The City of Prato is experimenting urban forestation strategies through the Prato Urban Jungle (PUJ) project . The project foresees three pilot areas where the forestation strategies have been discussed with local inhabitants through a series of Junglathon participatory workshops. Under the current social distancing conditions the methodology has proved to be a courageous effort to ensure civic engagement in the discussion over the future of the city.
Nature takes care of us, and we take care of nature
Arch. Valerio Barberis, Deputy Mayor for Urban Planning and Environment of the City of Prato.
Prato Urban Jungle (PUJ) project placed itself along this blueprint, and aims to re-naturalize three diverse districts of the city in a sustainable, inclusive and participatory way by introducing areas with high green density – urban jungle – in the built environment. Urban jungles will be developed in three specific areas of the city of Prato.
The first will appear in an area with high population density, scattered with open green spaces, characterised by the presence of social housing and situations of social marginality. The complex consists of three blocks with 152 apartments inhabited by about 500 people. This intervention aims to restore green public spaces to the community by including trees, plants or grass on horizontal and vertical surfaces, absorbing tons of CO2 and creating a healthier living environment.
The second implementation will be located in Macrolotto Zero, an area characterised by underutilised spaces. The building identified for this experimentation is the one in via Giordano, which will be used for the city’s new metropolitan market. This intervention will be part of a larger renewal plan in the neighbourhood, led by the municipality, through the implementation of services and the creation of new buildings and public spaces for working, community engagement and open-air activities. The renewal plan in Macrolotto Zero aims to convert the nature of the neighbourhood: from a transition area into a place to be and stay.
The third will be developed in a private area: the ESTRA building and its surroundings located in a complex urban area overlooking the busiest public street in the city, with a daily passage of 50,000 vehicles. ESTRA has chosen to join this project not only for the protection of the environment, but also for the well-being of people (employees, citizens and the territory). Moreover, ESTRA is a national entity that operates throughout the national territory for the supply of natural gas, electricity, telecommunications and energy services.
The partnership of Prato Urban Jungle is complex and heterogeneous, with the Municipality of Prato as the lead member. PNAT and Boeri Associates have taken care of the design phase. Particularly, PNAT is composed by designers and plant scientists that use the comprehension of plants patterns and behaviours to inspire innovative design concepts and products, and this project will be involved in the designing phase of the urban jungles and in testing their green benefits. While Boeri Associates operate in the fields of architecture, urban design and urban planning all around the world with a focus on the use of green in architecture. Legambiente Toscana enhances awareness and educates the new generations towards a healthy and sustainable environment. The institute of Bioeconomy of the National Centre of Research, known for their innovative environmental monitoring system, will be collecting environmental data, and ESTRA will be managing all of the data. Then, Treedom and Greenapes will get involved; two enterprises that aim for a green and sustainable society by planting plants around the world and giving rewards for eco-friendly behaviours. And lastly, Co-design Toscana, a cultural association with experts of design, architecture and citizen engagement and participatory processes will develop new ideas with citizens to be implemented through co-creation sessions.
The Junglathon represents a fundamental path of the Prato Urban Jungle project, dedicated to the participation and involvement of citizens. The core focus of the Junglathon is the co-design workshops held from the 25th to 27th of September. Co-Design Toscana, through an innovative approach applied to a design thinking process, involved the citizens of the Soccorso and Macrolotto 0 neighbourhoods in the Junglathon path, aimed at raising awareness, citizen participation, civic imagination and co-planning of sustainable urban futures.
During the months that have preceded the Junglathon LAB, a group of researchers and experts from Co-Design Toscana have employed ethnographic research in these neighbourhoods. Through this research, they observed, interviewed and intercepted inhabitants or passers-by in order to gather the citizens’ needs, expectations, direct the following activities, and to engage the different stakeholders.
Research from the Soccorso neighbourhood and interviews with the residents, from the social housing setting in Via Turchia, revealed a sort of nostalgia of the past and the social interactions that were present. Though, nowadays, the cohesion among the residents is frayed. This intervention is seen as something that must come after an important effort of social reconnection. Another important remark that the investigation discovered is the particular demographic composition of the social housing setting: only 12 youngsters are living there. Therefore, it is necessary to find a way to attract more youngsters and young families to the neighbourhood.
Instead, through the investigation, the Macrolotto Zero area was identified as a central periphery and as a transition area, with a high daily flow of people who, perhaps, do not live in the area. Interestingly, in the area a diverse group of populations coexist, from young, educated and active entrepreneurs to socially disinterested and detached groups. Despite the fact that different virtuous interventions have taken place in the neighbourhood, such as the media-library, the revitalisation of the market and the creation of a playground, these have not yet enhanced social cohesion.
After the preliminary ethnographic research, Co-Design Toscana held three days of co-creation sessions. Experts, researchers, designers and architects, and also citizens, attended these workshops. The co-creation sessions were preceded by a participatory mapping, where researchers from Co-Design Toscana highlighted the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and related threats of the intervention areas. By doing this, they raised awareness and a broader understanding of the situation among the participants. Importantly, these workshops have seen an intergenerational approach, where young students and elderly citizens from the study areas confronted each other and together.
In the last day of the three-days event, Co-design Toscana presented the three so-called “pretotypes”, that came out from the co-creation session (which are something before a prototype) a provocation by citizens to direct the intervention towards the residents’ needs and to enhance further discussion with architects, designers and the municipality.
The next step of this participatory process would be to go back in the territories of interventions with these ideas and start a dialogue with the residents in order to validate and improve the concepts which have been developed.