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Paolo Perulli (dir.), Nord. Una città-regione globale

Bologna, il Mulino 2012
Danilo Nicotra
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Paolo Perulli (dir.), Nord. Una città-regione globale, Bologna, il Mulino 2012

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1This collection of articles, edited by Paolo Perulli, taps into sociological and economic studies on the city and presents them in what he himself defines as a theoretical and political project. The declared objective is to re-think Northern Italy as a global city-region within a new European regionalism. In the wake of what we can now define as the glocal tradition, which is both a political manifesto and research programme, this group of authors aim to combine the descriptive and prescriptive. They make use of quantitative and qualitative methods, proposing to investigate the origins of change and trace their development, and eventually redraw the politico-administrative geography of the North, in line with the geography of economic fluctuations.

2There is no doubt that the impact of globalisation on an area that has always been as economically and socially sensitive to innovation like the North of Italy triggered a great number of transformations, whose political impact it is not possible to ignore. The flow of goods, people and knowledge, in fact, recast the economic and social geography of the North in the last twenty years, creating a structure that is wholly in line with the Scott’s model of the global city-region (Global City-Regions, Oxford University Press, 2011).

3The analysis contained in the chapters in the book does not focus on the city as such, nor even on the region or the macro-region; it focuses instead on the global city-region. The network of networks becomes the object of the diverse socio-demographic and socio-economic studies presented in the volume, and for a specific reason: to recognise new territorial hybrids. The movement of people, goods and knowledge gives life to collective hybrids, ‘assemblages’, as Latour would call them, made up of networks and hubs. The long tentacles of the economic world reach into the local, regional and macro-regional hubs where relationships are deepened, and where the labour force, know-how and business services are concentrated. These hubs, however, need not necessarily follow the geographical or hierarchical organisation of the state: thus the notion of the global city-region was created to explain, describe and plan at the same time ‘another’ space, in contrast to traditional administrative divisions or concepts of the industrial district.

4What are ‘local’ and ‘global’ then? Perulli’s answer has perhaps unconsciously changed from the studies of a Latourian like Nick Srnicek (Conflict Networks: Collapsing the Global into the Local, in “Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies”, issue 2). The local contains within itself the seed of the global, since the concept of a ‘hub’ is different from a static point: it is dynamic, magnetic, and has no boundaries. It is mobile since its layout is variable: it is functional, not territorial, even if ‘located’. The networks of the world economy are seen, then, as fluctuating movements redefining the geography of the North, in a constantly self-regulating dynamic, of which the policy maker must take note and be ready to intervene. Public policy is in fact tasked with the role of ushering in the government of the global city-region of the North, a government that can only be glocal, that cannot exist in other words without overcoming the old administrative divisions. These divisions are no longer representative of the city, nor the people that live there, and risk hindering the opportunities of development offered by new ‘assemblages’. In Nord. Una città-regione globale, the adoption of a ‘network of networks’ emerges as a continual thread, where the use of the paradigm glocal is highly valued, and ‘glocal governance’ becomes the objective.

5The volume opens with three questions formulated by Paolo Perulli: is the city still territorially-rooted? Can the region be considered as an open space without boundaries? And how does the world appear today? The answer to the latter, which inevitably brings into question the first two, is that the world is today composed of global city-regions: Tokyo, New York, London, Paris, Chicago. Planning Northern Italy like a global city-region would place it amongst the top ranking positions in Scott’s classification. The first goal, then, is to marginalise, prevent and finally to overcome those visions of the city as an indistinct uniformity, as a non-place, that deny a concretely verifiable hypothesis: that is, the constant creation and defining, influenced by the fluctuations of the world economy, of singular yet distinct spatio-functional hybrids, in other words, the global city-regions. And here another point ought to be noted, one that is both semantic, strategic and analytical at the same time: the static city must be replaced by the network city, the ‘relationship’ must replace the fixed site. It is the concretisation of the socio-economic analysis of the project of Bruno Latour, as Perulli himself acknowledges: it is the triumph of the realism of relationships, it is the opening of Pandora’s box. The passionate engineering and political focus of the ‘Project for the North’ emerge strongly (the ‘research project’ financed by the Irso Foundation, in whose wake some of the most important studies in the present volume have been produced). ‘To see the dynamic relationships between large trans-national cities’, Perulli writes, ‘will allow us to map out new economic and power relationships. It will allow us to re-write the influences, attractions and competition that shape the behaviour of ‘local’ players but, also, in a certain way and to a different degree, the behaviour of global players who claim that territory’ (p. 29).

6Over the course of a long period of study, Paolo Feltrin and Sergio Maset investigate the relationship between the development of infrastructural networks and economic and demographic growth. More efficient financial management of industrial manufacturing in the North has certainly seen a rise in road transport. The article begins, then, with the claim that the most important infrastructural network to understand the dynamics of socio-demographic growth is indeed the road network. And yet the expansion of business services in the last twenty years set in motion a fundamental change. The dominance of practical ‘know-how’ and the corresponding necessity of increasingly frequent exchanges of information urge a re-think of the movement of people and a re-imagination of a future in which rail transport will once again have a significant impact in the distribution of these hubs.

7But what is the degree of co-ordination between the different territorial systems in the North of Italy? This is the question that Luca Garavaglia attempts to answer. His hypothesis is the susceptibility of different public policies for different degrees of co-ordination of the territorial sub-systems: as already mentioned, the global city-region is in fact a single and unique body of fluctuating, dynamic relationships. And from the analysis carried out by the ‘Project for the North’, a polycentric metropolis emerges that stretches throughout the whole of Northern Italy, with Milan as the main ‘gatekeeper’ and a plurality of highly specialised territorial systems, which develop ‘Superior Urban Functions’ so as to be more integrated and reduce the economic break-up created by the fragmentation of space.

8The different patterns of local development in the North demonstrated then, in these years, the emergence of a cross-fertilisation between local creative environments with global links and local industrial manufacture. The necessity of innovation to be competitive on a global scale has spurred the manufacturing industry, in fact, to look for creative schemes and strategies in their ‘cluster’, so as to re-elaborate and re-launch their core business. The research carried out by Fabrizio Montanari and Nicola Bigi demonstrates moreover how necessary it is to maintain and develop dynamic relationships, through, for example, effective investment in material and non-material infrastructures that allow for engagement between creative specialists, and the sharing of information and knowledge.

9The quantitative method used by Bigi and Montanari in their study of creative ‘clusters’ (the results of the questionnaires were carried out with Ucinet) sits alongside the qualitative method in the work of Laura Lucia Parolin, through the integration – in a case study of the economy of knowledge – of a micro-social approach, developed from ethnographic studies. Cross fertilisation is a main feature of this work, which demonstrates how, as in the Brianza district where furniture is manufactured (Distretto mobile di Brianza), the project of a new area involves and positively combines design and manufacturing industry, creating innovation.

10Francesco Samoré’s article focuses on the federalism of public utilities, analysing the evolving dynamic of energy networks, the true backbone of all business networks. A thorough historical reconstruction of public utilities in Italy is followed by an indispensable summary of the current state of the law and on its repercussions, in terms of the possible conflict between functional purpose and territory.

11The concluding chapter by Peter J. Taylor counterbalances, with a real élan,the choice of the analytical  strategy mentioned before. This article reminds us of the need to re-contextualise global cities within the states to which they belong: ‘this entails’, writes Taylor, ‘the need to resist the temptation to use ultra-globalist rhetoric that can lead us to believe that Milan can be understood as a city that is part of globalisation, independent of its location in Italy’ (p. 180). At the same time Taylor ties his initial thesis to the ideas of Jane Jacobs, adding to them a historical and semantic depth that makes the glocal instinct even stronger.

12As a whole, the volume is permeated with a strain of sound and well-developed points of view, which, however, still need to find a systemic balance. Perhaps the underlying analytical structure needs to be more firmly supported, such that it is more rooted in the philosophy of ‘realism of relationships’. This will allow the paradigm of the global city-region to free itself once and for all from outdated theories, such as ‘levels of analysis’, from the antiquated concerns of those who want to maintain the status quo and, finally, from the negative vision of those who preach homogenisation and an unclear future, in times of great unrest and differentiation.

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Danilo Nicotra, « Paolo Perulli (dir.), Nord. Una città-regione globale »Métropoles [En ligne], 12 | 2013, mis en ligne le 31 mai 2013, consulté le 25 mars 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Danilo Nicotra

MA in Political Science at the Sapienza University of Rome, Independent scholar

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