Gae Aulenti Square - Milan (photo by Zac Wolffgel - Unsplash.com)
Large events as opportunitiesManaging negative externalities to maximise the positive effects for the local community and area
Every large event has two different interpretations – on one hand, that of the showcase, of world visibility for the town concerned and, on the other, attention to the potential risks and negative externalities that may occur to townspeople, first and foremost. Milan succeeded in valorising the first of these meanings in particular with Expo 2015, managing the initial complications and the inevitable organisational difficulties with events of this size, transforming them into an opportunity for visibility in which the whole city emerged renewed, in both the perception of its residents and that of other countries. The event in itself is only the last stage of the process whereas the earlier ones are, however, decisive in guaranteeing its success or failure.
First of all, it’s essential that the large event is managed so that all the key players, public or private, called on to take part are involved. It’s only after the hurdle of the organisation of the governance and the relations between the various stakeholders has been overcome, and only if everyone is motivated to co-operate, that you can continue together towards a common aim. However, the common aim isn’t only the event but also the ability to exploit the opportunities it offers – opportunities to present the city abroad and attract new tourists, opportunities for urban development, opportunities for more sustainable policies, and opportunities to offer new services for the local community.
During the months of Expo 2015, for example, the local community was personally involved in the cultural regeneration of the city. Residents were able to suggest and even organise events as the result of a crowdsourcing platform created in the ‘Expo in Città’ project. This project was the result of an agreement between the Municipality of Milan and the Chamber of Commerce and was intended to promote and co-ordinate all the events in the Milanese area outside the Expo Area. As a result, a calendar of 46,000 events in total, 250 every day, involving 2,300 organising residents, Italians and foreigners, was organised under the common guide of YES Milano and the aid of a Sportello Unico Eventi (One-stop Events Information Point) created ad hoc and then transformed into a permanent feature, also after the end of Expo, and to the city’s advantage.
Therefore, if a large event is considered a success, it’s because it brought changes that have continued to generate benefits, even after the event itself closed.
The new Metropolitan line M5, the new policy for a sustainable power supply in Milan and other cities which, on its initiative, have joined the international network, the redevelopment of areas like the Darsena, and new services such as the Municipality’s bike sharing scheme are all examples of how the city has exploited a large event like Expo 2015 to its own advantage. Not only has it succeeded in reducing negative externalities (traffic, congestion, refuse, etc.) as much as possible or, at least, limiting the inconvenience for residents in the months when Expo was open, but the city has also been able to promote innovations which the community and environment continue to benefit from (strengthened local public transport, new mobility services, etc.). In particular, the bike sharing offered by the Municipality is one of the best examples. The Bikemi service was inaugurated in 2008 and recorded more than 700,000 pick-ups in its first year of operation. Today, more than 10 years from its launch, there are 292 stations dotted around the city making 3,650 traditional bikes and 1,150 electric bikes available to residents; 150 of the bikes also have a child-seat. This service has, to date, recorded 25 million uses and more than 650,000 members but the data is evolving and the latest innovation of 2019 is the integration of the Bikemi subscription with the same card used for local public transport.
The intention is to do the same for Milan-Cortina 2026, relaunching the area involved in the four Regions/Autonomous Provinces as a result of the investments attracted by such large events. The Olympic Games will offer the opportunity to strengthen the international positioning not only of Milan but the whole of Italy as a place to visit or work, live and invest; they will also be a means for taking another step towards sustainability, promoting the development of innovative solutions. Thus, there is the intention to exploit the power of large events to fulfil long-term strategic plans, both those already prepared and new projects on sport, culture, economy and innovation. The event will also benefit the new Metropolitan line M4, already planned and currently in construction, which will make the journey from Linate airport to the city centre in just 14 minutes. However, on sustainability, the Municipality of Milan also intends to undertake the redevelopment of areas of the city using the stimulus offered by the Olympic Games, creating new parks and redeveloping the areas involved by the infrastructure necessary for the event, like the Porta Romana railway yard or the Santa Giulia district, where the Olympic village is planned.
Therefore, to benefit from large events, the awareness of subsequent effects on the local community and the long-term impact on the area once the spotlights on the city have been turned off must always be guaranteed for each organisational step, firstly, and then those of fulfilment.