Lessons from Europe: Turino, The Detroit of Italy

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 city established incentives for movie production. It began hosting the Turin Film Festival. It built the Museum of Cinema and a virtual reality theme park.

“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.


Filed under Featured, Good Ideas, Urban Planning

6 responses to “Lessons from Europe: Turino, The Detroit of Italy

  1. Special K

    It sounds like there are some really strong parrallels to Detroit and its problems, both economic and political.

    It’s good to see Cleveland State bringing us lessons from Europe. I have wondered how industrialized nations like Germany, Italy, etc. deal with factory closings.

  2. I wish I had been able to see more of the presentations. The part I saw focused on reuse of industrial infrastructure. They had the usual rails-to-trails type projects as well as some more innovative ones.

  3. Sean Posey

    One thing that really separates deindustrializied areas in Europe versus cities in America would be problems more exclusive to our societal makeup: White flight, racial strife, cities versus suburbs. For example, a quick look at some of the recent historical literature on Detroit is centered on theses issues of toxic racial relations and the growth of suburbs: “The Origins of the Urban Crisis”, by Thomas Sugrue, “Made in Detroit”, a first person account of Detroit from a white perspective, and “Detroit: I Do Mind Dying”, a look at black revolutionaries and industry.

  4. Pingback: Lessons from Europe: Turino, The Detroit of Italy | Turin Travel - Culture and Recreation

  5. Pingback: The Urbanophile » Blog Archive » Midwest Miscellany

  6. Special K

    Looks like Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is taking a delegation to Turin.

    Wonder if he got the idea from us? Hahaha…


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