How Bologna is working with residents to re-imagine public spaces

Name: Michele D’Alena

Title: Director of the Office of Civic Imagination

City: Bologna, Italy

Several years ago, a group of citizens in Bologna asked the city if they could volunteer their time and repaint a park bench in their neighborhood. Getting the go-ahead, however, required that the group get an OK from five different city departments. Seeing this was absurd, city leaders rewrote regulations to boost acts of volunteerism rather than quash them. They created an “Office of Civic Imagination,” headed by Michele D’Alena, and new tools to make it easier for community groups and citizens to work with the administration in co-designing ideas for activating public spaces. D’Alena manages six laboratories across Bologna that serve as permanent community hubs for collaboration and innovation. At these labs, city hall staff and residents work together on initiatives like creating a new community garden to inspire more neighborhood interaction. “We try to connect the people to the city and to other resources,” D’Alena said. “It’s an opportunity to listen to people and hear about their concerns and their ideas, to work with our citizens to make our city a better place.” Since D’Alena took on the role in 2017, he and his team have engaged with over 15,000 members of their community, virtually and in person, in 400 projects across the city.

Cities of Service recently gave Bologna’s effort an Engaged Cities Award. Learn more about the program by watching this video, and reading this writeup.

Pro Tip:

“Recognize that citizen activism is a tool. Then, citizens will recognize that the city can be a partner and a friend.”