Report from Borghesiana

We started on February 2009 with the 1st international SELF MADE CITY workshop, focussing on the issues of informal settlements in Europe. For this purpose we invited architects, curators, researchers, artists, documentary and film makers who worked on issues of informality, self organisation and activism in order to start a multi disciplinary international research group and network about the informal city.

IncontroWe chose Rome as a cross point city where urban phenomena of the Northern and Southern hemisphere are very close together and where at the same time self organization of social and public spaces has a long tradition. As a new working group urbanXchange organized in July 2009 a workshop on field in the Borghesiana and Finocchio areas. In the framework of our workshop “Imparare da Borghesiana” we started researching the public history of these settlements built by self – organized urbanism, in order to know more about this unwritten history. We decided to do this from the protagonists’ point of view. We organized several meetings in collaboration with the inhabitants, the chairmen of the local Consorzi di Autorecupero (self organized groups for urban recovery) and local neighbourhoods’ assemblies.

Collina_pace_1Beside the history of the settlements, we researched:
– the use of the city space
– the public spaces
– the migrants as new inhabitants
– the new big settlements and the urban transformations in the surroundings
– the political situation

In our opinion all these issues are of imminent importance, because during the last elections for the council of Rome, “traditionally” left quarters like Borghesiana determined the new political majority. The council of Rome is actually led by a major of the right wing party Partito della Libertà.

Strada_1Introduction of Borghesiana and Finocchio

In our research we started to analyse the specific areas of Borghesiana and Finocchio as an example of self organized and self urbanised settlements. In the whole area of the municipality of Rome you find similar settlements, even if not so extended as in these zones.

The area between the consular roads Casilina and Prenestina was completely built in an informal way. You’ll find there every period of informal building activities and urban legislative as well as recovery procedure. The legislation and praxis that the municipality of Rome applies for the urban recovery is really innovative and unique. The projects for the rehabilitation and creation of infrastructure are promoted and financed by the local inhabitants, who are organized as Consorzi di autorecupero. The plans will be later on reviewed and approved by the municipal council. Even though many doubts remain, several research groups from other European countries are analysing this kind of instrumentation, in order to verify the level of sharing and participation of the inhabitants in the planning and recovery process and not al least the efficiency and functionality of this applied praxis.

Social movements and legalisations procedures

In the 60’s and 70’s in Italy there was a strong political and social movement. The lack of houses was one of the central issues, even because in many parts of Rome people lived in huts and shacks (just like nowadays). The movements for “The right for a house” in the 70’s for example organised the squatting. Generally and beside this movement, all of the settlements were built illegally and had to be legalized. In 1985 the first national law provided regularization. The settlements got connected by primary infrastructure.

With the second legalisation (sanatoria edilizia) in 1994 the municipality of Rome introduced, as the only one in Italy, the law “opere a scomputo” (107/95), which enables self organized groups Consorzi di autorecupero to work out plans and provide primary infrastructure as electricity, water, sewers and secondary infrastructure i.e. schools and parks.

History of Borghesiana and Finocchio

The area of Finocchio was built by migrants from southern Lazio and Campania, agricultural workers, who first began to do seasonal agriculture jobs and then moved permanently to Rome. The zone developed thanks to the railway connection to Rome. Ponte di Nona Pratofiorito and Borghesiana in the 70’s 80’s represented the internal migration within the city of Rome.

costruireIn that period big land owners parcelled illegally agriculture lands, soil needed for public services, or even protected areas, and sold it for building purpose. But year by year the legislation got tougher and tougher. By doing this the result was that 30% of the land is not owned by those who built the houses. These days that we have spent in Borghesiana, one more contract was signed by local chairmen. The next step towards reglementation of land ownership seemed to succeed, but inhabitants were not so sure that it would be the last attempt. They have been contracting with the society since the early 80’s. The older and first built part of Borghesiana was illegally parcelled between 1969-1974. After parcelling the big land owners let unpaved roads be built, dug several wells for water and then sold the parcels.


Building by one self

Building enterprises at that time were afraid of confiscation of their machines, because of the illegality of the building site. Normally the new settler began to build with the help of the whole family and with friends, working mostly by hand. They worked being blackmailed. Often they had to pay municipal police and various control bodies, as well as letting them continue building. They used to work at night or either put a person as lookout to advise them when police arrived. Many of the builders have criminal complaints for illegality of the building site. Some of them would have had to go to prison.
Costruire_femmMany husbands headed the new built house under their wives’ names, in order to avoid getting a criminal record which would have a negative effect on finding a regular job later on. The situation of the roads and the roads safety in the area is still a big problem and no solution by the municipality is in sight. One of the old inhabitants told to the local chairman:“Mauro why do we not solve this problem as we’ve always done before? We’ll collect money and then build the roads ourselves”. This is kind of a nostalgic way of thinking about the “illegal” periods of self organisation in the settlement. At least fast and efficient solutions were worked out by the inhabitants even if in illegality. Through the legalization which was agreed upon, the self made modus is not possible any more.

strade_borgheThe living conditions in the settlement were hard. The whole area was not connected by water and electricity. So every one has their strategy and the inhabitants developed single or collective methods.
They had turns to put gasoline in the generator for the water pump to have running water. The water of the well was not drinking water, or not enough for everyone! Drinking water was sometimes transported by tanker truck to Borghesiana. Once in summer the trucks didn’t manage to bring water to all settlements in Rome who were not connected to current water, so some inhabitants decided to hijack the water tanks for the inhabitants of Due Colli.

Electricity was provided by generators. At night the inhabitants used batteries which during the day got charged in car repair shops or with the help of friends in already connected settlements.

manifestazioneThe area of Due Colli was finally connected to electricity in 1986/ 1987. The connection to the sewerage was completed in 2000 and the street lighting and paved roads were finished two years ago. It is difficult to imagine but everything in this area was an achievement out of struggles, negotiation and self organisation.

Mr. Mauro Baldi, chairman of the area Due Colli showed us his personal archive with photos describing different situations: moments of rest during the building of the houses and of the only collective space of Borghesiana, different events like parties, demonstrations, political debates, the marathon that was organized as an event for the first paved roads. With these photos we got to speak about the history of self organisation in those settlements. We have not understood the whole and very complex evolution of political self organisation yet, but it will be worth while to continue and deepen this issue. As we got to know more we discovered that there were different attempts within the movement for Rome’s periphery to combine different topics: to act as a unit and on the same time to care about social belongings. This happened by a try and error method and did not completely succeed in the complexity of the initial intents. An other interesting question will be about the former PCI, who had a strong presence in these areas, and the connection between party policy, political negotiation, and social movements within these settlements. An other interesting question will be if the initiatives which came from the basis were taken over by the party and if, and how the party got locally “infiltrated” by these movements. As we know, some local chairmen were part of the movement in the 70’s. Later on they had a role in PCI and in municipal activity.

On contemporaneity

InternoPublic spaces

As we soon remarked while preparing the workshop, public spaces are a real loss in these areas. You can easily perceive the absence of community centres looking at the inner spaces of the family Caruso and Baldi homes. According to their social rule as chairmen of a Consorzio di autorecupero, they have organized their own home in order to be able to have meetings with several people. Further we remarked that strangely the two parks of the area Borghesiana and Finocchio are mostly used by migrants, kids and families.

Centro_internoTransformations on the territory

Most of the inhabitants work, go to school and have in this way strong relations with the central zones of Rome. The trafic is very big problem and at the same time the connections with public transport are very bad. Most of the inhabitants mentioned a loss of cultural and free time for activities, especially for the new generation. Young people and families as well in their free time go to Rome or to the near cities of the so called Castelli Romani.

MapsFor this reason Frascati seems to have completely changed the character in the last few years, mutating from a provincial town, into an urban centre with all the positive and negative consequences: from nice parks, to night life, but also the drogues scene has settled down there. There is no relation to the new settlements built near by in the last decade. Sometimes inhabitants of Borghesiana go to the new shopping mall, but only on Sundays because of traffic jam.

trasporto_pubblicoThese new settlements that we have mentioned above, which are mostly built round shopping malls, are the real inheritance of the left wing governments in Rome. These so called Centralità, should initially provide infrastructure and re-qualification for the informal zones of the areas like i.e. Borghesiana. These settlements are, indeed, a gift to the big construction companies of Rome. The planned social or public infrastructures like new university buildings, public


administration, car ports were never built, the connection to ring highway Raccordo Anulare were badly planned, and the connection to public transport is inappropriate and, moreover, subways have yet to be finished. All these aspects have a negative influence on the whole area. The problem with traffic jams in the whole area got worse. These new settlements are not fully inhabited and more and more people are selling their flats again, because they have to spend 2 – 3 hour a day in the car.

Public Management

What we finally realised during our workshop, is the complete absence of political management and urban planning by the municipality of Rome. We are not speaking about the formerly “illegal” built settlements. This absence of planning is common throughout every zone. The new built “Centralità” have the same peculiarities as the illegal zones: no public spaces, no public transports.
During the meetings with the neighbourhood assemblies we realised that the Comitato di Quartiere of Finocchio covers all social duties and competences of the settlement: school, free time activities, summer cultural programme, public spaces, like i.e. the new park Collina della Pace . We are speaking of about 50 active members who work as volunteers to manage a very problematic settlement of 8’000 inhabitants and provide the missing services for Borghesiana too. The notion of self management and self organisation on this point gets very controversial and problematic, especially if you only have competences without having the power and the mandate to execute.


NegoziAs Mauro Baldi told us, while visiting the territory of Due Colli with him, there are several gipsy families from all over Europe (especially from France and Germany) who built a house and settled there. One year ago 100 immigrants, who were waiting for the regularization of the political asylum procedure, were placed in Borghesiana by the Italian Ministry of the Interior. With the new migration and security law this centre will probably turn into a closed one.

FinocchioAt the beginning, we do not know why, but we had to insist to get more information from the inhabitants about migration, even if in Borghesiana and Finocchio there is a big part of migrant population, mostly from east Europe and Africa. Currently these zones are the favourite residential zones for the international migrants, who find housing at lower prices compared to most central areas of Rome. At the same time part of the second generation of local settler leaves the area. Some go to other quarters of Rome, some to north Italy and some leave for other European countries.

Migrant labour force in Rome is mostly employed in services, or in the building industry. As a woman told us, there is a Bar who was formerly called the “Polish Bar” by the local inhabitants and now is called the “Rumanian Bar”. As she told us the Bar works like an informal employment office. You go there when you look for jobs. There, you can get a job for one a day or more and you get paid day by day. This is a consolidate praxis in the building sector of Rome. The same woman told us about the “integrated migrants” and mentioned the new cooperatives founded by migrants working in the building sector.

FlyerFurthermore, there must be a big but invisible community of Chinese migrants in Finocchio. They live and work in flats in a sweat – shops – like situation. When we asked where they are visible in the local space, an activist told us that you can find them in the park on the top of the hill on Sunday morning, with their portable, because there is an open wireless connection which they use.
It is very interesting to look at this strongly structured community of local people who have shared a past of political struggles almost over 30 years and at the same time to follow the transformations in within the “community”, including the migrants and their praxis in this highly informal microcosm.


With our description of self organisation and self management in within informality, we decided to take a look from the periphery to the centre. By centre and periphery we do not mean the location in urban space, but the different degrees and the relationship of different diagonals of power. Looking from this point of view, starting from everyday life, perception and knowledge of the inhabitants will provide in our opinion a consciousness and understanding of contemporary European urban space and of the ongoing urban transformations in high-level privatized on the one side and at the same time highly in-formalized, self organized and self made urban space.

We will continue working on these issues, by a participative way of knowledge production with local people, involving step by step more (international) people and groups in a multi disciplinary exchange.

Our special thanks to all inhabitants who joined our meetings and to Pia K. Schneider, Resident Director Iowa State University, Rome and to all friends who supported us.

For urbanXchange: Susanna Perin / September 09