Skip to main content

An Italian approach to technology and urban design to create a new community

The general manager of a new smart city development in Milanosesto, Italy, describes the process of bringing "design and technology" together with regional leadership.

Smart communities are blossoming around the globe. One of the biggest mixed-use developments is underway in northern Italy in the suburbs of Milan, on the former site of a steel manufacturing plant.

The project, called Milanosesto, envisions 8,000 apartments, 1 million square feet of retail space, hospitals with a medical research center, and a world-class sports stadium. About half of the total 16 million square feet in the new community will be used for green space, with room for 10,000 trees and 10 miles of pedestrian walkways. It is being developed by Bizzi & Partners. 

Valued at $3.5 billion and designed by prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, Milanosesto on paper sounds like the ideal spot to implement new smart technologies, such as electric autonomous vehicles (AVs) and IoT sensors to monitor clean water, building environments, smart parking, and even litter.

The highest priority is on designing a community to attract young workers, many of them medical researchers and support staff. What these workers want matters the most in terms of the technology innovations to implement. A variety of innovations, including AVs, are still being evaluated in these early days of the project. Construction is set to start this year; the first phase will be finished by 2022.

It’s not enough to build buildings. We want to start in the beginning with design and technology together.

Carlo Masseroligeneral manager, Milanosesto project

Central goal: Quality of life

Smart tech will indeed be adopted, but only as long as the technologies support the central goal of a high quality of life for workers and residents in Milanosesto, says Carlo Masseroli, general manager of the project.

"Our idea of smartness for Milanosesto is that quality of life is the most important thing in its design and not just the technology," says Masseroli. "In terms of the park, mobility, safety, and security and the mall, we will introduce technologies to enable them all, but we don’t want technology for itself."

He adds, "We hope to find the opportunity to attract talent and then good people will come and introduce innovation. If it’s an attractive area, the technology will provide an opportunity to enable these kinds of people.

"It’s not enough to build buildings," Masseroli continues. "We want to start in the beginning with design and technology together. One way to attract people is by providing a platform for new jobs. We’ll use technologies for life sciences, for an economy to enable people to have different experiences. It would be good if I could create a platform where these people mix together and establish a way to generate new work and new jobs."

Many technology innovators worry about implementing tech for tech’s sake, including those in the smart community movement. Because Milanosesto is in northern Italy and not somewhere in China or Malaysia, there is likely to be a premium placed on urban development design priorities that take into account traditional Italian aesthetic sensibilities and, yes, a fabled Italian bureaucratic review process.

Dealing with Italian bureaucracy

"In Italy, we are bureaucratic, so we need [a new approach] in order to use new technologies," Masseroli says. "We need to start with a business model for new technology. When you start a development here, you have to pay planning fees. In addition, public infrastructures are normally built using commodity technologies at lower cost than innovative ones." This prevents or at least limits developers to introduce at design stage new solutions and services, when their potential could be completely harnessed.

"New technologies [such as AI and sensors] have to pay more than the [normal] tax," he adds. So far, Milanosesto’s developers haven’t been able to find the appropriate way to plan with available building process software models to suit the project’s needs. "We need to innovate" on that model, Masseroli says.

In other words, Milanosesto is not just building a new community that relies on smart tech but laying out how to build such a large environment in Italy.

Masseroli concedes that the project has faced "some difficulty" in attracting large international tech companies to build and innovate in Italy. "They think it’s not a place in which you want to introduce new technologies and…innovation," he says. Nonetheless, Milanosesto has attracted technology heavyweights such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Ericsson to work on the project, among others.

Increasingly, city leaders interpret the objective of a smart city strategy not in the technology selection to achieve intelligent systems and infrastructure but rather in the investment of sustainable quality of life, citizen collaboration, and knowledge exchange.

Bettina Tratz-Ryananalyst, Gartner

"Unfortunately, the guidelines can somehow limit the freedom to innovate," notes Lorenzo Gonzales, a strategist for HPE who is based in Italy and works on the Milanosesto project, among others. "You may devise a specific architecture that will then be put in a public tender where also some commoditized standards will apply. For instance, [they may say] you should use a standard vintage light pole rather than a smart one." 

Gonzales adds that when applied, "good Italian creativity" could result in an interesting combination of a vintage look with digital technology working well inside the business model.

One challenge for tech vendors is introducing to the project the right mix of wireless connectivity—from Wi-Fi to 5G to other options working in a city context—from the ground up, especially while the territory around the Milanosesto site is evolving more slowly, Gonzales says.

Many of the smart tech innovations won’t be solidified for at least another six months. There is already a strong interest in implementing some form of AV use with electric vehicles along with smart parking. Rainwater will likely be collected and recycled to be used for watering plants and even for drinking water. Buildings will be smart for maximum energy efficiency and with a focus on ease of maintenance.

Green spaces will include video surveillance for security and monitoring the spaces for littering.

Technology that respects personal privacy

"As we use technology, we must take care about privacy," Masseroli says. "People don’t want to be controlled. The park will be an attractive place where people visit together [safely]. There will be technology with intelligent management. That means cameras, with an intelligent core, and various services for safety, including lighting."

As Masseroli and his development team work with tech vendors, they will be confronting issues faced by countless cities and communities that are assessing how technology can improve on inspired architectural design and alluring land uses.

How analysts view Milanosesto

"Increasingly, city leaders interpret the objective of a smart city strategy not in the technology selection to achieve intelligent systems and infrastructure but rather in the investment of sustainable quality of life, citizen collaboration, and knowledge exchange," says Gartner analyst Bettina Tratz-Ryan. "In Milanosesto, technology solutions are supporting the achievement of those aspirational goals. They represent an enabler, not a trigger. Data from the technology allows a city to develop its own personality, based on citizen preferences, lifestyle, and aspiration."

Down the road, Milanosesto is most likely to work on a data exchange with a variety of third parties that will help guide development of other smart city strategies, Tratz-Ryan says. "We need real-time data from sensors, locations, and journeys to develop tailored services for citizens and events," she adds. "This data commitment for sharing is the fuel for developing innovation in urban ecosystems. Open data is valuable to industry, universities, and entrepreneurs and will create business opportunities resulting in investments of skills and training as well as innovation."

She predicts that the open data sharing will also prove to be an "attractive differentiator" for many organizations that may want to invest in Milanosesto.

Another analyst says it makes sense for Milanosesto to focus on community and quality of life first. "Deploying tech for tech’s sake makes no sense," says Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "If you are not improving the life of the users, why are you doing it? If you can’t make things better, cheaper, more comfortable, less stressful, or just plain more fun, then you should not be deploying the tech. "

Gold adds, "The first rule for any greenfield/brownfield deployment like Milanosesto is, 'What can I put in place that will improve on what I have now?' It’s not just cost reduction—that comes later as a cost-benefit analysis. It’s purely, 'Will it be better if I do this?'"

That approach seems to be top of mind for Masseroli and his team: Bring design, technology, and Italian pizzazz together at once. 

Related links:

A smart city in Italy? Countdown for Milanosesto 

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.