Imagine having to design the set for a film about a neighbourhood going through a process of gentrification: which details would you include to describe the change in progress? Possibly a lot of people would show how shops and historical buildings in the area are surrounded and then replaced by more fashionable shops and franchises, like burger bars, gourmet pizzerias, "ethnic" bars, pubs with live music, small art galleries, bank branches and so on. "For rent" signs would appear on the front doors of buildings: old buildings would be restored and new ones would appear; newer cars and bicycles would come on the scene.
By continually spending time in gentrified neighbourhoods in large cities, this baggage of details has become a fixed notion for us. The same cannot be said for aspects linked to public and private lighting: staying within the cinematographic metaphor, most likely, many would struggle, off the top of their head, to provide the cinematographer with instructions.
Imagine having to design the set for a film about a neighbourhood going through a process of gentrification: which details would you include to describe the change in progress?
In order to contribute to establishing a clearer idea, we propose our exercise in imagination to Francesco Orofino, general secretary at InArch: "Rather than giving a strong identity to lighting in a gentrified neighbourhood", he replies "I would show off its spontaneity and variety". Because gentrification does not always follow the same structure: "The process can be governed and induced with public intervention" continues Orofino, "or stem more spontaneously from real estate operations. In this case, I would represent an extremely disarrayed though intense lighting, at least initially", linked both to building restoration as well as new shops.
Public intervention, on the other hand, would cover a wider area than the one on which private individuals could intervene, so the effect would be a more uniform one across the urban landscape. Though, it is not the aesthetic aspect that concerns local administrators most, rather the safety concerns raised by the new inhabitants of the gentrified neighbourhoods. The middle classes, young professionals, artists and creative minds make up the majority category and often have a strong collective concern for environmental matters. Even though they are not looking for self-managed joint solutions, says Orofino, they make sure the public decision-makers receive "a clear reminder that focuses on the problem of light pollution or sustainability and energy saving".
In order to show how gentrification can take on a different twist, Orofino decides to compare two cases.
Firstly, Bolognina is a neighbourhood of around 35 thousand inhabitants north of Bologna's city centre. A neighbourhood that was historically working class, suffered neglect and decline in the Seventies and Nineties in conjunction with industrial and employment downturns. Following the turn of the new century, there was an increasing influx of middle class people from Bologna, students and artists. The process, explains Orofino, started with the restoration of buildings by private individuals who began to change the external lighting outside their homes and businesses; in 2016, Bologna's city council invested heavily in a complete overhaul of public lighting, by also introducing Led lighting, and contributed significantly to the aesthetic impact of the restoration work that was already well under way.
Top view of Bolognina, neighborhood north of Bologna
"I can give a different example in Rome, my home city, in the Pigneto neighbourhood", continues Orofino. There was a strong gentrification in Pigneto and it swelled with pubs and bars and new shops, with widespread diffusion" and this had a clearly visible impact on street lighting". However, in Rome there is yet to be any public intervention to add a strong connotation to the neighbourhood's public lighting. This gives rise to disputes and complaints", explains Orofino, "because those who chose to move to this neighbourhood, mostly middle class, have a strong need for greater safety and better public lighting".
A summer evening in Pigneto, Rome district
That said, late public intervention does not generate only negative effects, because it contributes to one of the unusual aspects of gentrification in Italy, that is, its "soft" nature. Taking a cue from the essay Gentrification
(il Mulino, 2015) by the sociologist, Giovanni Semi, Orofino explains that in Italy "the gentrification processes never fully drive out the original inhabitants resulting in a complete substitution. There is always a mix, from a social make-up point of view". The phenomenon, however, is more abrupt and radical when handled publicly from the outset, and this creates greater disadvantages for the original inhabitants who need to make room for the new arrivals.