Participation and ICT—for a [Viable and] Living City

Review by Eleni Tracada

Antonio Caperna, Alessandro Giangrande, Paolo Mirabelli & Elena Mortola (2013) Partecipazione e ICT. Per una città vivibile, Rome: Gangemi editore


The main purpose to select and connect together these chapters, papers and case studies is to link the concept of participatory urban and architectural designs to human oriented design processes, during which participants and citizens play a main role, no matter which rules and regulations have been followed and/or adopted. The book mainly supports recent developments in theories and practices and with brief and sound support from Prof. Elena Mortola on providing indexes of available materials and secondary sources to help scholars understand especially the importance of co-existence of both natural and built environments in New Urbanism and Urban Renaissance theories and practices, which mainly marked the second half of the 20th century.

In this book, although it is available to Italian speaking and reading scholars at the moment, some chapters are so vital to make us understand how Urbanism developed in Italy and how long it was until urban laws and regulations could start affecting community participatory projects. For instance, in his Integrazione delle pratiche di partecipazione nei processsi di pianificazione sostenibile (=Integration of participatory practices in the processes of sustainable urban planning), Alessandro Giangrande points us correctly to the political trends in Italy, in which precarietà (=precariousness) in employment and posts in institutions and public offices has been always a main issue; citizens have been influenced in such a way that they often reject community coordination in order to act as individual and selfish job hunters. The author of this chapter promotes literature in favour of Town Planning Laws, advocating a new paradigm of Strategic Choices (also explained in detail with very relevant information in Appendix B). To my opinion appendices A, B, and C are very important for this book; it might have been useful to see them following this chapter as one main chapter of case studies. These case studies could have been strong advocates of chapters, such as, for instance, Antonio Caperna’s Urbanistica Peer-to-Peer (=p2p Urbanism).

Antonio Caperna in his abovementioned chapter makes a detailed overview on the importance of open sources, such as free software availability in order to guarantee free distribution of materials, integrity of authorship, non-discriminatory applications, open free licencing of software, licencing which is not affecting the integrity of all co-operating IT programmes. The author explains with clarity the models of peer-to-peer design processes and makes reference to pioneer professionals and authors involved, like Michel Bauwens. In his discussion on topology, Caperna explains how effectively distribution networks function to help communities to be self-organised through collective intelligence efforts. The author explains that, current economic crisis could only suggest that, teaching in the schools of architecture should be re-designed in order to favour professional changes, which may help swiftly global communities to exchange useful data on either new urban developments or regeneration projects. The author especially affirms that, human beings should have the right to choose in which environment they want to live (p. 69) and peer-to-peer practices can only guarantee such a selection. It is also good to see some thoughts and recommendations for the future at the end of this chapter.

And I wish to conclude with some comments on the final article of this book, written by Antonio Caperna and Stefano Serafini on Biourbanistica come nuovo modello epistemologico (=Biourbanism as epistemological model). This is a well-structured chapter which includes all the information in brief that you need to understand Biourbanism’s aim and objectives. According to the authors epistemological reform in Urbanism was indispensable, as we can see in its developments, good or bad, especially in the second half of the 20th century and in the first decade of the 21st century. The authors explain with clarity why professionals and societies should adopt Biophilic architecture and design, which are the main benefits which are historically passed from antiquity to modernity; they also discuss about various scales of Biophilia and justly conclude that, today many authors and professionals could promote different shapes and forms for cities, far away from some disturbing current tumour sprawl models.

Antonio Caperna is an architect and PhD in Urban Sustainable design; he is President of the International Society of Biourbanism. Stefano Serafini is a philosopher and Director of Studies in Biourbanism. Alessandro Giangrande has a long career as a University teacher and also directed TIPUS laboratory in the Department of Urban Studies in University Tre Rome. Paolo Mirabelli, another author in this book, works for the Institute of Construction Technology, in Milan. And last, but, not least, Prof. Elena Mortola has a very long career in CAAD between the two Universities of Rome, La Sapienza and Tre.