Urban redevelopment in Ticino from bottom up

What young people wish from urban development in Lugano

Marto Buoro

One of the most recent urban regeneration operations in the Canton of Ticino is that of the City of Lugano, which in 2019 decided to implement its own Municipal Master Plan (PDCom); the objective: the revision of the 23 Regulatory Plans inherited over 50 years of aggregations. Today Lugano is the ninth largest city in Switzerland by number of inhabitants and the second largest by land area. To promote information on urban planning processes, the Istituto Internazionale di Architettura of Lugano has been involved in cultural mediation projects for years, making architecture a tool for reading and understanding the great transformations of contemporaneity.

Mediazione Giovani

Between 2021 and 2022, the Istituto Internazionale di Architettura facilitated the engagement process on the new PDCom by organising discussion tables with citizens and associations, as well as two rounds of public lectures. However, these information events lacked the presence of the youngest segment of the population. Thus, the pilot project of the urban culture workshops "Mediazione Giovani 2022/2023" was born, in collaboration with the geography and biology professors of Lugano's Liceo 1. An unprecedented in-depth study of disciplines related to territorial planning and urban regeneration processes and techniques has come to life. Thanks to the support of the City of Lugano, the pupils of all third-grade classes of the Lugano 1 and 2 Lycées and two fourth-grade classes were involved: a total of more than 540 students1, those citizens about to begin their university studies and obtain the right to vote when they come of age.

From tourism to banking to land development

Lugano is unique in the world for its morphological characteristics. With its 30 km in length, and elevation differences ranging from 232 m above sea level on the lakeshore to 1,810 m in its mountains, there are few flat areas and many forests on the slopes that were terraced in the past. With a rural tradition and as a little fishing village, Lugano became a tourist destination during the Belle-Epoque, with villas, botanical gardens and funicular railways. During the period of banking secrecy, it was Switzerland's third largest economic centre. Today, it is a city in search of a new identity and economic balance, also seeking to counteract the brain drain phenomenon witnessed throughout Ticino. It is in this context that the PDCom fits, providing an opportunity to enhance the multiple identities of the aggregated villages and unite the development of a heterogeneous territory in a common vision. To equip itself with this instrument, the City decided to use an unusual procedure by issuing a parallel study mandate. In September 2021 the Board of Experts and the City Hall chose the winning project: "Lugano2050: a vision and a plan proposal" by the Studio Paola Viganò group. From an in-depth reading of the morphological, urban and landscape characteristics of the area, a vision of "Constellations of villages and neighbourhoods" emerged, for each of which guidelines were developed for mobility projects, public space, services, functional mix and transformation of the fabric, ecological and energy infrastructures.

Citizens of the future

The Istituto Internazionale di Architettura is the only centre of urban culture dedicated to the exploration of spatial and sustainability issues south of the Alps. With the "Mediazione Giovani" project, the students had the opportunity to understand what planning is and how they can take part in the change and transformation of the area in which they live, both as citizens and in the future as professionals. The involvement of all third-grade classes of a city's public secondary schools is a national first. Classroom work was supported by an exhibition of the winning project boards, accompanied by illustrations of case studies that could inspire the students. During the workshops, the students had the task of identifying an area of the city on which they wished to intervene and draw their transformation proposals. Each class, at the end of the workshops, showed and explained their elaborated projects to the municipal technicians and the PDCom planners; the dialogue with them allowed a direct exchange on the future development of the city.2 Moreover, having conducted the school workshops in conjunction with the finalisation of the PDCom, the planners were able to incorporate many of the proposals and observations that emerged into the Plan. The work was also exhibited at the Institute's headquarters from 1 to 14 September 2023. For the school year 2023/2024, the Istituto Internazionale di Architettura is finalizing the didactic program of the urban culture workshops for all public secondary schools in Ticino3. Each city will deal with a planning tool and the workshops will be organized on the basis of the curriculum of each school, in order to have a direct exchange with the figures involved in the development and urban planning of the different territories involved. The second edition of the "Mediazione Giovani" will involve more than 1,120 students in approximately 425 hours of active workshops on current spatial planning processes. It is important that young people express what they expect from urban development. After all, they will be living in this city of tomorrow.

1 Ticino is the canton with the highest maturity rate by the age of 25 in Switzerland (57% in 2019, almost six out of ten young adults).  Among the cantons, Ticino leads both in terms of the baccalaureate (33%) and the vocational baccalaureate (22%).

2 A film has been made about the presentation and parts of the participation processes: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjBeAseRk2A (accessed on 23.11.2023)

3 Namely: Liceo Mendrisio, Liceo Lugano 1, Liceo Lugano 2, Liceo Lugano 3, Liceo Bellinzona, Scuola Cantonale Commercio Bellinzona, Liceo Locarno.