72 ON TERRITORIAL METABOLISM INTRODUCTION This paper aims to outline a genealogy of the emergence of the ecological issues in the theoretical debate about and the operative practice of the Italian città diffusa (diffused city) since the 1970s, looking both at the main paths of spatial transformations of dispersed settlements, and at the prevailing discourses and rhetoric that have developed on this topic. It will look mainly at some specific territories (mostly located in different parts of northern Italy) with a focus on the Veneto Region: this represents both a unique and paradigmatic case study in comparison to similar European urbanized contexts (Sieverts, 1997; De Geyter, 2002; De Meulder et al., 2002; AAVV 2004; Grosjean, 2010). After presenting an overview and a periodization of the complex consolidation processes of Italian dispersed settlements (part 1), the paper will discuss a selected number of surveys of the città diffusa, trying to highlight their (more or less implicit) attention to the environmental dimension of Italian urban sprawl (part 2). In so doing, the paper will outline a sort of chronology, articulated through keywords, research paradigms, and prevailing territorial representations, that have guided theoretical interpretations as well as operative interventions. The choice of comparing the transformation of discourses and keywords on the one hand, and spatial modifications and place-making practices on the other, is related to the necessity of understanding the important correlation between the emergence of new topics and sensibilities and to the effective modification of these territories. These two points make it possible to follow a continuous link to ecological and environmental issues embedded in the main processes and discourses of dispersed settlements that has developed only in the last few years. PHASES, PLAYERS, FORMS, AND PROCESSES OF DIFFUSION The expression città diffusa was consolidated in the late 1980s in order to describe the polycentric network of small and medium-sized cities that characterized wide areas of the Italian urban structure (Indovina 1990). Such a form of urbanization did not meet the traditional distinctions between city and country, center and periphery, industry and agriculture. Even if the expression was not entirely new, it gained a different meaning in the context of the Venetian school of urbanism. As a result of this analysis, these territories gained new legitimation and became the object of strong interest. Looking back at the evolution of the città diffusa, we can recognize at least three different phases linked to more general cultural and political changes, the evolution of urban culture, and the role played by the process of building construction: the phases of “diffuse urbanization,” “polarization,” and “recapitalization.” These three main transformation paths of the diffuse city through time refer both to spatial modification of dispersal territories and to ways of seeing and interpreting these mutations. The three phases are strictly connected with the elaboration of urban planning instruments and, finally, with specific analytical categories, key words, and glossaries. Diffuse Industrialization/Diffuse City: Territory as a Passive Support Looking back at the last half century, it is evident that at the beginning of the sixties a “great transformation” affected the territory of città diffusa. This was not a transformation made up of great movements, of astonishing differences between the past and the present, but rather a transformation articulated through countless, continuous, and pervasive variations that extended through time and space
73 Genealogies of the Ecological Issues in the Italian Discourse on città diffusa Fig. 1.a: Metamorphosis of the città diffusa (Munarin and Tosi, 2001).