Interview with Luca Cianfriglia, Director of the Gate Project
The “Gate Project" is a public- private development agency founded in order to create, develop and manage specific regeneration projects on the Area of Porta Palazzo in Turin. In this historical and intercultural neighbourhood there is the “Balon”, one of the biggest flea markets in Europe, a traditional meeting point between migrants and the local community.
The first part of the Gate Project’s activity on the Balon area started on 1998 with the aim to redefine the position to be given to irregular street merchants into the local context, in an urban area characterised by noise, sale of counterfeit goods and a lack of security (pick pocketing of the residents and abuses of power amongst the sellers). In 2001 the Gate Project participated in the setting up of an empowering process engaging informal leaders, between the pitchmen, to form the Vivibalon Association with the aim to manage the activities of the sellers and to mediate conflicts at market. Each Saturday several merchants take the role of “Service Operators” to control the market.
In 2009 the second part of Gate Project’s activity has been put in place. An area contiguous to flea market, San Pietro in Vincoli Parking, was occupied on Saturdays by hundreds of new irregular pitchmen, raising new problems like: conflicts between regular and irregular pitchmen, difficulties for residents to access to the area and to find a parking, a greater sense of insecurity among the residents. The Gate Project and the Municipality of Turin found new solutions. A part of San Pietro in Vincoli Parking was allocated for parking for residents, and a part for sale (with the creation of 104 new locations). Moreover 172 sellers became members of the Vivibalon Association which manages the new pitchmen placing, and asks for payment of public ground and street cleaning taxes.
Luca, what did you do in order to mobilise sufficient political support for the project?
The strength of “The Gate” as a project lies in its being an instrument of
the public administration, hence of official policies, in a complex locality.
Where the most important and sensitive projects are concerned, the commitment and support of the political tier is
a necessary precondition for the planning and managing of activities. Studies of the phenomenon, consultation meetings with the various interest groups and negotiation of the implementing arrangements with the urban authority and with the beneficiaries, are the phases that have attended the birth and progress of the action and gained the agreement of the townspeople and the administrators.
How did you deal with negative reactions by media?
Awareness of the action’s unpopularity has directed our work and spurred us to exercise greater care in reporting the work process, the criticalities observed, and the results achieved.
Special care was taken over communication with the members of the public directly affected as residents of the adjacent area, and this communication was brought about by making direct contact with individuals, administering a questionnaire that would obtain their views before and after the action’s trial run, and setting up some panels that would narrate the process completed and especially how a solution to the problems was reached after an effort of analysis which involved different institutional and other players.
This made it possible to mitigate the citizens’ sense of being “left alone” to face the problem, often prompting them to complain repeatedly of the crisis situations to the press and the media as the resort visible to them for drawing attention to difficulties and hardships.
How did you gain the trust of the migrant and local vendors?
The trust of the migrant and local vendors was won through a physical presence of the
members of the street task force that worked for months at “hands-on
observation” through which they got to know and to be known by the vendors. The
task force members consistently made clear the nature of the problems linked with unauthorised dealing and with the need to find concerted solutions for restoring
the public order. Let us also remember that the present action ties in with an
earlier regularisation of the flea-market through the creation of the “Vivibalon” association composed of vendors well acquainted with the realities and the dynamics of the Balon market who were a major stakeholder in this regularisation process. Thus the vendors understood that the project was intended to address the situation by seeking strategies which would provide for their inclusion and not just for solving the problem.
How did you deal with conflicts? Could you give an example?
A variety of conflicts were present, chiefly between the residents and the vendors, and inside the group of vendors.
With the citizen group (for whom the market represents a hardship in their day-to-day life due to noise as well as the difficulties associated with parking and road conditions and with a sense of greater insecurity), we proceeded by opening a channel of communication ensuring reception of claims and recognition of their needs, and afterwards by looking for solutions meeting the actual problems, though not foregoing the application of inclusion policies on behalf of the more socially fragile group (the vendors).
With that group, our work focused essentially on prevention of conflicts. Indeed, an unregulated situation runs the risk of actuating a tendency for whoever is strongest and predominant to lay down the law for others. For example, winning a place to exhibit one’s wares involves having to come the previous evening to physically occupy the space, and means having to defend it against others. Exact rules restore a situation where all are guaranteed the same possibilities and the inter-group tensions are lowered.
What are the three most important lessons to draw?
To us, this action was significant proof that in our work, what appears the longest and trickiest road to travel is the one leading to better results. A problem of such complexity could have been approached with actions to curb the phenomenon (as some parties anticipated), which nevertheless not only generate worse social exclusion of the weaker categories but also displace the problems without addressing them directly. The choice of staying with the problem, to tackle it by revealing its various overtones, to envisage different scenarios for its resolution, the involvement of all players concerned – this was certainly a long job but allowed lasting, satisfactory solutions to be found.
The second lesson was that lasting solutions can be found for the problems only by directly involving all groups concerned and by impressing their own responsibilities on each and every party. When anyone does not carry forward their assignment or mandate (whether institutions, security forces, citizens or associations), the solutions devised run the risk of proving fragile and temporary.
The third lesson is that urban conflicts and social problems can represent an opportunity for reflection and growth, in territorial and civic terms. The residents have progressed from an attitude of petitioning the administration and the institutions to recognition of the work done which has led to an improvement in the overall situation. It is important to provide constant information on the stages of work, to make people understand that complex problems are bound to have complex solutions, the outcome of an effort to seek solutions and not of waving a wand that magically dispels the problems and the criticalities.
Interview by Marco Busetto