Mayor of the moment
Your Champion Mayor profile quotes you as saying, ‘…local administrations have the duty to ensure that the entire citizenry has opportunities.’ Before the COVID-19 pandemic, what were some of the key inequality challenges facing Milan and how did the city work to counter these?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic one of the main inclusivity challenges Milan was facing was the significant differences in opportunities between citizens living in the centre and in the suburbs. This question often overlapped with other inequality issues, such as the integration of immigrants and refugees, youth unemployment, and care of the elderly, that were more apparent in the peripheral neighborhoods.
To ensure a well-balanced and sustainable urban development, we aimed to transform Milan into an inclusive city where essential services are evenly distributed across districts. An example is the WeMi portal, a multi-service hub facilitating access to a broad range of social services, from home-help for the elderly, to education, babysitting, and household maintenance. The platform aims to match demand and supply: providing individuals and families with a one-stop shop to meet their needs, while social businesses and non-profit cooperatives can promote their activities.
Another great initiative is FabriQ, the first social innovation incubator of Milan, located in the peripheral suburb of Quarto Oggiaro. By supporting the development of start-ups with the potential to positively impact the district’s economic and social context, it creates new opportunities for integration, innovation and urban regeneration for youth, vulnerable workers and marginalised population groups. Moreover, FabriQ works closely with businesses, universities and research centres, thus facilitating dialogue between small entrepreneurs and major economic actors that do not usually have direct channels of communication.
Milan and the Lombardy region were first and hardest hit in Europe by the coronavirus. As one of the earliest European epicentres, what were some of the emergency measures you instituted at the city-level to protect your most vulnerable residents?
When COVID-19 broke out, we knew it would hit our most vulnerable citizens hardest, further exacerbating existing inequalities. Therefore, we did our best to continue guaranteeing primary services for cases of serious social exclusion, such as the Center for Self Help Central Station (CASC), a hub for homeless people (including asylum seekers and migrants), which met primary needs and directed users to the most appropriate public services.
Furthermore, we decided to complement ordinary social services with additional aids to meet the new needs created by the pandemic. We extended our Winter Rough Sleeping Action Plan for homeless people, and facilities were transformed into reception areas open 24 hours to offer homeless people protected spaces during the day as well as at night. We opened empty municipality-owned buildings to vulnerable people that needed to isolate. We also launched a public bid to identify residences that could be used to support healthcare workers, people in isolation or with social vulnerabilities.
However, public efforts were soon enhanced by the generosity of citizens, and we therefore created ‘Milano Aiuta’, a program to coordinate local volunteering activities. The network implemented a variety of actions, including special services to isolated individuals and citizens at risk (over 65 years old, immunocompromised, etc.) like the delivery of medicines and meals, and psychological support for the effects of isolation.
Volunteers were fundamental to the ‘Food Help System (FHS)’, that was implemented at the beginning of the emergency in a joint effort by municipal agencies, the Civil Protection, the Milanese branch of the Red Cross, local NGOs, associations and foundations that usually work with the City in this field. The FHS managed the food help supply chain and created seven temporary food hubs for the preparation of food deliveries to vulnerable people identified by the Social Services department of the Municipality. The FHS coordinated the collection of food donations and launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the initiative. The outreach of the Food Help System was impressive: in just the first two months, 16.000 people and more than 4.900 households received help, and around 60 tons of food were distributed each week.
As mayor of a city hard hit by COVID-19, how have you continued to promote inclusivity during ongoing recovery efforts? How is Milan engaging its residents while adapting to the ‘new normal’?
The required shutdown, in response to the pandemic, halted most economic activity; this enormously increased the number of citizens in vulnerable situations. To help residents in financial difficulty in the near future, but also to support the recovery of economic activities through structural actions at a second stage, the Municipality of Milan established a Mutual Aid Fund. The goal of the fund was to sustain the reconstruction of the city’s economy, primarily by supporting the workforce: unemployed people, short-term employees whose contracts were not renewed, occasional workers, the self-employed, and subsequently small businesses and economic operators. The fund was established with a municipal allocation approved by the City Council but, as Milanese citizens showed their willingness to help, it was also opened to contributions. The result exceeded all expectations.
Considering such a success and the evident desire of residents to get involved in the recovery phase, the decision to engage citizens in the development of ‘Milano 2020’, the adaptation strategy for ‘Phase 2’, was clear. The strategy outlines a recovery scenario for the City of Milan, encompassing immediate and planned actions for the management of the ‘new normal’. During May, residents were invited to provide input into Milan’s recovery strategy. By mid-May 1 949 inputs were already received, including 135 detailed proposals.
In the wake of the pandemic you have envisaged a ‘greener’ Milan with more cycle paths and space for pedestrians. How will such policies protect the health of your citizens as well as move the city towards a more sustainable path for the future?
The new social distancing rules made necessary by the pandemic impose a sweeping change in the way we plan transport in our cities. I see this challenge as an opportunity to move to a more sustainable model and reorganise streets around neighborhood life. Not only has the emergency forced us to identify cost-effective and efficient options; it has also caused a substantial reduction in urban traffic, making it possible to intervene with minimal traffic disruptions. Building on these unique conditions, the ‘Open Streets’ plan aims to rapidly increase pedestrian and cycling infrastructure through movable road furniture, starting from the axis San Babila-Sesto Marelli, that connects the city centre to a peripheral district. Between May and December 2020, we will create about 35 km of new bike lanes, of which more than 22 km will be completed this summer, and many new 30 km/h zones. The new cycle routes will enhance existing connections with the main public transport hubs, thus offering an alternative mode of transport to both residents and commuters. All this will allow Milan to strike a balance between sanitary requirements, traffic congestion and climate change, speeding up the already planned environmental transition.