Modern Milan developed around heavy industry, from the black smoke of Falk’s and Pirelli’s chimneys and the red one of Breda, to the iron and the noise of the heavy infrastructure to support them. From the ‘70s the city rapidly lost this heavy industry connotation and progressively and ruefully became the center of the service industry. The powerful rail network that surrounded the city adapted and refocused reducing the use of urban areas. Rail carriages parking and exchanges has been moved outside and the city rail yards have been abandoned.
Milan nowadays, as it goes through yet another transformation, is still well aware of the strategic importance of its railway network. The town hall and Ferrovie dello Stato (the state company which owns the great majority of Italy’s railway network) have worked for years on an agreement, whose signature seems imminent, to revamp Milan’s railway yards. It is a big and important project, not only for the size of the areas involved (one and quarter million square meters) but also for its strategic importance in that it can make Milan contemporaneous with significant urban green and a sustainable economy to which the city council committed unanimously last September.
Ferrovie dello Stato have commissioned five architectural practices (Cino Zucchi Architetti, Embt Miralles Tagliabue, Mad Architects, Mecanoo, Stefano Boeri Architetti) to prepare a high level plan for the revamping of the railway yards. The visions presented are in line with the city council’s commitment and are characterized by sustainability in terms of transport, energy use, building materials, green areas and home affordability.
Cino Zucchi says “the strong point of our proposal is urban green, capable of drawing the surrounding web and not only an ecological resource”. He speaks of “green that shapes the city” and thinks of it as an infrastructure capable of connecting neighborhoods, bridging rifts caused by railways and facilitating relationships between citizens. He thus titles his project “seven wonderful broli”, “brolo” meaning lawn open or enclosed, ideal place for socializing.
Stefano Boeri proposes an “urban reforestation” with wild green cohabiting with urban green. His “green river”, which would run along the rail tracks for at least 30 km, is a mix of urban, agricultural and wild green. Not only gardens and parks but also orchards, woods, hills and forests. His green would cover 90% of the railway yards and be capable of producing some two thousand tons of oxygen and sequestering fifty nine thousand tons of carbon dioxide. On top, literally, architectural green on the roofs of the buildings covering the residual 10% of the areas. This built up area would be developed vertically on the fringes of large and open green areas and would comprise some 3,500 apartments at affordable prices, co-housing and co-working structures and host craftsman and innovative industrial activities. Under the green river a geothermal plant would provide energy to the city by exploiting the rich natural water supply. The constant temperature of ground water would be used for both cooling and heating and run parallel to the existing power network. Energy production costs would drastically fall with the geothermal plant providing some four hundred thousand megawatts per annum.
World Wild Foundation for Nature of Italy focuses its project on wild green in its “green railways” proposal which sees in the revamping of the railway yards an opportunity to create ecological oases along the tracks in the southern part of the city. The oases would contribute socially as they could be visited and lived by citizens as well as increase biodiversity. There are a host of plant and animal species in the railway yards areas and ecological oases would guarantee their preservation and prosperity.
Milan has a chance to regain a relationship with the wilderness that few cities can claim. It can aim, on a larger scale, at what Berlin has done with Natur Park Sudgelande: a successful example of rescued biodiversity for the use and benefit of its citizens. From the end of World War II and the division of the city in four sections, Berlin’s railways network was radically altered with the railway yard of Tempelhof being shut down completely. Over the following forty years nature gradually took over the abandoned tracks. After the fall of the Wall the city administration in the early nineties intervened preserving the wilderness while establishing walking routes through it for the benefit of Berliners.
The plan of Miralles Tagliabue introduces water as a regenerating element for Milan’s railway yards in view of the city’s history of canals. It thus propose canals, ponds and a lake to create aggregating and regenerating spaces by the railway yards and the complex neighboring suburbs.
Mobility in all these visions is public, as opposed to private, and sustainable. All projects entail cycling routes, car sharing and rail transport on existing tracks. Boeri proposes a “circle line” with 36 stops that would circle the city and intercept subway lines.
In summary, not just the abused “from grey to green” slogan, but green as the motor of transformation to a new way of living and working, to new social behavior, for a more equitable and modern sociality.
by Chiara Ponzini