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The Alpine Metropolitan-Mountain Faced with Global Challenges. Reflections on the Case of Turin

Giuseppe Dematteis
Traduction de Translated by the author and revised by Luigi Genta Traduzioni
Cet article est une traduction de :
La metro-montagna di fronte alle sfide globali. Riflessioni a partire dal caso di Torino

Résumés

Les échanges entre la montagne et le piémont urbanisé dans la région métropolitaine de Turin offrent un exemple paradigmatique qui renvoit à de nombreuses situations analogues dans les Alpes. L’analyse permet d’identifier certains caractères des espaces alpins compris dans des systèmes métropolitains. La croissance des échanges ville-montagne est mise en relation avec le problème de l’intégration des espaces ruraux alpins dans les régions urbaines environnantes, à partir d’une dépendance mutuelle qui n’est plus celle du XXe siècle. Cette intégration peut mener à la formation d’un système territorial bipolaire dans lequel le sous-système montagnard opère comme agent de différentiation dans un espace relationnel multiscalaire. À l’origine de ce processus, il y a la perception de la montagne comme un ensemble de valeurs complémentaires et, dans une certaine mesure, alternatives pour les urbains. Grace à eux la montagne alpine devient un laboratoire dans lequel les nouveaux arrivants cherchent à combiner les avantages de la ville avec la diversité radicale de l’environnement montagnard. L’hypothèse qu’une nouvelle centralité culturelle de la montagne puisse réduire au fil du temps sa dépendance fonctionnelle est à confronter aux réponses aux changements globaux concernant l’environnement, la technologie et l’impact de l’économie néolibérale. La conclusion est qu’une nouvelle urbanité alpine est réalisable s’il y a une réponse organisée à ces changements, de façon à réaliser un cercle vertueux de croissance des résidents, des services et de l’emploi.

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Texte intégral

This work has been supported by LABEX ITEM ANR-10-LABX-50-01.

Introduction

1During the years 2015–2017 the Dislivelli Association of Turin carried out a study (Dematteis and Di Gioia, 2017) on the flow of persons, goods, services and money resulting from exchanges between mountain communities and urban agglomerations within the Turin Metropolitan City (Città Metropolitana di Torino, former Provincia di Torino). This institutional territorial entity, measuring 6,827 km2 (2,636 mi2), comprises 316 municipalities, with 2.3 million inhabitants. 60.5% of it consists of an Alpine mountain area stretching from the foothills to 4000m a.s.l. . This paper uses certain empirical evidence of this study and other unpublished data in order to identify the general characteristics of Alpine spaces included in a metropolitan system and to discuss the key to a better integration between rural mountain and surrounding urban areas. This perspective will be analysed with reference to predictable responses of the Alpine contexts to the impact of global changes concerning environment, technology, and neo-liberal economy. The last section will be dedicated to a reflection on the specificity of metropolitan Alpine regions intended as a bi-polar territorial systems

The Alpine mountains in the system of exchanges of the Metropolitan City of Turin

2Table 1 provides an overview of the mutual exchanges between the two parts in which the metropolitan territory of Turin is divided: the mountain area (M) and the urbanized piedmont area (U). The first consist of the 150 municipalities classified as “mountainous” by the Piedmont Region Administration. It covers an area of 4,130 km2, with 280,000 inhabitants. The second covers an area of 2,697 km2, with 1,970,000 residents, divided in 165 municipalities. The Turin functional region is slightly larger than the Città Metropolitana, but the latter includes in its boundaries the majority of local exchanges between the Alps and the Turin metropolitan conurbation. The last column gives a measure of M’s dependence on U.

Table 1. The main exchanges/year between the mountain area (M) and urban foreland (U) in the Città Metropolitana di Torino

Good/services/persons exchanged

Flow

M =>U

Monetary

counterpart

U=>M

(EUR million)

Flow

U =>M

Monetary

counterpart

M=>U

(EUR million)

Exchanges by M with the rest of the world (% of monetary value)

Water supply

2,800 billion m³

0.3

Payment of concessions

15

Sale of bottled

water

Investments in infrastructure

-

57

Regulation of ecosystem services

Environment maintenance

17

Compensation

by public bodies

Preventive and remedial works

-

5


Hydroelectric power

2,970 GWh

Released into national grid

0.4

Take-up by U

-

-

97

Mineral resources


Extraction and sale

0.4

Concession

fee

15.5

sale

-

-

75

Other natural resources (game, fish, mushrooms etc.)

Catching, collecting and

sale

2.2

Licenses and sale

Payment of

permits

-

17

Agricultural products

Sale of fruit, wine, potatoes etc.

7.3

Purchases

-

20

Livestock products

Sale of milk and dairy products

48.7

Purchases

-

16

Wood products

Wood sales

0.7

Purchases

-

22

Labour (commuting)

40.000 commuters

979

Wages and salaries

14,800 commuters

344

Wages and salaries

4

Goods and services for families

Travels for purchases and access to services

-

-

661

(245)

10

Goods and services for businesses

Demand

-

Supply

572

(112)

43

Tourism (business)

Accommodation and other tourist services,

213

(155)

5.8 mln

tourists

-

36

Free cultural ecosystem services

Offer of environment, landscape, and

heritage

-

Green, “soft”, eco-cultural tourism

-

10

New residents

2,800

No estimate

3.700

No estimate

No estimate

Total (EUR million)

-

1,330

(1,175)

-

1,559

(701)

7,059

(4,800)

Note: The table only considers recurrent flows, excluding those related to exceptional occurrences. The monetary counterparts between M and U (figures in normal font) include goods not produced in M nor in U. The figures in italics and brackets exclude such goods. All data refer to years 2016-2017.

Data source: Dematteis and Di Gioia. In the last column unpublished data collected in the years 2016-17

3The M-U interchange shows a number of mutual dependencies. The mountain (M) depends on the urban metropolitan piedmont (U) mainly in terms of goods and services (for families and businesses) and commuting to work. But it also depends to a certain extent on demand of tourists and on trade of agro-forestry-pastoral products. Oppositely, the unequal allocation of natural capital generates a strong dependence of U on natural services such as water supply, ecosystem regulation, and cultural ecosystem services (recreational, aesthetic, educational). These mutual dependencies and their potential evolution are summarized in table 2, in which the degree of dependence is related to the replaceability of current exchanges with potential exchanges with origins and destinations outside of the M-U territorial system.

Table 2. Mutual dependence of mountain area (M) and urban foreland (U) in the Città Metropolitana di Torino (indicative scores from 0 to 5)

Good/service exchanged

Dependence of M on U

Dependence of U on M

Possible growth (+) and decrease (-) of mutual dependence

Possible growth (+) and decrease (-) of the exchanges of M outside U

Water (supply and control)

1

4

+ +

+

Cultural ecosystem services

1

3

+ +

+++

Agro-forestry-pastoral production

2

1

+ +

+++

Labour (commuting)

3

1

̶̶̶

̶

Goods and services for families

3

0

̶ ̶

+

Goods and services for business

4

0

̶

++

Tourism

3

2

+ +

+++

Source: Dematteis and Di Gioia 2017, revised

4Despite the general trend to substitute local interactions with remote interactions, the physical M-U proximity remains binding for essential needs such as water supply and control, easy access to what is missing in the urban agglomerations in terms of environment and landscape, and, in M rural areas, in terms of goods and services. In addition, some proximity relationships are not coercive but dictated by convenience, trust, sense of belonging, topophilia etc. It is important to notice the increase of short food supply chains for the sale of agro-pastoral products, currently becoming a key component of metropolitan food planning (Dansero and Pettenati, 2015). For this reason, even if socio-economic inequalities were reduced, a certain degree of mutual dependence would remain, due to natural constraints, economic requirements, and cultural choices.

From the case of Turin to a conceptual model of the Alpine “metropolitan-mountain”

5The Alpine mountain area of Turin appears as a relational space whose economical, social, and cultural characteristics result from interactions with a highly urbanized foreland. It presents three macro-areas: (1) lower mountain (1,787 km2 hosting 250,390 residents), partly industrialized, with valley floors reached by peri-urban expansion of the bordering agglomerations; (2) few areas of large ski resorts located in the high valleys (567 km2 with 10.124 residents); (3) remaining rural areas of the high and medium valleys (1,774 km2, hosting 15,588 residents), demographically and economically weak (Corrado 2014).

6As is well known, the peculiarity of the Alpine mountain comes from its vertical dimension of living environments with its ecological specificities. As results of long-term co-evolutionary interactions, these environmental features are also associated with certain characteristics of local societies, regarding settlements, farming practices, cultural expressions, management of collective goods etc. In our case, these characteristics have largely disappeared in areas (1) and (2), where urban life styles are now prevalent, and the natural environment has a less practical relevance compared to that of constructed and artificialized spaces. The weak rural areas (3), despite suffering from depopulation and abandonment, retain certain traditional characteristics, especially in their landscape features. Therefore, they appear as territories riddled with empty spaces (Viazzo and Zanini 2014), prepared to accept persons attracted by its environmental values and eager for new recreational, housing, and working experiences (Corrado 2016).

7These economically weak areas also present the experience of hosting and subsequent settlement of immigrants and asylum seekers facing persecution or fleeing poverty (Membretti 2015; Membretti, Viazzo and Kofler 2017). Overall, such spaces are very different from those of the peri-urban mountain, where new settlers are attracted by lower cost of housing or by rural environmental conditions not very different from those of the nearby piedmont plains. Instead, the “empty” mountain spaces seem to be the potential laboratories of settlement experiences attempting to combine the advantages of the city with those of a specific natural and socio-cultural environment. In such areas, landscape marketization, typical of the Alpine gentrification (Debarbieux, 2008 ; Perlik, 2011), plays a minor role. Rather, these inland areas appear to be the theatre where a small (but growing) number of new settlers are combining a new urban way of life to the radical diversity of the mountain environment. In the Italian Alps, the new residents have profiles varying from individuals seeking their roots to nomadic experimenters.

8This process is favoured by the spread in the collective consciousness of what Aldo Bonomi (2013) called “new mountain centrality”. This means that the diversity of the mountain environment is now perceived as a set of economic, cultural, aesthetic, and existential values, not only complementary but also partly alternative to the urban values. Thus, the “new centrality” is attracting not only vacationers, but also new residents, multiple residents, new farmers, and innovative entrepreneurs. This new positive vision of the Alpine mountain as a “laboratory” (Brun and Perrin 2001) is also shared by the well-learnt native youth, and it has the potential to generate a cumulative growth of residents, employment, and services, destined to change the traditional relationships with the foreland cities. In this way, the new Alpine cultural centrality could become the key factor in reducing the functional peripherality of large mountain areas.

9In recent decades there are signs of this trend in Piedmont (Dematteis 2011) as well as in the rest of the Italian Alps (Varotto, 2013; Corrado, Dematteis, Di Gioia 2014, Corrado 2016), and in other Alpine countries (Cipra, 2007; Messerli, Scheurer and Veit, 2011; Bender and Kanitscheider, 2012). In the Italian case we have proven, at least as a tendency, the thesis formulated by Manfred Perlik (2011) according to which the classic centre-periphery model is dissolving, but for now this is not only due to peri-urbanisation or a massive mountain gentrification. Currently, the only example of the latter cases in the Italian Alps is the competition for positional goods (club goods), related to architectural excellences and real estate values in certain well-known mountain resorts such as Cortina d’Ampezzo, Madesimo, Courmayeur, Sestrière, and few others.

  • 1 See, for example, the feasibility studies collected by M. Cavallo Perin and M. Viano in the supplem (...)

10In the case of the Turin metropolitan region, the weakening of the centre-periphery model tends to produce a bi-polar relational structure in which each of the two poles – the metropolitan agglomeration and the Alpine core – has its own different centrality, so that a negative gradient from city to mountain is balanced by an another reverse gradient from mountain to city. This is related to residential choices not only dependent on local amenities, but also on remote working facilities and on an innovative use of local natural and cultural assets1. Nevertheless, we must ask ourselves to what extent this optimistic scenario is compatible with the changes taking place on a global scale.

The Alpine metropolitan-mountain in a global relation system

11What is changing in the afore mentioned metropolitan-mountain representation if there is a change from a metropolitan relational system to a multi-scalar system of relationships within a global context? The answer must take into account the epochal shift of what has been called “second modernity” or “great metamorphosis” (Beck,2016), in which the Alpine mountain faces two major challenges mutually dependent: firstly, the threats to the global ecosystem due to climate change, air, soil, and water pollution, biological and cultural mass extinction; secondly, the direct and mainly indirect consequences of the neoliberal financial economy.

12Climate change and the threat to the integrity of ecosystems have certain direct effects on mountain environments and indirect effects on the new image of the Alpine mountain as an alternative to metropolitan living. In the last decades the reaction of a growing part of the population to such environmental threats and to their side effects helped to raise a widespread awareness of the importance of environmental values for existential needs and daily well being.

13Since the 90s,influential public actors as UN, FAO, UNESCO, EU, the Alpine states, and a number of NGOs, began to establish a new image of the mountains from the cultural, economic and political points of view (Debarbieux and Price, 2008). This created a cultural orientation that attached a higher quality of life in the rural mountain areas compared to that offered by large urban agglomerations. This is a radically different view from that which in the past century had led to consider the mountain values as complementary to urban values, through exploitation of natural resources and tourist use of its landscape, recreational, and health benefits (De Rossi 2016). The cultural change may be linked with the “emancipatory reaction” (Beck, 2015) to the threat of environmental degradation and climate change that leads citizens to adopt a more responsible behaviour implicitly or explicitly contrary to the current unsustainable development model. Currently the aesthetic and recreational appreciation of the mountain environment, which explains the amenity migrants phenomenon (Moss 1996), is always present, but it is no longer sufficient to explain the construction of a “new centrality” of the Alpine mountains and the behaviour of a significant portion of their new settlers, belonging to a “second modernity”.

14Other indirect effects of climate change beneficial to the metropolitan mountain area are the promotion of renewable energy sources and the birth of a carbon credit market, which may give an economic value to carbon capture and storage. Certain direct effects are instead variable. Climate change has a negative impact on biodiversity, the melting of glaciers, and permafrost. Drought threatens summer pastures and reduces hydroelectric production, though on the other hand increasing the value of mountain water reserves. Rising temperatures reduce the number and extension of the ski facilities, while the use of artificial snow collides with economic and environmental sustainability issues. This financially damages the tourism economy and real estate values in many winter sports resorts. On the other hand, the rise of altitudinal limits due to temperature increase promotes the extension of valuable crops such as olives, fruit, and grapevines. The hydrogeological risk is worsened by the increasing frequency of extreme weather events that threaten the urbanized piedmont, thus drawing attention to the care and maintenance of the mountain territory, and consequently the fact that it should continue to be populated.

15Economic globalization favours the opening of mountain economies to international markets, but in its current extractive and expulsion version (Sassen 2014) it acts predominantly in a negative sense. By using finance and monetary policy to drive economic processes (Mazzacurato and Jacobs, 2016), it enhances inequality (Stiglitz, 2012; Piketty, 2013) and imposes severe limits to public spending. By making the geographical distribution and the management of public services market-dependent, it tends to depopulate low-demand mountain areas. The reduction of public spending on welfare and services goes in the same direction. Moreover, the global economy encourages a financialisation of water and energy resources, which reduces the independence of local businesses. An even more serious issue is that, by investing in an ICT infrastructure that is dependent on demand, the market logic limits the development of teleservices and teleworking, which is essential in transforming depopulated inner mountain areas in alternative living spaces. Finally, the obsession with short-term financial returns prevents strategic longer-term visions required by projects in favour of development. Therefore, neoliberal globalization appears directly or indirectly as a major obstacle to the triggering of the cumulative process by which the new cultural centrality of the inner mountain areas could lead to a reduction of its functional peripherality. The metropolitan-mountain rebalancing model outlined above will thus only work if there is a reaction to the global financial threats capable of producing effective counteraction at different scales, similar to the reaction it already has in opposition to climate change

  • 2 Among the most important: reuse of abandoned farmland, replanting vineyards and orchards, community (...)

16In this regard, the example of the No-TAV movement in Susa Valley (Bobbio and Dansero,2006; Aime, 2016; Sutton,2016) is particularly instructive. According to the movement, the crossing of the valley by the Lyon-Turin high speed train and the construction of a new transalpine tunnel – as a result of European and national decisions – are considered damaging to environmental values, health of the inhabitants, and local interests. Even apart from these reasons, the case is interesting because the threat comes from an easily identifiable adversary. This allowed the mobilization of a large part of the resident population based on shared interests and perspectives. It produced a valley identity that was not there before. It allowed to overcome individualism and provincialism and thus has made it possible to build a common strategic perspective. In this way the movement, starting from a challenge that could seem restricted to NIMBYs, has given rise to a non-hierarchical network, engaged in a number of proactive actions 2.

17This example suggests that it is probably difficult to have sufficient mobilization in support of counteractions if the responsibility of processes with negative effects remains abstract and cannot be attributed to specific actors. In terms of the marginalized mountain area, it is not a matter of reacting to something that threatens consolidated interests or well-defined collective expectations, but to counter mechanisms which prevent, indirectly and not clearly, the generation of possible future collective advantages through complex and uncertain projects. Therefore it is more likely that counteractions may arise in response to the threat of something that already exists, such as single local projects on which there is already a certain level of investment in hope, energy, and resources. Projects of this type are abundant in the Alps, but in order to effectively be realized, they require a common awareness of their emancipatory power and the networking ability of the political system at the metropolitan city level and beyond.

Conclusions

18The Turin metropolitan region offers a good example of a vast mountain area with characteristics and development trends common to many other Alpine regions functionally dependent on foreland urban agglomerations (Dematteis, 2009). The analysis of the exchanges between rural inland mountain areas and their urban piedmont shows a mutual dependence in support of a metropolitan-Alpine integration. The awareness of the “new centrality” of the Alpine environment gives rise to an emancipative reaction to global environmental and economic threats. In an optimistic hypothesis this reaction can entail a virtuous circle of growth of new residents, employment, and services, implementing the idea of a new Alpine urbanism, less dependent on external urban poles. Nevertheless this perspective must take into account the same global threats generating, as a response, the image of a new Alpine centrality. As they are for the most part indirect, the effects are not easy to tackle, and the responsibility of any possible counterpart remains distant and difficult to find. Therefore, in addition to actions aimed at increasing a general cultural awareness, mobilizations in defence of local interests and concrete projects will be decisive, especially if networked together.

19Whatever should happen, current trends show an onset of a city-mountain relationship different from that which has characterized twentieth century modernity (Corrado and Durbiano, 2017). In the case of Turin, a bi-polar integrated Alpine region is emerging, resulting from the interaction between two imbricated subsystems, but each with different and partially unshakeable characters: the metropolitan conurbation and the metropolitan-mountain subsystem. The latter should be understood as a natural, socio-cultural, economic, and political entity, that – with its specificities – operates as an agent of differentiation within a multi-level relational space.

  • 3 Upon presenting a research on the Alpine urban network at the XXI Italian Congress of geography (Ve (...)

20The example dealt with in this paper shows that the Alpine metropolitan regions differ from other metropolitan systems that cannot enjoy the exchanges and benefits of a mountainous hinterland. The concept of the Alpine metropolitan system prevents the Alpine urban agglomerations (towns, cities, metropolises) from remaining considered as self-contained territorial bodies, distinct from the surrounding rural areas or even opposed to them3. On the other hand, the inclusion of mountain territories within the metropolitan limits should be seen as an important competitive advantage to the whole system.

21The mutually beneficial exchanges between urban agglomerations and their mountain hinterland, within a metropolitan system, ensure that policies to make the rural metropolitan-mountain liveable and accessible are in fact urban policies. For the same reason, mountain policies at a regional, national, and European level should overcome the rural reductive vision that still characterizes their approach. The EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP), which covers both the Alps and their bordering metropolises, is a good opportunity to promote such metropolitan-mountain integration in the European public opinion and to create an appropriate multilevel governance system. The preconditions to do this exist, but its activation, in a context strongly dependent on unfavourable global impacts, requires enforcement and corrective actions dictated by medium and long-term strategies.

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Notes

1 See, for example, the feasibility studies collected by M. Cavallo Perin and M. Viano in the supplement to the Dislivelli magazine, Feb. 2017 (http://www.dislivelli.eu/blog/immagini/foto_febbraio_2017/torinoelealpi_ricerche_def.pdf)

2 Among the most important: reuse of abandoned farmland, replanting vineyards and orchards, community buying groups, short food supply chains, tourist hospitality, preservation of historical heritage, waste treatment, community services, and creation of the Etinomia network which brings together hundreds of local entrepreneurs (Aime, 2016)

3 Upon presenting a research on the Alpine urban network at the XXI Italian Congress of geography (Verbania, 1971), I argued that ʿwe should be prepared to recognize cities that are in some way “Alpine”, even outside of the Alps” and that an “Alpine” city must be “the product of a culture that can be defined as Alpineʾ (Dematteis, 1974, pg.9). Broadly speaking, I believe this may still be applicable to today's Alpine metropolitan regions, in that their specificity depends on ties with a mountain hinterland where new forms of Alpine metropolitan culture are experimented.

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Giuseppe Dematteis, « The Alpine Metropolitan-Mountain Faced with Global Challenges. Reflections on the Case of Turin  », Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 106-2 | 2018, mis en ligne le 12 août 2018, consulté le 19 septembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rga/4402 ; DOI : 10.4000/rga.4402

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Auteur

Giuseppe Dematteis

Professor emeritus of urban and regional geography, Politecnico di Torino. President of Dislivelli Association, Turin
giuseppe.dematteis@dislivelli.eu

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