Expert article
Edit 05 December 2023
by Daniela Patti

Upscaling the PUJ project through the Cities Mission 

Recently the City of Prato was recognised under the EU Mission for Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, which offers a great potential towards the upscaling of the PUJ experience. In fact, as the Municipality of Prato has been  selected by the European Commission amongst the cities that will participate in the mission “100 smart and climate-neutral cities by 2030”, the so-called “Cities Mission”, is a highly relevant upscaling experiences for the Prato Urban Jungle (PUJ) project.  

In the two-year period 2022-23, the mission will be able to count on approximately 360 million euros of funding from the Horizon Europe program, to launch innovation paths to achieve climate neutrality by 2030, based on these key sectors, such as energy efficiency and production, transportation, waste management, industrial processes, agriculture, forestry and other land uses. 

We have interviewed Valerio Barberis, Deputy Mayor for Urban Planning and Environment of the City of Prato to know more about the work being carried out towards making Prato a climate neutral and smart city in Europe. 

PUJ project

 

What has the climate neutral mission of the city of Prato been awarded for?

The big framework is the European Green Deal - a vision for Europe where Europe will be the first continent to become carbon neutral by 2050. 

Starting from the fact that urban areas are the most responsible for the climate emergency we are facing, and of course urban areas and cities impact more than 70% of C02 emissions. The EU Commission developed the climate-neutral and smart cities mission, asking European cities with more than 50000 inhabitants to show the strategies they developed in the last years for climate neutrality and urban resilience, and to show their future plans for a climate neutral action. These 100 cities - and Prato is within that list - are the avant garde at the EU level in terms of building strategies, action-, and governance models to develop a climate neutral plan in order to become climate neutral by 2030. It means 20 years before the task of the European Green Deal, so we are somehow becoming examples for all other European cities in terms of strategies, actions, financing and governance.
 

What are you planning to do in the city of Prato?

Starting from 2014, we somehow developed our own Green Deal, what we like to call the Prato Green Deal. First of all, the main issue was to connect urban planning, environmental planning and sanitary prevention. What is relevant is to connect urban planning strategies together with environmental strategies. For instance, a general document for urban planning in the city has been approved in 2018, focusing especially on environmental issues, so developing a zero consumption of agricultural land, while working on enhancing and providing strategies for the reuse of the cities, and at the same time working on the open lands that are still within the city and in the outskirts, saying that all these areas are part of a bigger strategy of urban forestry. 

2018 - the city of Prato is one of the first EU cities to have an urban forestry general action plan, that is the document providing all the strategies, all the actions on urban resilience and forestry. 

At the same time, from an environmental point of view, the city has been working on several aspects, such as how do we provide energy to public and private buildings, how do we provide energy efficiency programs and renovation of existing public and private buildings. Creating a governance model to put together all the stakeholders involved, energy, societies, that stakeholders of the building sector, banks, finance and so on. 

Also urban mobility: we have a sustainable urban mobility plan that works in the direction of reducing CO2 emissions. Somehow our vision for the city is to put together all these strategies that are now part of several programs - Prato Forest City is the program for urban forestry, Prato Urban Jungle is developing nature-based solutions in the city, Prato Circular City, an accelerator for the transition to circular economy in the city, and Prato Digital City - digitalization and the use of data in order to give data a scientific approach to political decisions. All these documents are now part of the document for the carbon neutrality of the city. The main issue is that thanks to the urban forestry program, we know how many trees we have in the city, and which ones we can plant in the city, and their maximum amount, so we are able to analyse the max quantity of CO2 that can be intercepted by trees, or better, by the Territorial system of trees.
 

What could be the connection of the strategy in relation to Prato Urban Jungle, and how did this contribute to the strategy?

PUJ is a programme that has been developed in the last years, but we are now considering it part of the bigger strategies of the city. PUJ is a programme where we first had three, now four experimental areas where we further develop nature-based solution strategies in order to put green at the centre of social and urban regeneration programmes in very dense parts of the city, where buildings are physically the places where trees and plants can grow. Transforming the paradigm of a built city that is a place where you can have nature but at the same time PUJ is a very complex programme with partnerships with a lot of experts, for instance Legambiente, a very important ong working on environmental issues at national level. They developed a toolkit for creating knowledge and experiences in the schools of the city; the national centre for research, CNR, is developing a strategy to spread sensors around the city, acquiring data such as temperature, C02 emission percentage etc. Another action has been developed by Treedom, and it aims to develop a model for Prato Forest City programme. We are now approaching a programme at an overall urban level dimension where we work together with citizens in order to finance the urban forestry programme. Prato Forest City and the model provided by PUJ related through the work of Treedom is to develop a platform at urban level where all the programs made by the administration and all those which are put by the administration in private financing and crowdfunding programmes are put together in order to show that the city is working in an overall way that even the smallest action, for instance planting two trees in front a school, is part of a bigger programme.

PUJ is somehow a startup. An output has been to develop the Prato Forest City platform  programme and PUJ is part of it because the nature-based solutions programme in dense parts of the city is the PUJ project itself.

PUJ project

Macrolotto Zero pilot site. Photo by Eutropian
 

What are the major challenges and opportunities you see in the implementation of the overall strategy?

Of course, what we are asked by the EU Commission is to have an overall strategy at city level, and what is relevant for the city of Prato is that along with Florence it is one of the nine Italian cities that have been selected, so we can now work in one of the densest areas of Tuscany, also at metropolitan level. Our first task is to somehow define a governance model where the programmes that can be developed directly by the public administration and those that can be developed directly by the stakeholders of the city should, and must, be within the same framework. In the experience of Prato and Florence, there is this another dimension at the level where two cities can create governance models in order to work together in this transition towards climate neutrality. 

Just like the other 99 cities, we have the mission to develop a plan and a programme where both the actions and the funds that are necessary to develop this action plan, but at the same time it’s also very important to develop governance models in terms of urban regulations, how can climate neutrality and carbon neutrality be a strategy for the industrial sectors of the city, and on top of that we are also starting to develop a governance model between Prato and Florence and the other seven Italian cities where we are trying to find groups of cities that are working on specific topics.

PUJ project

Site visit at the Via Turchia housing estate. Photo by Eutropian
 

2030 Prato, what do you see? 

In my opinion, it is important to understand that people are starting to be more and more aware of the impact that the climate emergency is producing. There are problems in terms of islands, water in the cities and so on. So now I think it’s more and more difficult to say that we are only talking about something that is unreal. People experience in their everyday lives what it means to live in a period of climate emergency. What we always say to people is that we are in a situation that comes from decades of business as usual, it’s not easy to change this, so what is important is to start to understand that urban and environmental planning, and the creation of an awareness in a city is more and more important - planning that should be then developed by actions and projects and so by something that can be somehow physically understandable by people and citizens but at the same time it is very important to make people understand that even the smallest actions are important, so that it becomes a movement. What we are saying is that among the 100 cities  we are somehow an avantgard at a EU level, but what is relevant is that these cities must be responsible for the creation of a movement where citizens must ask politicians to work in this direction. Starting from 2014 on these issues, we created planning documents and somehow all the documents that are putting the city in what we think is the right direction. In this direction, if a city of 200.000 people starts to work in this direction, it means that this direction is going to be developed in 10 or 15 years. Then, this must be a direction that must be considered as a priority by all the stakeholders and all the political parties because it’s not about right or left. We are all in this together. Of course, there are political parties that are more sensitive about the topic. What is surely relevant is that younger generations are more and more involved in these issues. This is why it's important that  we work in schools starting from primary schools through high schools - working in order to develop this kind of approach where the younger generation must be really the first and the most important generation to be involved in this direction. I think that the city of Prato is changing the paradigm or the narration of the city. This is what we have been trying to do since 2014. Prato is considered as a textile industrial city, with strong multiculturality issues. We started to say that Prato is a city of circular economy where we are developing a green dimension for the city, and a narration of it. We see that outside Prato, this is something that is well known, in Prato too there is political debate and this is really interesting, different visions for the city are being discussed more and more. What is relevant in my opinion is that what we have done in terms of planning and documents is something that is putting the city in the direction where 20.000 people that start to work and move in a certain direction, then it’s very hard if not impossible to change this for at least 5 to 10 years. 

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