Among the most important changes that took place in Italy in the course of the Eighties, the evolution of the settlement structure should be noted. Like what happened in the territorial systems of the most advanced countries, the Italian urban network has also undergone significant changes, supporting the transformations that have occurred both in the world of production and in the social and political behavior of the population. The phenomenon that has become more evident is the arrest of demographic growth in the main Italian municipalities. This trend, which can also be found in other countries with a mature economy, has been the subject of different interpretations due, on the one hand, to the scarce coincidence between the extension of the municipality and the size of the urban agglomeration, and on the other hand to the difficulty of defining territorially the boundaries of the city.
Without going into the merits of the compartmentalisation issues, it should still be reported, and can be inferred from tab. 15, like the population of the main municipalities, or of the main Italian cities, underwent, between the mid-seventies and the early nineties, a slowdown in growth, which part of the doctrine interprets as a real inversion of the underlying trend. And this phenomenon has had different explanations.
The first in chronological order is the one proposed by BJL Berry who since 1976 has coined the term ” counterurbanization ” (counterurbanization), to indicate the demographic deconcentration process underway in the main American metropolitan areas since the early 1970s, which is associated with the decline and reorganization of large cities. The abrupt interruption in the urbanization processes of the United States (but the phenomenon affects all countries with a mature economy) would be determined, according to the author, by the dramatic deterioration in the quality of life, directly related to the abnormal dimensions reached by modern conurbations. Pollution, the deterioration of historic centers or in any case of central districts, social and racial conflicts, traffic congestion and other phenomena linked to the peculiar conditions of urban life, would be at the origin of the new territorial behaviors matured by the population, increasingly in search of a more human dimension of living, in areas that enjoy better environmental conditions. The exodus from the city, encouraged, among other elements, by the increase in incomes per capita and new applications for urban residence, however, does not only concern strictly demographic aspects. The mechanism of progressive agglomeration of economic activities, which has accumulated its effects over the course of decades, having reached certain saturation limits, ends up causing the decentralization of a considerable portion of production structures.
The use of the term counter-urbanization, therefore, refers specifically to the phenomenon according to which the demographic and employment decline of large cities involves a parallel accelerated development of the external areas, both of the peri-urban ones, and above all of the more distant ones, even when not reachable with short trips, i.e. in the context of daily commuting. Finally, the arrest of the demographic growth of large conurbations is to the advantage of the entire intermediate urban network (made up of medium and medium-small sized cities), also of the one that organizes marginal economic spaces, and therefore located in a peripheral compared to traditional ” strong ” regions. Ultimately, we are witnessing the
A second interpretative orientation is expressed by the so-called “ city life cycle ”, according to which urban growth and, in particular, the relationships between the development of the center and that of the periphery, do not take place according to an evolutionary process of the type random, but they are regulated by a cycle marked by four well-defined phases (urbanization, suburbanization, disurbanization and re-urbanization). The characterizing feature of the theoretical model is the identification of the mechanism according to which the passage from one phase to another of the cycle would take place, a mechanism governed by phenomena of saturation of physical space and economic congestion. After a first phase, during which the population tends to concentrate in the main cities on which the regional system is based, the Inner core. Among the functions that find hospitality in the suburbs of large cities, in addition to the industrial ones whose movement is motivated not only by the need to have large areas to be allocated to plants but also by the onset of external diseconomies such as pollution and traffic congestion, there are above all the residential ones: increasing shares of residents abandon the city center, degraded and not very liveable, in search of healthier and less standardized living spaces.
The third phase, that of disurbanization or decline, corresponds to the affirmation of factors that cause the strengthening of decentralized tendencies; including in particular technical progress, with its ability to break down the traditional impedance of the territory and the costs associated with the distances to be covered. Other important factors that contribute to accentuating the importance and economic convenience of localization decentralization, and therefore of peripheral urban development, are the increase in incomes and the launch of urban planning strategies. The fourth phase described by the city life cycle model foresees the beginning of a period of re-urbanization, a phenomenon which, however, is not proven by empirical evidence.
Finally, a further hypothesis is that attributable to the thought of J. Gottmann who theorizes the growth and transformation of the large urbanized regions of the globe into the so-called ” megalopolises ”. Starting from the observation of the existence of forms of urban development that are no longer monocentric, the author abandons the study of the single urban organism as a unit of reference, to address the demographic trends underway in the entire regional system and in the megalopolis. The phenomenon that for Gottmann it is necessary to investigate therefore concerns territorial aggregates of vast dimensions, to which high concentrations of population correspond, in any case not less than 25 million residents; and it is on the basis of these new megalopolitan borders that it is necessary to interpret the demographic increase or decrease, the growth and diffusion of new functions, internal specialization or even a hierarchy of central locations. Among the megalopolises in the potential state, with particular reference to the Italian case, the author points out the progressive affirmation of the ” Padana megalopolis ”, that is, that system of cities which, focusing on the traditional industrial triangle (Turin, Milan, Genoa), it extends along the eastern (Po-Venetian plain and the Romagna-Marche route), southern (including the Riviera di Levante and the coastal urban network of Tuscany) and central-western (the Riviera di Ponente and the coastal cities of France). internal specialization or even a hierarchy of central localities. Among the megalopolises in the potential state, with particular reference to the Italian case, the author points out the progressive affirmation of the ” Padana megalopolis ”, that is, that system of cities which, focusing on the traditional industrial triangle (Turin, Milan, Genoa), it extends along the eastern (Po-Venetian plain and the Romagna-Marche route), southern (including the Riviera di Levante and the coastal urban network of Tuscany) and central-western (the Riviera di Ponente and the coastal cities of France). internal specialization or even a hierarchy of central localities. Among the megalopolises in the potential state, with particular reference to the Italian case, the author points out the progressive affirmation of the ” Padana megalopolis ”, that is, that system of cities which, focusing on the traditional industrial triangle (Turin, Milan, Genoa), it extends along the eastern (Po-Venetian plain and the Romagna-Marche route), southern (including the Riviera di Levante and the coastal urban network of Tuscany) and central-western (the Riviera di Ponente and the coastal cities of France).
The movements of the population (be they of a natural type, and therefore birth and death rates, or migratory balances) represent only one of the components of the recent evolution of the Italian settlement system. Some economic motives also played a central role in bringing about the reversal in the demographic trend. In particular, the industrial restructuring and outsourcing processes triggered by the two major oil crises of the years 1973-74 and 1979-80 which involved the world of production as a whole should be remembered. In the Eighties, a rapid process of outsourcing began in the Italian economy, linked both to the emergence of a new demand for service activities for the production system, and to the strengthening of a tertiary sector for families. direct consequence of the shortcomings revealed by public services. The real explosion of tertiary activities was offset by the loss of importance of the industrial sector, which while continuing to maintain an essential role in the country’s growth process, has shown evident losses in productivity and driving force. In this context, the crisis of the so-called activities was very pronounced energy intensive, or more generally of the basic sectors, while greater importance tend to take on activities that make use of significant quantities of know-how and technological innovations. The substitution of advanced manufacturing sectors to the basic sectors and the related transition to a mature economy entail substantial remodeling of the territory, through mechanisms of complexification of the geographical space, which are less and less framed and interpretable in the light of consolidated geographical theories.
From a strictly geographical point of view, not all the Italian regional components have shown similar tendencies towards demographic devolution, thereby making explicit the economic gaps that divide the Italy north-central from the South. The evolution of the Italian urban network, in fact, has only reflected the existing imbalances, and this is demonstrated by the fact that, while in the economically more mature regions the demographic deconcentration process has been able to trigger and produce territorial effects, in the southern areas not only did this process take place with very low intensity, but in most cases the trend towards urban concentration continued.
More specifically, the regions in which demographic decline was felt more than in others were Liguria, which already in the early 1970s showed a decreasing trend in population concentration, and Lombardy, where the urbanization process and concentration of the population came to a halt immediately behind the first oil crisis. Piedmont, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio as well as Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Valle d’Aosta recorded a drop in the demographic concentration in the following period, probably proof of a younger production structure less linked to the industry of base compared to that present both in Liguria and in Lombardy. Even in these regions, however,
Umbria and Marche on the one hand, Campania and Puglia on the other, showed similar trends as evidence of a production situation that has not fully evolved and is in the process of further strengthening. As far as Umbria and Marche are concerned, rather than an inversion in the trend towards concentration, we can speak of a halt in demographic growth starting from the early 1980s. For Campania and Puglia, on the other hand, the demographic decline reported by the main urban centers seems to be due to the incidence of short-term events, ie related to the contemporary events of the economic crisis, rather than to improbable phenomena of industrial maturity. In particular, these are the difficulties encountered by the metallurgical, mechanical and petrochemical sectors, widely present in both regions, as a result of which the need for the restructuring of the plants and there was a decrease in employment. Furthermore, Campania seems to be heavily affected by the problems of the metropolitan area of Naples, problems aggravated by the earthquake of 1980.
The remaining regions, Abruzzo, Molise, Calabria, Basilicata, Sicily and Sardinia, have shown to maintain an unequivocal trend towards demographic concentration, an evident symptom that the changes in the production structure are driving the phenomena of devolution. The backwardness of these areas, the still high degree of rurality, continue to feed a territorial behavior of the population still in line with the urban planning phenomena that have been characteristic of Italy as a whole for all the years of the economic boom.
The apparent contradiction between the arrest of demographic growth and the territorial expansion of cities, which over the last twenty years has first affected the major Italian municipalities and then extended to those gradually smaller, helping to create a real process of urbanization of the whole ” countryside ” (of the most advanced regions), is not without consequences even on a more strictly methodological level. Several authors (G. Dematteis, O. Vitali, B. Cori, A. Celant, and others) have pointed out that it was misleading to limit the field of investigation by taking the population of the chief town as the reference unit. In fact, in a large and growing number of cases
Hence the need to assume as a basic unit not so much the municipality (too small and, in the larger cities, less extensive – with rare exceptions – than the surface occupied by the built-up area), as the area actually urbanized. In terms of urban geography, what has slowly but inexorably changed has been the traditional center-periphery paradigm which, according to a well-established practice of geographic and urban planning, contrasted with the actual urban center, in a functionally dominant position, the surrounding countryside situated precisely in a subordinate position.
The urban evolution that took place during the 1980s and early 1990s has therefore resulted in a progressive expansion of the city towards the surrounding territories, involving in its growth the once neighboring municipalities which have gradually become part of integral of the new metropolitan structures. This phenomenon, once the prerogative of the main Italian cities, Rome, Milan, Turin, Genoa, has gradually also involved the demographically smaller centers, affecting medium-sized or even medium-small cities such as, for example, Palermo, Bologna, Florence, but also Bergamo, Verona, Ferrara, Catania, Perugia, etc. The urban process in progress has had a normative feedback in the l. 142 of 1990 “Order of local autonomies” which established nine metropolitan areas (Turin, Milan, Genoa, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples, Bari) delegating to the special statute regions, Sicily and Sardinia, the establishment of similar structures (Palermo and Catania for Sicily, Cagliari for Sardinia). However, it is noted that, although the regions had been granted a period of one year to provide for the delimitation of the metropolitan areas, in most cases this term was completely disregarded (see above: Establishment of the new provinces).