23 October 2019

The Funders’ Forum on Sustainable Cities explores innovation, technology and big data in Turin and Ivrea

The Funders’ Forum on Sustainable Cities took to Turin and Ivrea on 15-17 October to explore ”Sustainable technology = sustainable cities?” and learn about innovation, technology and big data and their impact upon cities, their communities, landscapes and industrial heritage for the 2019 Annual Conference.

The 3 day event provided an opportunity for members of the Forum, interested parties from across Europe and local actors to come together and engage on a multitude of topics related to developing sustainable big cities for the future and successfully navigating the issues and opportunities created by their pasts. Fittingly with this theme in mind the event was opened with an evening reception on the 15 at the Officine Grandi Riparazioni, otherwise known as OGR, formerly a train repair depot covering northern Italy, later becoming an abandoned and neglected site, and only recently being re-imagined into a centre for the arts and innovation in Turin. The reception showcased this, with a quick tour highlighting the diversity of activities found within at OGR, from a tech hub for IT companies, to restaurants and bars for a wide range of clientele and multiple venues hosting concert, exhibitions and other cultural events.

The second day beckoned a change in scenery with the Forum moving to Ivrea, to open formally the discussions and debates of the network, hosted by Fondazione Adriano Olivetti on the former site of the Olivetti factory, world renowned producers of typewriters and early PC’s during the 1960’s. Following a welcome by Enzo Maria Le Fevre, Fondazione Adriano Olivetti, Stefania Coni, representing Fondazione Sviluppo e Crescita CRT, and Stefano Sertoli, Mayor of Ivrea, Angelo Pichierri, University of Turin provided some historical context for the conference, drawing from his personal experience as a worker at the Olivetti factory to illuminate upon the industrial histories of both Ivrea and Turin, the legacies both cities have from this history and provide some select insights into what the futures of both cities hold.

The first panel discussion sought to build upon the context provided by Mr Pichierri and paint the bigger picture of the conference ”Technology, innovation, cultural heritage and sustainable cities” with Mr Maria Le Fevre moderating the discussion that featured Joseph King, ICCROM, Lina Liakou, 100 Resilient Cities and Charlotte Macken, Nesta seeking to answer some central questions regarding opportunities and risks for cities of the future, the impact of ageing populations, unemployment and socio-economic inequality and the effective and ethical utilisation of technology and innovation. These discussions, held within a 15th century Catholic church used by the workers of the Olivetti factory, really opened up insightful discussion and neatly framed many of the questions that would run throughout the entire conference regarding for example the silver bullet of ”technology” or the need for participation and stakeholders in effective decision making.

The panel was followed by a small tour and lunch stop at the former home of the Olivetti family, Villa Belli Boschi, perched atop Ivrea, before the Forum proceeded to explore the town and its industrial heritage on a series of site visits, guided by Francesca Giliberto, University of Kent. The site visits highlighted not just the former factory sites and their modern uses, as exemplified by ICONA, a grassroots organisation seeking to return parts of the factory site to its former glory, as a hub for innovation, but also visited many parts of UNESCO designated town designed and build by Olivetti for their workers, such as progressive social housing, modern apartments, and social services such as nurseries and communal areas. The Olivetti company are still present in the town, and also provided a pit stop for the tour, showing the continued commitment they maintain to Ivrea, and the plans they have for the future. In the evening the participants returned to Turin for dinner at OGR, where Maurizio Bocconcino, Politecnico di Torino, provided some context and comparison for the next day in Turin, and the dinner provided opportunity for participants to break into smaller groups, discuss the days findings, share learnings, and discover examples and inspirations.

The final day of the conference saw one last return to OGR for the mornings sessions, to the aptly named Sala Duomo or ”Cathedral Room” with Barbara Carfagna, Code: life is digital and Juan Carlos De Martin, Politecnico di Torino, opening proceedings with an interactive session on ”How can technology serve society? Methods and strategies for funders and policymakers” highlighting the role technology can play, and also the role it cannot, in solving issues related to sustainability, inclusive communities and governance. This insightful session provided an excellent background to the case studies and examples of innovative tech provided by later speakers, but also sought to remind everyone of what exactly technology is, that though useful, it is often more a fix for the symptoms and not the cause and also sought to reiterate the need to understand that technology, and progress, are not always necessary or intrinsically good.

The following session sought to build upon the many discussions with case studies and examples under the aegis of ”Big data: How it can help philanthropic leadership”. Stefaan Verhulst, New York University guided the Forum through three diverse case studies provided by Michele Tizzoni, Fondazione ISI, Rossano Schifanella, University of Turin and Michael Szell, ITU Copenhagen. Mr Tizzoni shared a project working worldwide to understand the gender inequality of mobility, and how data can help to address this, whereas Mr Schifanella discussed his work on understanding the consumption of food across London and the factors that influence the diversity of intake, form and type. Finally Mr Szell brought to life the eye-opening initiative What the Street!?, that seeks to utilise open data to understand the utilisation of space for transport in big cities, and highlight this in an interactive form to citizens. All three projects demonstrated the myriad uses for data in developing sustainable cities, and also the caveat that while they can be used to bring issues to attention and help address their symptoms, they cannot solve the root causes.

The final organised discussion of the conference came in the form of an open discussion with Matthias Spielkamp, AlgorithmWatch on the socio-ethical issues of big data, algorithms and the often vaunted ”AI”. Mr Spielkamp offered insights not just into the ethical issues of the harvesting and utilisation of data but also into issues related into how data policy is presented and directed, and even into the very cost of data and IT in terms of energy needs, resources and the environmental impact of this. The recurring theme of data being misused and mis-sold as a one stop solution for every problem again came to the forefront with a striking example being an aforementioned app helping to address gun crime and help the victims of it in Chicago, while the app can help address the symptoms and help victims of gun crime, it cannot solve the root issues causing it.

The conference was rounded off with a urban regeneration tour of Turin, bussing from location to location to witness different sites showcasing the different periods of the city, how they have been regenerated and re-entered back into public use and benefit. The final location, Sharing Ivrea would also host a short funders reflection and a final meal to facilitate networking, discussions and openings for future meetings, collaborations and projects.

For further information on the 2019 FFSC Conference or on the work of the Forum, contact Jennifer Fitzsimons.


15 October

Angelo Pichierri – Keynote: History, legacy and future of the Olivetti experience and Ivrea’s journey to UNESCO World Heritage Site

16 October

Stefaan G. Verhulst – Big data: How it can help philanthropic organisations in shaping innovative sustainable cities

Michael Tizzoni – Gender gaps in urban mobility

Rossano Schifanella – The Geography of Food – Large-scale and high-resolution analysis of food purchases and health outcomes

Michael Szell – Revealing wasted urban space with crowd sourced data

Matthias Spielkamp – Data Ethics: Socio-ethical values