I came to Via Paolo Sarpi for the first time three years ago, when my friend, visiting from England, and I got lost on our way to see the Monumental Cemetery of Milan. We were walking for the longest time and at some point realized the environment had changed completely - from the store design, to its residents. “Isn't it weird there are so many Chinese shops here?” was the question that I was asked the following moment, and to which, at that time, I had no answer.
Back then I wasn't as familiar with Milan and its particularities, or had any idea of the implications urban design had on social environments. I was completely unaware of all the hidden treasures the city had to offer from an urban planning perspective.
I had never wandered into a “Chinatown” before and was taken back and impressed by this new perspective.
The second time I visited, was again by accident while walking; only this time I was aware of the issues and controversial problems that the Paolo Sarpi area was known for. It is also when I started connecting the dots and started viewing Milan as a city of different cities. The area is unique, as it is exclusively pedestrian and has an Italian urban design with Chinese branding.
If Via Padova is considered dangerous by the majority due to its noise and multicultural diversity, Paolo Sarpi is in contrast, a quiet area with relaxed residents. Every time I went, it happened to be during the weekend when the street was more or less empty. I was curious to see how it looked during a week day, so I set out with a friend to what was supposed to be “an experience of daily life in Chinatown.” After one hour searching for a parking place, I already reached my first conclusion: a parking spot may be something impossible to find. It was about 8PM when we finally managed to get out of the car and start walking. I was surprised that there was almost nobody on the streets. I couldn't help comparing it with Via Padova at the same time of night, when the “fun” begins, its most peak hours of pedestrian traffic.
An issue for the Milanese Chinatown is that it’s a segregated area on the verge of gentrification. This can easily be seen by the new restaurants appearing and the desire to upgrade the area's design.
Many articles have been written regarding the complexity of streets and how they can be determine social dimensions, space, ethnicity, race, economics, and politics. Regarding the space, the street is designed for pedestrians, with green spaces planted on the sides, benches and recreational areas along it. In comparison to other immigrant areas, the urban design benefits the surroundings.
These cultural areas deserve a place within the city, but the question remains: how can we design similar social areas into better urban spaces for the entire city's use?
Credits: Images by Dan Andresan. Data linked to sources.