Our cities and their systems of energy, water, food, transport, shelter, and information are dependent on large flows of fossil fuel-based energy. This dependency must change, urgently, to deal with the impacts of climate change and peak oil.
Cities account for 75% of global energy demand – they are the structural engines of the form of economic growth that now threatens our future prosperity. Cities also have to deal with changes to the climate and extreme weather events – floods, droughts, heat-waves, storms – all increasingly beyond historical experience.
Cities are also a focus of great hope – their vitality and their diversity of social interactions can provide the creative force for the development of a post-fossil fuel future.
Historic cities, which preserve many layers of history in the physical form of their built environment, face particular challenges. In the coming period of transformation they will confront a tension between historic preservation and future-driven innovation and growth.
Florence is a ‘prime’ example of such an historic city – a global cultural resource – with a population of approximately 370,000 inhabitants (1.5 million including the surrounding area). The city is revered as the ‘birthplace’ of the Italian Renaissance; it became a major force for the modernization of Europe during the 14th through 16th centuries. UNESCO named Florence a World Heritage Site in 1982. Today it is an iconic tourist city-museum with tens of millions of tourists per year. Its challenging future is evident from its difficulties in dealing with extended heat-waves in summer and a long drought, unusual snow falls in winter and its perpetual vulnerability to flood. Innovation and transformation cannot be delayed.
Current mayor, Matteo Renzi, said: “In the relationship between the past and the future can we find a key that strengthens our innovativeness rather than feeds the pessimistic stagnation so rampant today?
Visions of Florence
The City of Florence invited the Eco Acupuncture program of the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning to envision a “resilient, sustainable Florence in 2035” and to propose steps to get there.
VEIL took three staff members and 15 Masters students in architecture, building technology, urban design, and planning from the University of Melbourne to Florence in September 2102. They were joined by Masters students from the Technical University of Delft (the Netherlands) and undergraduate students and staff from New York University Florence, as well as some doctoral students from the University of Florence Architecture School. The city provided a design atelier space in the centre of Florence. Many of its most important buildings were provided as locations for a series of seminars about the city, opened by the Deputy Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella.
The design atelier became a hub for the study of Florence and its transformational challenges. Students and eco-design professors from Australia, Italy and the Netherlands, formed small design teams to focus on five sites within the city selected as ‘pressure points’ for the coming decades – from buildings to precincts, to larger elements of urban infrastructure:
- San Lorenzo and the Central Market
- The Florence tram network
- The Arno
- The Villa la Pietra (NYU)
- “Ghost Buildings” (historic buildings currently vacant)
For each site a number of twenty-five year transformations were conceived and visualised and presented progressively to the city. Small scale Eco-Acupuncture interventions within the sites were then proposed as starting points for the longer term transformation.
Arno River Path
The unconnected riverside sites of Mantignano, Cascine, the city centre and Anconella are linked by a floating path and linear park that creates a series of new experience for Florentines without the hassles of fighting the traffic congestion resulting from tourism on the road network.
Central Market: Catalyst for Urban Change
The Florence Central Market is now conveniently placed at the centre of a local transport node that reconnects it to the surrounding communities.
Central Market: New Food Culture
The building is internally planned to enhance pedestrian flow and access within it along with clearly sign-posted food categories and zones.
Floline: Mobile Resource Network
Florence tramline now connects not only people and places but also communities and culture. The system transports food and waste as well as passengers.
Floline: Sites of Life
The T1 tramline is developed as a network of interconnected destinations and resources for social and environmental resilience.
Florence Community Food Park
A community recreational park and food producing constructed wetland is developed in the city centre.
Florence Fashion Week Floating Piazza
To return the Arno river, now an ignored heath hazard, to a sustainable centre of Florentine city life, new uses and activities must be found that are destinations for Florentines not just tourists.
Florence Green Information Centre
The empty Super Cinema building is converted into an exhibition, educational and showcase space for the Florentine ‘Greenaissance’.
Greenaissance Flowers and Distributed Innervation
The old Court House is the prototype site for a new network of reconditioned ‘Ghost building’ spaces, that all feature prominent retractable solar collection arrays or ‘solar flowers’.
Niccolini Theatre: Ideas Exchange
The Niccolini Theatre is transformed into an educational and conference centre communicating the programs and strategies of the Florence ‘Geenaissance’ locally, nationally and internationally.
Old Courthouse Redesign
The Old Law Courts or Court House is transformed into a material, component and production exchange space for new, locally based, sustainable Florentine producers.
Open Source Artisan Lab
The Old Law Courts or Old Courthouse features a new production hub as part of the network of ‘Ghost buildings’.
Revitalising the Lungarno
To create resilient infrastructure for the Lungarno area of Florence, traffic congestion, heat island effect and access to the newly remediated Arno river must be addressed.
Villa La Pietra Living Lab
Villa La Pietra, one of a ring of grand Renaissance villas that surround old Florence is transformed into a living laboratory to develop and demonstrate resilient strategies for local food production, water harvesting and purification, and flood mitigation.
Wetland: Functional Landscape
A functional and recreational wetland is constructed along the banks of the Arno in central Florence.