In the Veneto central plane, historically shaped by agriculture, the countryside is being taken over by a particular form of urban sprawl, called città diffusa (dispersed city), where cities, villages, single houses and industries live alongside agriculture. This phenomenon is generally analyzed mainly as a typical urban/rural conflict, and the sprawl gets criticized as a countryside destroyer.
By observing some paradoxical situations in the città diffusa in Veneto, the contrary is apparent – urban sprawl seems to have been rather a conservation factor for the ecological and cultural richness of the agricultural space. Agricultural space itself plays an important multifunctional role in this territory. If seen from this point of view, dispersed urbanization in the Veneto region can be seen as a sort of prototype of a new contemporary form - neither urban nor rural – of cultural landscape, where farming spaces can have a public role strictly linked to the urban population's needs.
Can this character be preserved through the metropolization process now envisaged by regional policy and planning, and already happening? Can the “Agropolitana” concept introduced by the new Regional Spatial Plan help to imagine and obtain a resilient metropolis, while maintaining a strong agricultural layer inside it?
Since their beginnings, urbanization processes have been interpreted not only as countryside destroyers, but also as a potential form of cooperation of rural and urban inhabitants, resulting in the disappearance of the town/country dichotomy (Juillard 1973). In the past, this long-lasting idea inspired several famous urban theories - from Howard’s garden-city (1902), to Schwartz’s stadtlandschaft (1946) - and fascinating predictions - from Wells’ diffusion of cities (1902) to Sorokin and Zimmermann’s rurbanisation (1929).
The present debate will stress the need for a new relationship between cities and open territory, giving agriculture a new centrality in our territories’ future. If we should “delegate to nature” many of our cities' needs (Sassen, 2009), urbanization should become “awake”, learning not by industry processes, as it did in the 20th century, but by agriculture, capable of gently manipulating nature (Branzi, 2005). The presence of agricultural space in urban structures is extremely important since it may improve their resilience (Garnett 1999, Mougeot 2005, Urban Agriculture 2009).
Could the Veneto città diffusa be considered to be a sort of prototype for this integration? This model is maybe not the best possible one, but has some positive aspects, despite the land consumption issue. Land consumption must be considered not only in a quantitative way, but also as a problem of territorial form, having a better or worse performance in the face of new challenges, the first being sustainability.
Agriculture space, in fact, has the capacity to host contemporarily different functions like food production, energy production, environmental values, leisure and other social services. Its permeability performs well in cases of heavy rain and, under certain conditions, it can be used as an emergency flooding area. The chains of production (for example the corn cultivation - cattle breeding - beef to export chain) can be shortened to increase sustainability. When needed, food for inhabitants can be produced by their own territory. We should also acknowledge the role of small scale and part-time agriculture in landscape and environment conservation.
In this sense, the presence of agricultural space inside the upcoming Veneto metropolis must be considered as a warranty for a sustainable future. The agropolitana concept, however, must be explored in order to better integrate agricultural space into the design of urban development. Devising a concrete project for this space – a project for its multifunctionality – is what still needs to be done.
Link para o texto integral:
Revija za geografijo - Journal for Geography, 4-2, 2009, 129-142