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UPDATE – Activities in Italy

The initial situation – our remote place and its treasures

Since 2021, the Milano SMOTIES Team has been active in Basso Monferrato territory, specifically focusing on Albugnano village. 
Basso Monferrato is an area between Turin, Alessandria, and Asti in the Piedmont region, north-western Italy. The territory is a mixture of hills and plains, characterized by wine and rice cultivation, castles, and villages, with still unexpressed potential.
This area has a significant historical and cultural heritage of the Romanic period, with a high concentration of churches and chapels, such as the Santa Maria di Vezzolano Abbey in Albugnano, included in the “TRANSROMANICA,” one of the Culture Routes of the Council of Europe. 
The wine-growing sector is one of the driving forces, also for the complementary gastronomic industry and typical products, as well as an influential resource for developing the commercial and tourist sectors. 
For all the reasons described above, the Basso Monferrato area has solid potential and great material and immaterial culture; however, needing a better connection and communication network among all the points of interest.
For the town of Albugnano, in particular, the progressive underutilization and closure of gathering places in the last years have led to the need for community spaces in strong relation to their historical and architectural heritage. Local activists are working on renovating their usability and accessibility, enhancing cultural initiatives for locals and visitors and the sense of local pride, especially towards creating a synergic connection between the town’s lower and higher areas, where the two prominent landmarks are located: the Abbazia di Vezzolano and the Belvedere Motta.

The insight into the rural social fabric

Since spring 2022, students from Degree courses of Politecnico and Cattolica University of Milano have been investigating the territory and specific locations with still unexpressed potential. Through these courses, they developed possible project ideas that have been presented to local stakeholders in co-design sessions and open exhibitions with the aim of discussing the possible developments in the field.
This set of initiatives is further nurturing the project development, unfortunately slowed down for a few weeks by the fall of the city council last November 2022.
Despite everything, thanks to the flourishing contacts already established on the territory, we have redefined trajectories and identified two public places where co-design activities could be pursued.

Topics, locations and first prototypes

Using the SMOTIES toolkit, we decided to focus on the following “Windows on the Future”: Project Communities, Distributed Education, and Beyond Tourism.
Thanks to interviews with locals, we discovered that Albugnano used to have specific places for aggregation where the community met, now underused or closed. Citizens, newcomers and tourists are therefore looking for a renewed vision on their gathering places.
Through co-creation workshops and community-building activities, we are co-designing two community public spaces: two green areas in the historical centre and in front of the Abbazia di Vezzolano.
The prototyped places will try to enhance local pride, strengthen the sense of belonging to the territory, and, as a long-term impact, improve the local tourism economy by supporting local initiatives in their regional funding applications and cultural projects.
Due to the political issues described above, we have yet to start the activities in the places. However, in the next weeks, we are planning regular meetings with groups of active citizens and stakeholders to begin co-designing temporary facilities and/or soft services for these two spaces according to the people’s needs and desires. We will then test them during the Quadilà Festival 2023, a local event supporting the SMOTIES activities.
Collaborative activities between researchers and students of Politecnico di Milano will also flow in synergy with the various initiatives planned during the festival days.

ALBUGNANO, BASSO MONFERRATO, PIEDMONT REGION, ITALY_Politecnico di Milano, Department of Design

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Contact person: Paola Russo