SmartCitiesWorld talks to Piero Pelizzaro, Chief Resilience Officer of Milan, about the city’s digital transition, urban forests and the ongoing woes of a football fan.
Milan’s plans to broaden its environmentally friendly approach to reinventing the city has been derailed by the coronavirus crisis, especially given how Italy was one of the city’s most heavily hit during the first wave. However, it is keen to move forward and use smart city technology to improve citizens’ ways of life.
SmartCitiesWorld: What is the main purpose of your role?
Piero Pelizzaro: As Chief Resilience Officer we normally try to overcome barriers or fringes set by the municipality, attempting to make the different departments work together on the same goals. Specifically, we focus our activities on climate change, climate change adaptation and on the Recovery Fund. Luckily, our work is more concentrated on the future than on the present, so we also contribute to the master plan of the city. Our main goal is to prepare the city for the future shocks or potential stresses that might arise, and designing, together with the other colleagues, the vision and the development of the city.
SCW: What does the term ’smart city’ mean to you?
Pelizzaro: Well, I believe that a city should be driven by two types of visions. It is like comparing two pieces of the same computer; we have the hardware and we have the software. The smart city could be considered the software. It’s not just a technology matter, I’m also referring to the community, because to have a smart city we need a smart community. So, the first element to have a smart city is to have a community aware of the potential collective intelligence that we need to move forward.
On the other hand, it also has to be complementary with the resilience, because that is looking more to the hardware of the city, like infrastructures and how to absorb any shocks. Ultimately, we see smart and resilience as an integrated approach to the vision and the design of the future city.
Our work is more concentrated on the future than on the present
SCW: What are some of the key milestones/initiatives in your smart city journey so far?
Pelizzaro: I worked more on smart cities two years ago and, one of the biggest achievements we reached is Milan’s digital transition...It allowed us to have more than 7,000 public servants working from distance [during the lockdown period] and this happened in three days. This service is now helping us to design a new vision of the 15 minutes city in order to help citizens to get access to our services, even for a newspaper shop or to get a certificate.
On the other hand, even harder has been the sharing mobility implementation. That required a lot of system integration in terms of ticketing, renting, and booking system. We are now one of the leading cities on globally on shared mobility. In fact, we have six operators of car sharing, two operators of bike sharing and five of scooter sharing.
In addition, the smart city has created a business environment that helps our 200,000 students present here to find a great environment to create a company. Today, we host one third of the country’s start-up companies and this is creating a smart integration between university research, business development and public administration, pushing the development of a new economy in the city, looking at the young as an opportunity for them.
SCW: What is your number one priority right now?
Pelizzaro: Undoubtedly climate change. It seems strange to say this during a pandemic period, but we are designing a recovery plan integrated with inclusion, equality, directed to job creation and with a mainstream approach to climate change and sustainability, in order to adapt to the new normality we are now facing.
SCW: What do you see as your biggest achievement since you started the role?
Pelizzaro: The Resilience department was the first one created in Italy and has been confirmed after two years of testing. I think it’s an important message because we got the recognition that resilience is real and necessary for a city like Milan, as it delivers a better way of planning and improvement.
Additionally, there’s the work we are doing with ForestaMI, which is the creation of an urban forest providing three million trees. It’s creating a new way of thinking. Greening the city, together with the other colleagues of the Green and the Urban Planning departments, now makes planting trees not only an environmental infrastructure but also a social infrastructure so as to improve the safety of the population in a time of heatwaves and extreme weather conditions.
SCW: What is the best part of the job?
Pelizzaro: Being with the team. Working on the participatory process, that is a common approach here in Milan. Discussing, having conversations with the stakeholders and all the community together creates challenges, and we love challenges. So the continuous dialogue with all the stakeholders and citizens I think is the best part for a public servant. If you’re capable to listen, to understand and then to translate their needs into practice, you’re not making profit, but you’re bringing happiness to the community you live in.
Resilience delivers a better way of planning and improvement.
SCW: What is your biggest challenge?
Pelizzaro: Bureaucracy. But now a simplification process is underway within the city and supported by the national government. On the other hand, you never know what is going to happen the next day. We woke up in March and we were in lockdown, something unique and never experienced. So, the biggest challenge is always being ready to find the proper solution to new problems.
SCW: If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
Pelizzaro: Maybe living in a bar by the beach. No, I’m joking. I’m actually doing the job I want to do. When I started my career, I was dreaming to work as a public servant at any kind of governmental level. I wanted to experience an international environment. I’m lucky, Milan is an international city and one of the leading cities at national level. We have a continuous dialogue with other cities and that also helps me learn every day in my job, so that’s fine with me.
SCW: What keeps you awake at night?
Pelizzaro: My football team [Lanerossi Vicenza - Paolo Rossi, Luca Toni, Roberto Baggio are all former players], that’s unluckily true but that’s not the main thing. My main nightmare is not to create a safe place for citizens, both for the Milanese but also for those not living here. Flood events can happen and during the summer we have tropical nights. So what keeps me awake is doing my job properly and guarantee kids and elderly people a comfortable sleep...I try to sleep during the nights because I need to be rested during the day, and having a quality sleep is important to do my job productively again for the community.
SCW: If you could make one change in your city tomorrow and money was no object, what would you do?
Pelizzaro: I’d like to create a pedestrian and bike city. I’d like to improve public transports, create more bicycle lanes, with trees, with blue infrastructures [water elements like rivers and canals]. Definitely I’d like a city where people are the centre of the planning, guaranteeing a proper transport infrastructure to disabled people, and individual or shared cars only for those who really need it.
We have this funny situation were people go to the gym by car, that is not necessary if you can run or ride a bike safely and freely around the city, so that’s my dream for Milan.
I think this kind of city...would create a more liveable and equal place. A city that slows down its transport network become more equal, because it gives to everyone the same chances, both for residents and for the new citizens. If I had the budget to do it, that would be my dream city because that would guarantee a healthier life.
And absolutely see my football team in the first division.