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School of Geography

Case Study Cities - Turin


Leverhulme case study - Turin

Turin is a city with around one million inhabitants in the North-West of Italy. Until the 1990s, Turin’s economy was largely based on the manufacturing sector, particularly the automotive industry. In the Twentieth Century the city has been viewed as a paradigmatic one-company town due to the presence of Fiat (the Fiat acronym itself stands for Fiat Automobili Italia Torino), one of the main carmakers in Western Europe, which attracted increasing numbers of domestic migrants during the 1950s and the 1960s.

Following the process of deindustrialisation in the 1970s and the 1980s, the city underwent a shift towards a more service-oriented economy, even though the manufacturing sector has continued to play a strong role in the local labour market. In the late 1990s, the nomination as the hosting city for the Winter Olympics of 2006 radically changed the city’s trajectory, as local politico-economic elites started experimenting with the restructuring of urban governance structures and mechanisms along entrepreneurial lines. Turin thus played a pioneering role in Italy as a city devising for the first time a strategic, entrepreneurial approach to urban planning and governance. In this context, at the South-European scale the city has been frequently compared with Barcelona, as both cities have been hosting Olympic games and have been committing to strategic planning.

In Turin, the Winter Olympic Games in 2006 were a largely successful event, in terms of improvement of the city’s image and generation of a renewed sense of civic pride. However, in subsequent years the city and the regional governments have been heavily hit by the fiscal consolidation imperatives and the related austerity policies imposed by the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, which was reformed in 2011 in order to deal with the consequences of the sovereign debt crisis particularly affecting the South-European countries, including Italy. The restructuring processes affecting the manufacturing and retailing sectors caused by the global crisis have also led to the rise of an unprecedented manifestation of social unrest in December 2013, at least since the the so-called Hot Autumn movement in July 1969, when Turin witnessed violent clashes between workers and the police. This time an heterogeneous multitude of workers, street vendors, retailers, unemployed young people has taken the lead in a self-organised strike that has suspended the vast majority of economic activities in Turin for three days, giving rise also to riots in Piazza Castello, the city’s most famous square. In those days, other Italian cities witnessed similar protests but Turin has been the one showing the strongest social tensions. Since then, within the wider public Turin has been the Italian city typically associated with the economic crisis, despite its location in the relatively more prosperous North. Already in the previous months, however, there had been recurring news in the national newspapers and on television reporting the effects of the crisis on the retail sector, referring to Turin as a paradigmatic case.

Local politico-economic elites have tried to react to this situation, by committing to the search for novel strategies of economic regeneration. In particular, the local government and a number of auxiliary institutions have been in the forefront of smart city politics in Italy, which shows how urban environments are persistently seen as sources of economic experimentation and social innovation even under particularly adverse conditions of austerity and prolonged recession.