The European formula for liveable citiesZz

MILAN: Reminding me of some timeless truths for building a liveable city

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The Maxims of Jane Jacobs

We are staying on Via Giovanni Battista Morgnagni, north of the centre of town. It is a wide street, with a large central green space between the roadways, containing paths for bikes and pedestrians, and (occasional) light rail. This green area also contains parkland, paths for bikes and pedestrians, off leash dog areas, and playgrounds. The buildings on the street are all about 6-7 stories, built to the street, and of varying age and condition. The area is mostly residential, with some shops and cafes on the ground floor, has a school, and is not on the main tourist route.

It is Sunday here, and by mid morning people were out walking dogs, families were meeting up at the playgrounds, and a group of older women and their dogs were obviously enjoying each other’s company at the dog area. We had breakfast at the local cafe with a few locals and their dogs.

All this reminded me forceably of Jane Jacobs and her four rules of making a great city. They are all here:

1. Mixed uses, activating streets at different times of the day
2. Short blocks, allowing high pedestrian permeability
3. Buildings of various ages and states of repair
4. Density

See how this part of Milan performs against these for yourself:

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Balance in the transport system

Central Milan demonstrates well the civilising effect of providing for transport options. Our street caters for cars, light rail, bikes and pedestrians, and this mix is evident throughout the centre. Sure there are large roads and lots of vehicle traffic. But there is also lots of transit (light rail, bus, trolley bus), separate bikeways, wide footpaths and pedestrian streets, all carrying lots of people on bikes and on foot.

All this makes it a place where you can move around, by whichever mode you chose. We walked for hours, through back streets, along main roads, through pedestrian streets and through parklands. It makes for a great city.

Again, see for yourself:

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History, art and culture

Like most Italian cities, central Milan has this in droves. It has more than 2 millennia of rich and varied history, and with that comes art and culture to burn. But it is not esoteric, you experience it as you move around. In the buildings, the churches, and the rich detail of even the shopping arcades.

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As we strolled around today, we heard a young busking trio playing the music from our daughter’s recent wedding (it was a real thrill to be spirited back to that wondrous occasion), saw a Greenpeace rally on bikes seeking to save the Arctic, and passed a stage set up in a square outside a church ready for “bike & jazz” – not sure exactly what that is, but I like the sound of it!

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And so…

I know Milan is an industrial and financial centre, and that around the inner city it has lots of industry, major roads and car dominated suburbs, like most other cities that boomed post war. But it has a central area which is, for me based on all of one day’s experience, a classic example of the European model of a liveable city, and another demonstration of the timeless truths of good city building.

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