part of local taxes arises from the decision of municipalities to transform a piece of non-urbanized land into an urbanized one. Since 2004, many municipalities in Italy no longer receive money (or receive very little) from Rome or their home regions to pay for local services. So the possibility to use local taxes from urbanization has become an option more and more affordable to attract new inhabitants hoping they will contribute to the local economy and gather more money from urban developers.
This is a high risk for cases like Mappano. During the interview with the leader of the movement ‘Creating Mappano,’ he clearly stated that an amount of money to develop local services for citizens could have arisen from taxes paid by future developers invited to transform agricultural areas into urban ones.
Municipalities in Italy decide autonomously on land use changes and the control by regions has become weaker and weaker during recent years.
This scenario seems to be more problematic if we recognize that 28 % of Italy territory is governed by municipalities of under two-thousand inhabitants (equal to 43 % of Italian municipalities) and 70 % of all Italian municipalities have less than 5000 inhabitants. The latter administrate more than half the nation’s territory suggesting to us that the effects of this spatial-population distortion are severe and widespread.
Land dissipation is extremely difficult to manage because it has become culturally engrained in local politics, administration, and popular belief. Therefore, according to this popular notion, everyone is expected to partake in the worship of ground rent. This vulnerability is expected to be higher in small municipalities where there is more likely to exist political-administrative parochialism. This study in absurdity creates the perfect conditions in which sooner or later every family and/or interest group is able not only to possess but also to govern its own land in the most self-advantageous of ways (Pileri and Granata 2012). This is not just a tax issue, then, but rather a much broader problem concerning the administrative and territorial structures in which tax and urban policy are found (Pileri 2015).
To all this is added a cultural habit that feeds into the atavistic insensibility towards the environment and landscape, into a certain lifestyle based on the ridiculous notion that energy resources are inexhaustible and into a near total irresponsibility towards the production of food.
Mappano was born in this negative situation premised on new land consumption and a culture where the ecological value of soil is not taken into consideration. The consequences for landscape and soil of new urban development has not been represented in either the political or popular discourse.
The term ‘identity’ sometimes criticized for its intrinsic indefinability and ambiguity (Bray 2002; Brubaker and Cooper 2000) is important to describe how local political actors identify themselves with a given territory (Del Biaggio 2014; Desouza and Flanery 2013; Häkli 2001). In our case study, the struggle for a recognised ‘Mappanese’ identity is stronger than the awareness of the value of environmental resources with which the population lives, in particular the value of the soil resource. It is far the attempt to initiate bottom-up activities by showing specific advantages of improving soil quality proposed by Bouma and Droogers (2007). Could be decisive the use of social learning with associated investment? Social learning has in fact major implications for roles and skills that will generate important educational and training needs at a general societal level (Ison et al. 2007). Here, we have to restart from scratch. Social norms influence the acceptability of environmental policies principally when joint with coerciveness of environmental policies (de Groot and Schuitema 2012). The lack of a specific legislation on the soil issue in this case is particularly evident and relevant. It is urged that multi-scale measures promoting the conservation of high-quality agricultural land and reducing the environmental impact of soil sealing should be incorporated into a ‘polycentric’ regional planning strategy (Faludi 2005; Korthals Altes and Tambach 2008) avoiding excessive settlement dispersion (Salvati et al. 2013).
Conclusions: lessons from Mappano
High levels of satisfaction and perceived quality of life could be independent of the objective life conditions (Pol et al. 2002). In conclusion, we arrive at three considerations. The first is that an administrative event, such as the creation of a new small municipality, happens without any consideration of land and soil risks: no debate, no political conditions, and no evaluations have been a part of that process. The second is that the birth of Mappano allows us to understand that our cultural perceptions about landscape risks are very, very low or even absent and so there is no cultural force able to oppose that decision. This is a great defeat regarding not only Mappano or the Region of Piedmont or Italy but the whole mentality of our urban culture in Europe, which needs to be changed. The third regards the remains of our urban culture and civic attitude. We need to enforce issues dealing with environment, landscape and soil from a cultural point of view. Our citizens, our politicians and our technicians have too weak an idea of land and soil, which prevents them from finding sustainable alternatives. The time to invest in culture is now, as we all know that culture can be the best preventive medicine. Furthermore, the development of a linkage between urban and rural construction land management should be a reasonable and effective means for sustainable land development (Liu et al. 2015).
Nevertheless, the case of Mappano has a general significance. In fact Mappano has been firstly possible to an over simplification of the post-modern idea of local identity that seems (1) to be an undeniable, primary and nonnegotiable element of present time and (2) to overlay to the despotic idea of natural resources as more similar to commodities than to commons. Therefore, the satisfaction of local identity often means to build new barrier as a comfort zone where it is guaranteed, first, the right to decide independently by what and by the effects versus environmental resources and communities beyond the border. A sort of systematic dissociation between people and the surrounding landscape, people and the surrounding people. Policy and urban planning did not do anything effective to oppose, demonstrating to be weak disciplines, unable to affirm environmental reasons. This is a strong lesson asking us to be more able to define cultural and practical tools to let people know about the benefits to consider natural resources as a ‘plus’ and not a ‘minus’. We must renovate our arguments and the way to communicate them. Landscape fragmentation goes on being perceived as non-problem or, even, as a pillar of local identity wiping out all that issues that imply an over-boundary glance, suggesting to group and not to scatter.
Finally, we can get a further closing lesson thanks to a recent Italian law, L. 56/2014 known as Delrio law, by which groupings and fusions amid municipalities are foreseen, although in a volunteer way. Despite that law, whose approval process started just a couple years before, Mappano might born contradicting the law spirit itself. This suggests us that tools to avoid fragmentation must be more robust and, probably, mandatory or strongly convincing, working onto three parallel sides (for small-medium municipalities): encouraging the groupings with special subsidies, stopping or dropping ordinary subsidies to municipalities that can merge but refute to do it and discouraging new fragmentations applying new taxes, if happens.
But the municipality fusion is a problematic issue as long as cultural and political ripeness have been formed. In the meantime a good ‘third way’ could be to gather competences from many to one, especially environmental ones, as land use that implies soil protection, from biodiversity to water management, that do not respect administrative borders, by nature, and need a wider glance.
At the moment (2016, 2nd of May) this is the unique controversial formal issue that has stopped the election of the new Mappano’s Major. It is no coincidence that the element that is stopping the process is an environmental matter. This requires a different vision, not conceivable with the rigidness of administrative competences. So the administrative fragmentation, a new formal stakeholder together with its new demands and the re-design of the boundaries without any formal coordination are a problem, not a solution.
RS made substantial contributions to conception and design. PP and RS both made acquisition, analysis and interpretation of all data. PP and RS participated in drafting the article and revising it critically for important intellectual content. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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