For the last two days, Cleveland State University has been hosting Lessons from Europe: Regional Governance and Economic Transformation in Older Industrial Cities.
The workshop is being put on by The German Marshall Fund of the United States with support from the Ford Foundation. On Friday, the group will be traveling to Detroit’s NextEnergy to do the whole thing again.
I had the opportunity to sit in on a speech from Professor Dr. Valentino Castellani, the former mayor of Torino, Italy, a city that has been called the Detroit of Europe.
The city was once the industrial capital of Italy, a one-company town where the economy centered around Fiat, the Italian carmaker which is headquartered there.
Turino (or Turin) lost 80,000 jobs related to auto manufacturing over a period of several years in a time known as “The Crisis of the Fiat,” according to Dr. Castellani. About one-third of the city’s 1 million people were directly affected by cuts as local car manufacturers shifted from building more than 2 million cars per year to about 800,000. At one point, the town had 1 million square meters of abandoned industrial sites, he said.
The economic crisis was compounded by a administrative crisis, according to Dr. Castellani. Turino turned over four mayors in five years and had “no vision for the future.” But a major turning point arrived in 1993 when the Italian Parliament imposed a series of reforms that allowed Italians to elect their local leadership directly. As a result, Dr. Castellani, a professor of electrical communications who specialized in satellite communications at Politecnico, was elected to the city’s highest office and he began the process of trying to reinvent the city.
The name of his speech was “The Need for a Big Vision and Leadership.”
Dr. Castellani began by launching a campaign to brand Turino as the “City of Cinema.” The town drew from its history of being the birthplace of cinema in the early 1900s for this vision, according to Dr. Castellani.
“The idea came from the legacy we has that was projected into the future,” Dr. Castellani said.
Meanwhile, the city gathered major stakeholders and developed 20 objectives and 84 actions for a more vibrant future.
“Not all of them were successful,” he said. “Many of them were successful–enough of them.”
City officials also set to work developing a strategic plan, with an emphasis on bottom-up citizen participation. It was the first major city in Italy to do so.
“Aiming at big achievement requires the patience of making small steps and accepting failures,” he told guests. “A strong commitment makes a difference. It is crucial to recognize that each step is part of the vision.”
That effort culminated with Dr. Castellani’s successful promotion of the town to host the world for the Olympic games.
Quite a turn around.