Understanding the Dynamics of Social Cohesion and Bottom-linked Governance. Social Streets in Trento, Verona and Ferrara
Today’s urban public spaces seem to be confronted with numerous issues. The speed and the extent of evolving phenomena, such as social and economic exclusion, safety and crime, neighbourhood fragmentation, degradation of the built environment, individualization, migration, technological development, to name a few, have become increasingly problematic, complex and interrelated in many cities of Western European countries. This research focuses mainly on two criticalities: a) pressure on sociability and b) the lack
of common places supporting public life and living together.
Modernity, indeed, is eroding solidarity, boosting social and political exclusion, closing spaces of socialization, contestation, and negotiation, and preventing parts of the population from exercising any political power. In order to contribute to the current model of democracy, by re-signifying individuals’ social lives with collective political meanings, showing a way to empower citizens and presenting pathways to possible solutions to retake control of their territory, the research aims to understand the mutual dynamics of social cohesion and the governance of public space. The analytical framework is built after a review of the concept of social cohesion: the identified limits in the literature leads to bring in three concepts – commons, citizenship and governance – that contribute to fill the missing dimensions of care, politics and governance. Afterwards, the Social Innovation perspective is used to enrich social cohesion as a problèmatique and to organize the mobilized concepts under the same lens. The importance of actors and institutions in triggering innovative and transformative power is then explained by the strategic-institutionalist approach. The latter allows to overcome the poor understanding of neoliberal approaches, by shifting from a top-down normative approach to an analytical overall perspective that includes the complexity of dialectical dynamics between social cohesion and governance of public space.
Using various qualitative research techniques, the project focuses on three cases of the Italian Social Street phenomenon, in the cities of Trento, Verona and Ferrara. The Social Streets are a new form of neighbourhood communities, whose initial purely social practices in some cases cross the subtle border between private and public life, by promoting inclusion of citizens into spheres of society and giving a “voice” to groups that are traditionally excluded by the governance of urban places. The three different developments of the Social Streets allow to zoom respectively on different parts of the analytical framework, highlighting the dialectic dynamics between social cohesion, commons, citizenship and governance. The entire analysis, eventually, shows the inadequacy of the rationalist and structuralist approach in addressing the pressure on sociability and the lack of common places supporting public life and living together. The real complexity of society is much more complicated and both social cohesion and governance of public space are embedded in wider dynamics.