Technologies and proximity spaces: tools for conscious choices in ecological transition

From Firenze University Press Journal: TECHNE

University of Florence
3 min readNov 1, 2023

Paola Marrone, Dipartimento di Architettura, Università Roma Tre, Roma

Ilaria Montella, Dipartimento di Architettura, Università Roma Tre, Roma

Federico Fiume, Dipartimento di Architettura, Università Roma Tre, Roma

Introduction and contextCities are facing a triple crisis: the health impacts of Covid-19; climate and ecological emergency; social and economic inequality. To support these challenges, the EU has defined a broad framework of tools for the transition to sustainable economic and social growth1. These strategies are based on the realisation that cities represent an important driving force, whose potential for cross-sectoral integration is transforming them into centres of innovation and social engagement. Cities are, in fact, the main field of application of technological innovations for ecological transition and decarbonisation, capable of creating economies of scale for the experimentation of ideational processes and intervention scenarios, thanks to the applications of ICT, IoT, monitoring or simulating technologies.In this context, we present some results of a research4 that is studying a decision-making support system for pro-jects to reconfigure urban proximity spaces, aimed at mitigating and adapt-ing to the effects of climate change, starting from the consideration of multiple conditions of sustainability identified by three areas of interven-tion and their most effective interde-pendent relationships for decarbonisation: renewable energies, accessibility and sustainable mobility, ecosystem services.From scenarios to decisions: methodology and resultsIn order to identify, at the planning stage, the most effective interventions by measuring their impact, the research studied:

  • the types of proximity spaces and their respective vocations for the case studies identified (phase 1);- their capabilities in “opportunity maps”, built with an information system for their characterisation (phase 2);
  • -reconfiguration scenarios for the enhancement of the three individu-al areas of intervention (step 3);
  • simulation models for the evaluation of interventions for the three fields (step 4);
  • a tool to support the choice between possible intervention options (step 5).

Proximity spaces and potential functions

The first phase elaborated a taxonomy of proximity spaces, with reference to open urban spaces that are configured between buildings (public or private gardens, courtyards, courtyard areas, but also practicable roofs, etc.), starting from the analysis of five districts in Rome (Italy) (Testaccio, Balduina, Tor Bella Monaca, Prima Porta, Piazza Mazzini), chosen as case studies because they are representative of significant types of urban fabric development. Within the more gen-eral framework of open spaces, the research initially set itself the objective of exploring those closely interrelated to buildings, excluding, at this stage, public parks, natural and semi-natural areas. For each type of space, the potential in terms of performance was identified, recognising “functions that are currently expressed but not fulfilled or already in place”; “innovative functions that are latent or already in place but susceptible to interest-ing developments in the near future”; “functions that will derive from needs that are not perceived today but which may assert themselves in the future”.

Map of opportunities

The urban environment is characterised by very heterogeneous compo-nents, often making it difficult to identify the morphological, technical and structural matrices of the built fabric. This difficulty is also reflected in ac-tions for a transformation of the built environment towards more sustain-able cities. This is one of the reasons why we speak of ecological transition, i.e. a process that precisely takes time to take into account the variations to which cities are continuously subjected as living organisms that change at dif-ferent speeds according to context and events (Droege, 2008). It was decided, therefore, to propose an approach based on transition scenarios of the layout of the analysed parts of cities, enhancing most effective opportunities in terms of decarbonisation. Hence, in phase 2, an information system was constructed to study the current configuration of proximity spaces and to identify information useful for developing decarbonisation scenarios in phase 3. From the information system, ‘opportunity maps’ were extracted, showing the different types of physical spaces that are likely to host new or enhanced functions related to the three areas considered.Scenarios for prefiguring the ecological transitionOnce the opportunity maps were defined, transition scenarios were developed in phase 3 to maximise the decarbonisation potential that proximity spaces can offer by considering the three areas of intervention individually: on-site renewable energy production (RES); enhancement of ecosystem services; and reorganisation of sustainable mobility and neighbourhood services.


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