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Milan: A City of Different Cities

Milan: A City of Different Cities

The concept of “city of cities” has recently attracted considerable international attention as it focuses on the perception and definition of the way a city is defined. But what exactly does it mean? What defines a city? Urban planners usually have a set analysis when it comes to assessing an urban context by taking into

The concept of “city of cities” has recently attracted considerable international attention as it focuses on the perception and definition of the way a city is defined. But what exactly does it mean? What defines a city?

Milan, Italy

Urban planners usually have a set analysis when it comes to assessing an urban context by taking into consideration several layers: the green areas, the infrastructure system, the built environment, and so on.

In 2007, Patrizia Gabellini introduced a practical model to inspire new ways of thinking about city form by identifying seven “cities:" the Railways, Bypass Road, Hills, Reno River, Savena River, Western Via Emilia, and Eastern Via Emilia. These areas are determined based on multiple attributes including urban patterns, materials, and development projects: the railways, the rivers, the roads.

While the model provides a strong urban and strategic plan that identifies areas based upon meaningful human and tangible factors, it is still strictly related to a common layer.

But can’t we separate the areas of a city that are unique? A city of cities can also mean a diverse agglomeration of different areas. The later can be identified by the mix of architecture, social, economic, and political aspects that set them apart from the rest of the city. As the modernist principle says, “function follows form,” so in this case, “the cities” can be easily detached because of their function.

If we look at Milan, it is composed of five “inner-cities:" the historic city, the fashion city, the business city, the young city, and the “other side” city.

The view from the top of Duomo, Milan, Italy

The “historic city” has its borders along the center of Milan. It’s central element is the Duomo cathedral and square. It represents the old city with traditional elements and attractions.

The “fashion city” is represented by the areas of the Fashion District (Quadrilatero della Moda). The influence of the design industry has boosted its economic power and it is strongly visible due to the high clientele that it attracts.

The “business city” is shaped around the Garbaldi area. The choice of architecture defines the economic and infrastructural power of this hub which stands out  in the skyline of Milan.

Garibaldi area, Milan, Italy

The “young city” expands in the areas of Citta Studi and Bovisa, two university campuses that have helped shape Milan in recent years. Between historic and modern architecture, the place is dominated by students and is host to an international environment.

“Other side” cities are the concentrated areas where the main characteristic is defined by the social aspect (Via Padova, Via Paolo Sarpi). These are the places with a high concentration of immigrants, that have brought their culture within a limited space of the city.

Via Padova, Milan, Italy

Each of these layers has a different impact on the city of Milan as a whole. Some are interrelated or connected, others are the resulting consequence of social problems.

While the first three layers have a high impact on the economic and infrastructural system, the latter are more influenced by social, cultural, and political aspects.

Have you ever visited a city that is shaped like this? Take a walk, get lost among the streets, and you may be amazed. Then tell us your story of the cities in your city.

Credits: Images by Alexandra Serbana and Deepshika Jain. Data linked to sources.

Intern photo

Because of her strong background in Urban Planning and Design, from her bachelor’s at “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism, in Bucharest, Romania, Alexandra decided to pursue planning from the perspective of policy and decision-maki...

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