Reco Festival 2019, source: http://www.recofestival.it
Prato Circular City is the official Municipal-led initiative for the circular economy in the City. Rather than shaping as a ‘vertical’ initiative, the Municipality has developed an integrated and holistic approach, looking at the circular economy as a horizontal priority within its long term urban agenda.
Initiative's relationship to REFLOW
Technical infrastructure & software
Creating & managing circular flows
Collaborative governance & urban strategies
Period of implementation
The topic of the circular economy is certainly not new in Prato, as it is deeply rooted in its configuration of textile district which has allowed, over time, to federate local SMEs and enable competitive advantages based on a larger and interconnected mobilisation of knowledge and assets. However, due to the economic boom in the 60s - which brought about rapid urbanization - and later on the increased dynamics of global competitiveness which heavily hit the entire industry, Prato has been increasingly confronted with major challenges such as lack of quality services, public spaces and green areas, degradation and environmental deprivation. Over time, the environmental issue has increasingly informed local political agendas, till to become the driving topic for the current City’s long-term strategy for sustainable development. With the new Operational Plan approved in 2018, Prato has fully embedded the circular economy in its urban agenda, with the overall goal of turning the City into a national and international benchmark for circular practices. Key to the elaboration of the Plan has been the participation of Prato to the EU Urban Agenda Thematic Partnership on the Circular Economy (UAPCE), which provided the City with the unique opportunity to design a solid vision and strategy, as well as to participate in a specific task-force dedicated to the circular city governance. Importantly, the Plan has undergone a structured process of multi-stakeholder participation, called ‘Prato al Futuro’, with a dense programme of both physical and virtual meetings which have gathered the local administration, citizens, entrepreneurs, grassroots associations and the broader plethora of local actors into a collective discussion about the future social, economic and cultural development of the City. The whole process has been documented and reported openly via Prato al Futuro’s platform, which also contains clear and systematized information about the main policy initiatives that contribute to the City’s urban agenda.
Implementation and governance
The City’s Operational Plan is entirely based on the concept of Prato as a ‘paradigmatic city for recycling and reuse practice’. Developing in close synergy with Prato’s Smart City Plan, the unique feature of this Plan lies in coupling economic growth with sustainable development, leveraging Prato’s industrial heritage and history to shape an eco-district entirely focused on reuse and recycling practices. The strategy shall be developed through territorial marketing operations able to promote an overall image of Prato as a vibrant and virtuous territory, based on high level research & innovation, dense partnerships between local enterprises, as well as on international competitiveness.
Key priorities and actions include:
Promotion of circular practices in urban regeneration, via new regulation on property development and standards which favour the reuse of construction materials and opens to new uses such as for co-working and co-housing;
Establishment of specific economic incentives and reduced taxation for service-based reconversion of previous industrial buildings, as well as for virtuous firms that adopt circular practices;
Improvements in the calculation and application of punctual tariff mechanisms;
Improvement and extended adoption of green public procurement;
Regulatory improvements in specific areas such as water waste and textile waste, also via close collaboration with UAPCE;
Identification of ‘paradigmatic areas’ in the city which shall operate as testbeds for circular and greening experiments. In this context, we shall mention the Urban Innovative Actions project ‘Urban Jungle’, where Prato is currently experimenting with green facading intervention in a number of city areas.
The Municipality has approached the circular economy within a broader objective of environmental sustainability, coupling specific circular-related interventions with greening and climate-change related initiatives. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the urban forest programme developed by the Municipality in collaboration with neurobiologist Prof. Stefano Mancuso, which is currently setting a framework for measuring and assessing the multiple impacts stemming from circular and greening interventions, and their key contribution to health prevention and climate change resilience.
The Municipality has also invested heavily in communication, awareness-raising and outreach measures. The RECO Festival,held in 2019, represented a first occasion to test the viability of large events as a means for convening actors and support wide reflection and exchange about the circular economy. The success of the event led Prato to further develop the Festival as its annual showcase on the topic, with operations currently in place to scale it up to the regional level and to all regional districts, in close collaboration with the Tuscany Region. When it comes to the governance, the Municipality considers collaborative governance as a key precondition for the success of the strategy. A specific mandate for circular economy has been created, managed within the Department for Urban Planning and Management. A multidisciplinary team from different departments is overseeing and coordinating the development of the Plan; moreover, this same team participates in the work of UAPCE, ensuring that inputs are provided to the European Commission based on evidence and learnings. Locally, the governance structure attempts to follow a polycentric model, with the establishment of a number of thematic working groups which, depending on the topic, include different actors from industry, research, social economy and citizens associations. This model also makes use of living labs to support wide involvement, participation and constant dialogue with citizens. Overall, the Municipality plays a coordination and steering role, also making particular effort in documenting and openly reporting the whole process. Importantly, the City is also leveraging these working groups to facilitate a better preparation of the whole territory to the next EU programming period, making sure that all actors are ready to respond to the Green New Deal with competitive proposals that are in line with the City’s Urban Agenda.
Results, impacts and learnings
Although the development of the initiative is still at initial stages, a number of preliminary insights appear relevant when it comes to how ‘infrastructuring’ integrated strategies for the circular economy at the city level. First, the City has been successful in promoting a renewed urban identity and boosting a narrative that, while acknowledging its industrial past, attempt to project the latter into the future through new meanings and understanding. The emergence of dedicated co-working spaces, shared making facilities, new projects and a vibrant community of young makers and entrepreneurs over the past few years can be seen as a result of the efforts made by the Municipality to create an enabling and supportive environment in this thematic domain. Furthermore, the approach to the circular economy as a horizontal topic of the City’s urban agenda has been key to pooling resources and favour integration and shared intents across city departments; the recent UIA Urban Jungle project, the participation to the Urban Agenda Partnership on the Circular Economy or the collaboration with Prof. Mancuso and architect Stefano Boeri in the context of the City’s urban forest programme, are all pieces of a broader ‘puzzle’ that the City is developing towards sustainable and innovative urban environments, leveraging capacities and strengths that are diffused in the territory. In this context, it is also worth mentioning the specific effort led by the Municipality for creating sound, multi-dimensional impact frameworks for measuring and assessing the multiple benefits stemming from circular and greening initiatives, in order to foster evidence-based understanding and open rooms for new investments and co-management regimes of urban assets. Lastly, in terms of governance, the adoption of multi-thematic working groups can be mentioned as a good practice to involve a variety of actors in the construction of partnerships and shared interventions, which shall also boost capacity-building and territorial coordination in the face of the next EU programming period.