Italy Settlement Reorganization
The territorial behavior of the population is an element and engine of a general reorganization of the country. The whole of the Italian territory seems to be able, in the current phase, to be broken down into at least four macro-areas, whose structures could correspond to as many evolutionary levels along a line common to the entire country.
The North-East regions have a reticular settlement system; the productive restructuring has already taken place there or is in the process of being completed; the population does not decrease or increase slightly. The regions of the North-West and of the Center retain a settlement system that is largely polarized on large, small centers; the productive restructuring has been started, but not yet completed; the population tends to decrease according to the progress of the restructuring: where this is more advanced, the decline is evident; where the restructuring still does not fully operate, the population remains stable or increases slightly. The southern regions, for one part (Campania, Puglia, Calabria, Sicily) are polarized, appear very little affected by the restructuring and maintain a positive demographic dynamic, albeit rapidly evolving. Finally, other southern regions (Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, Sardinia), not very polarized, record marginal effects of productive restructuring and show a relative evolution that takes place in demographic and territorial stability: radical transformations do not appear necessary, and the evolution follows traditional channels, or rather endogenous channels, not dependent on the diffusion of models developed in other areas of the country. Thus, the scheme of the ‘three Italies’ seems to have by now become insufficient; the Italian territorial situation has become more nuanced and it seems reasonable to expect further developments, based on a four-type scheme, where the last hypothesized type indicates an interesting possibility of autonomous evolution of the South.
The restructuring of the urban system and the forms assumed by productive relocation are decisive for these differentiated dynamics and, at the same time, characteristics of the proposed territorial arrangements. Italian cities, in line with what is also happening in other countries of the Western world, are now seeing a reduction in their respective resident populations. The phenomenon was already noticeable in the seventies and eighties, when the exhaustion of the drive for urban growth that had marked above all the previous twenty years was clear; but, much more clearly, during the nineties the cities denounced (losing population and productive activities) a downsizing of those localization advantages which at first favored their growth and then produced their progressive congestion. Most of the regional capital centers have lost residents: only Perugia, L’Aquila and Campobasso can be excluded, which presented slight positive balances, and Potenza and Reggio di Calabria, which remained substantially stable. In many cases the population decline is massive: Milan has reduced its residents, between1986 and 1996, about 190. 000 units (over 12 % less); Rome of over 165. 000 (with a contraction of almost 6 %); Naples of just under 160. 000 (- about 13 %); Turin of about 115. 000 residents (- about 11 %): this is the situation of the most populous Italian cities. Although in the presence of smaller absolute quantities, the demographic decline is similar, or even more substantial, in proportion, for cities such as Bari (- 7, 5 %), Bologna (-11 %) or Cagliari (even – 22 % in the 1986-96 range). After a first phase that had almost exclusively involved the larger cities, allowing the contraction to be attributed mainly to the effect of congestion diseconomies that characterize large centers compared to less populous ones, the negative trend also extended to medium-sized cities, which have ended up being affected with an impact that appears even more sensitive. It is sufficient to recall the example of the ‘medium cities’ par excellence, that is, in the Italian case, the majority of the provincial capitals. The Latina alone shows a noteworthy increase in the same decade (over 13 % more), while it does not reach 20, out of a total of 103, the provincial capitals that register a balance, albeit slightly positive: among these, Trento, Reggio nell’Emilia, Prato, Caserta and Syracuse have a barely significant growth (4000 ÷ 7000 residents in the decade); a few others (Grosseto, Viterbo, Rieti, Brindisi, Matera, Agrigento, Ragusa and Sassari) show even smaller increases; finally, about ten have practically the same number of residents. At the other extreme, we have cases like that of Cosenza, which loses 29. 000 residents (more than – 27 %), of Taranto (- 13, 5 %) or Catania (- 8% approximately). The picture can be completed, still in the same direction, if we consider that the other, not a few, cities that we can consider at least medium in size, but which do not hold administrative roles of rank, present the same negative trend: in other words, the phenomenon of urban decongestion affects the vast majority of Italian centers with populations over 50. 000 residents. Partial exceptions are some medium-sized non-capital cities in Lazio, Campania and Puglia: regions that are still not restructured – or at least not completely – from the economic-productive profile and mainly polarized from the point of view of territorial organization. As an overall statistical consequence, the Italian urban population (67 % in 1997) appears to be decreasing; this is however slight, because a large part of the population that leaves the more populous urban agglomerations tends to move to centers that are much more modest in size, but certainly not devoid of urban characteristics and services (and therefore often also counted as ‘urban centers’). The territorial consequences of the demographic decline of the cities seem very relevant. First of all, it is not correct to speak of ‘disurbanization’ if by this we mean a resumption of rurality or at least a rejection of the kind of urban life: the decongestion of the major cities and the consequent strengthening of small towns seem to have, almost on the contrary, the effect of spatially spreading urbanization, that is, making urban, in terms of lifestyle, functions, services and activities, centers which, due to their size, could not easily be considered as such. In this way, the Italian territory seems to reorient itself towards a reticular structure, contrasting the pre-eminence and sometimes the hegemony that the large centers were able to exercise over even very extensive and roughly polarized territories; but it is interesting to add that those regions in which a strong polarization had never actually occurred seem oriented towards a reticular arrangement without passing through a phase of polarization. It is also evident that industrial production has, in a certain sense, guided or at least strengthened this trend, starting in time forms of relocation and fragmentation of production units, which have progressively abandoned the cities and industrialized urban belts, preferring small towns or semi-rural areas. Thus, one of the demographic attraction components of the cities has disappeared. The particular diffusion of the already urban population that is thus developing has begun to invest not only, as in the past, the areas immediately contiguous to the large urban or metropolitan agglomerations, but also relatively distant regions. To this phenomenon must be added an increase in commuter flows: the spaces in which the new locations are carried out are certainly very extensive, well beyond the actual cities, and the areas towards which commuters go are therefore greatly enlarged; but productive devolution is less radical than the dispersion of the residents who leave the cities.