Martina Gentili

Utopia of Normality

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Project description
The city of Rome is facing an ever growing shortage of affordable housing for a widening segment of its population. Failure to implement successful housing policies and deregulation of market forces caused a great mismatch between demand and supply. As a result there are high vacancy rates and great number of people unable to access decent housing. In this situation right to housing movements and the phenomenon of squatting are becoming central again. By providing socially engaging activities, aggregation spaces and missing services and functions for the community, squatted spaces also respond to a widespread social need that has an important spatial impact.

The overall objective of this graduation project is to find a smart way of making the empty houses meet the homeless people and to recognize the urban potential of social movements and appropriation processes. The project seeks to provide a different approach to the provision of social housing, and does so through a housing policy proposal. The policy implies various measures to tackle the housing shortage, including taxation on vacant property and the acquisition of vacant dwellings through expropriation and other means, in order to transform it into social housing. In this proposal a better integration between housing and other functions in envisioned, promoting socio-functional mix as a tool to make social housing a strength and not a weakness in urban development projects. Moreover, the proposal suggests to empower the many right to housing movements and community associations that already operate in providing affordable housing solutions and social services and activities. These associations will be partially responsible for the management of the social housing stock acquired through the new policy measures, by means of a “Community Management” of the stock.

As a case study I chose Porta di Roma, a large newly developed neighbourhood in the north eastern outskirts of the city of Rome. It represents very well the rise and fall of real estate speculation: envisioned as a new centrality with commercial and tertiary functions, it turned out to be an unfinished and vacant residential neighbourhood, a satellite to the large shopping mall that dominates the area. Porta di Roma is a place with a lot of housing, but very little people and activities: the perfect spot to try out trigger points and consequences of my housing policy proposal. The project for the case study represents the example of how the implementation of the new policy could lead to urban regeneration of neglected “market- city developments” through the social potential hidden in social housing. The implementation of the policy is the trigger for a series of spatial interventions that should breathe new life into the ghost neighbourhood of Porta di Roma. These include a general long term strategy at a district level, as well as neighbourhood scale strategies for public space, plinths and facades.

The ultimate goal is to reach normality for people in housing need and for Porta di Roma, but the current system prevents urban life from happening in the neighbourhood and keps people out of the housing market. The distorted model of urban development and the mismanagement of the public thing make it impossible to achieve a “normal” urban environment, especially in the peripheries, which is why the standard, plain and functioning neighbourhood becomes a Utopia that is almost impossible to reach. My argument is that it would take only so much effort to make things better, but that it will probably never happen, making it relevant to talk about a “Utopia of Normality”. The Utopia of Normality needs two things to be realized: it needs people and it needs independence from the shopping mall. The first can be achieved through the new housing policy, while the second needs an extraordinary element to allow normality to happen outside of the shadow of the mall. The extraordinary element is called “The Wall” and its role is that of changing the relationship between the neighbourhood and the shopping mall.

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