An Interview with Rossana Torri, project manager of the Open Agri project.
1) Why did your city decide to apply under Urban Innovative Actions?
Milan is a metropolis that had to reinvent itself several times over the last decades. First and foremost after the deindustrialization happened in the late 70s the city developed fashion, design and finance industry as the new pillars for the development of new jobs and economy.
In the late 90s a new opportunity took place and a new direction was added to the latter: the food industry. Driven by a large periurban agricultural sector, Milan set itself as a national champion of Made in Italy and innovation in food and celebrated this role hosting Expo 2015 world fair mainly focused on nutrition.
After Expo, the city government of Milan decided to set up an urban coalition with a series of partners (Universities, companies, associations) in order to apply for the first call of UIA initiative, with the simple desire to scale up this positioning in the periurban agricultural industry, setting up a stable growth and creating new jobs and skills.
2) What do you consider to be the most innovative element of your project?
As stated before Milan combine two different policies in its participation in UIA, with a project called OpenAgri: “job and skills” and “urban agriculture”.
The most innovative side of OpenAgri is for sure the integration between those two policies, with a wider ambition than usual EU projects.
OpenAgri is in a way an integrated project according to several dimensions. It includes more policy areas and it is based on enforcing complementarities and supporting integration between different impact dimensions:
- educational and training environment: competencies validation and certification, educational services delivery, business planning, linkages with educational establishments;
- local and city-wide economy: production (products immediately accessible), entrepreneurship (innovative start-ups and supply chain integration);
- social (and recreational): inclusion, community engagement, training for vulnerable target groups, awareness and information;
- environmental production and agriculture (pollution reduction/prevention, soil conservation and environmental protection, renewable energy use, biodiversity safeguard), food security;
- resilient territorial development: environmental modelling and impact.
Important consequences from the OpenAgri project are also stated for the administration and the bureaucracy of the Milan local government. A lot of different parts of it are now able to work together on a common vision, plus the intangible value of the partnership with major university and association within the project.
3) What are the main changes that you expect to achieve in your municipality with this project?
I think that the main task will be to enhance a traditional sector like agriculture with the innovation and smartness side of the start-up scene.
In other words to connect the borders of the city with its own green fringes, in a sort of inside out strategy.
Tangible results are of course expected, like the creation of an innovation hub in the project area and the development of new skills and job related to the topic.
OpenAgri in fact does not just address the innovation in agrifood policy. It is mainly an urban policy experimentation that follows the place-based approach. The Hub will be located in Porto di Mare, an area defined as an “urban fringe”, representing the transition zone between the consolidated part of the city and the agricultural lands. This is the part where the city ends. Together with the agricultural lands, the ancient farmlands and the historical sites (like the beautiful Chiaravalle Abbey), it is also home to what the city has rejected and expelled: discos, scrapyards, Roma camps, a water treatment plant. On the other hand, this area presents important endowments and significant social resources (in terms of NGOs and community actors that work here). The challenge is to locate here an innovative urban service, trying to mobilize both local and citywide actors in the policy experimentation. As the place-based approach states, an innovative development policy can emerge just from the interaction between endogenous and exogenous resources.
4. After a year of implementation, can you tell us where you are with the project and what are the main challenges you expect to be confronted to?
Milan launched in October 2017 an Urban Agriculture Lab within UIA OpenAgri project.
After an initial tender phase of four months the City of Milan, as urban authority for the UIA OpenAgri project, will launch in January 2018 an Urban Agriculture Lab within the area of Cascina Nosedo, the future Open Innovation Hub of this urban metropolitan fringe.
50 proposals were submitted and 27 as of today were selected in the first phase of the tender, a great success for such an innovative call for ideas.
The Lab will explore innovative techniques in urban agriculture (from production to logistic, from Internet of Food to sharing economy) and it will engage a series of selected partners on using in the best possible way a public owned 30 hectares plot of land surrounding the south Milan Parco Sud boundaries. The Lab is primarily set to help entrepreneurs to develop new practices in Peri-Urban agriculture, to create new job opportunities and to revitalise a fringe area of the city.
We also set up an innovative communication strategy called #MilanoUpsideDown: Innovate the Rural | Growth the Urban.
The tag (supported by the explanatory claim) has the ambition to be the label of any idea, action and actor in Milan who questioned with a positive and proactive practice the consolidated hierarchies: Close vs Far, Centre vs Suburbs, Rural vs Urban.
Within the communication and engagement strategy OpenAgri will also launch a series of #MilanoUpsideDownLabs where everyone from every part of Milan (from the partners to normal citizen, from big companies to startups, from no profit associations to local government bodies) will be invited to present a project related to the values attached to the overall Tag and Claim of the communication plan as stated before. These meetings (15 between 2018 and 2019) will take place both on the ground in the form of workshops (for gathering and preparing the candidates projects) and in central media venues or occasions.
So let’s start to #MilanoUpsideDown with UIA initiative!