Società italiana per lo studio della storia contemporanea


Négocier la ville. Project urbain, société et fascisme à Milan

Alice Ingold

Roma, École Française de Rome-Editions de l'École de Hautes Études en Sciences S 2003

This well-documented book, based on extensive archival and secondary research, takes as its subject the planning policies of fascism as applied to Milan in the 1920s and 1930s. In particular, the study looks in great detail at the famous decision taken by fascism to cover many of Milan's celebrated canals. Ingold's original approach takes into account the uses of urban space as well as the complicated negotiations which took place over urban change, property and public planning. Ingold is also concerned to place the debates and outcomes concerning Milan's extensive (and doomed) canal system within a European and Italian comparative context. There is a fascinating chapter which compares Milan and Rome and a wide-ranging debate over the meaning and use of the term ?hygiene' with relation to public policy and the role of pressure groups within the city. Ingold traces how private property was expropriated for ?public use' under fascism and the ways in which conflict emerged, or was suppressed, concerning these policies. Ingold uses a series of micro-examples, traced through extensive archival research, to explain the fate of individual houses, stretches of canal and pieces of property in this period. Moreover, Ingold also uses judicial records and court cases to illustrate her arguments concerning negotiation over public space and land use. ?The rules of the game?, she concludes, ?like the institutions which were concerned with public utilities and public policy, were developed and transformed over time? (p. 376). This extremely interesting and useful book fills many useful gaps in our knowledge about this evocative moment, when Milan changed irrevocably from a ?city of water? ? symbolically and in the way it was organised ? to a city of roads, road traffic and, over time, of cars. This key moment of change ? from the city of Stendhal to the city of Alfa Romeo ? is discussed in all its detail by Ingold whose analysis allows for a more sophisticated reading of these events which goes beyond the usual cliché of ?the fascists covered up the canals?. Ingold's work was made more difficult, but in the end enriched, by the lack of proper archives dedicated to these issues. Her search for other, traditional and non-traditional sources, and her heroic work in the archives which do exist, constitutes a model of urban research. All of this is backed up by an excellent series of photographs, an extensive bibliography and an index. It is to be hoped that an Italian edition of this fascinating study can be produced so that a wider readership can learn from and engage with the historical ideas put forward in this volume.

John Foot