Sociality and innovation in Social Street. Conversation with Luigi Nardacchione

Sociality and innovation in Social Street. Conversation with Luigi Nardacchione

In my previous post I presented the phenomenon of Social Street and different ways of these neighbourhood communities to interact with their urban local government. After its publication I had the chance to discuss about it with Luigi Nardacchione, administrator and member of the group Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna, and founder – together with Federico Bastiani – of the website Social Street Italia. Our conversation was useful for resuming what has been said about Social Street so far and to clarify once more what we are exactly talking about.

Luigi Nardacchione and Federico Bastiani, administrators of the group “Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna” and founders of the website Social Street Italia. Credits: Facebook group Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna.

At the question what Social Street is, this is the usual and immediate Luigi’s answer: Social Street is sociality«The aim is to facilitate the relationships and the acquaintance of neighbours, to re-create the sense of sociality[1]». Sociality, therefore, is the most important goal to reach. All the initiatives, that every Social Street organizes – such as parties, walking tours, cooking laboratories, cleaning of the green public spaces, organisation of second hand markets, etc – have the single purpose to stimulate citizens in socialising. They represent a way, an “excuse”, to gather neighbours around common projects and interests. The will of maintaining members’ relations as first and main goal refers to the concept of «pure sociability[2]», considered the most authentic and transparent model of interaction. In this perspective, sociality becomes a value and a good in itself.

A higher attention towards the urban territory arises in Social Streets’ members as a consequence of the increase in sociability and in activities done together in the area of residence. Indeed, the fact that meetings and events are organized in the neighbourhood makes residents more aware of public spaces«we feel the territory as our own house, we claim it and we take care of it». This dimension has been already underlined by some members of the group Residenti in Via Fondazza whom I interviewed three years ago. After the Social Street creation and after meeting the neighbours living in the street, they recognize the sidewalks, the arcades and the street in general as an extension of their home. This brings members of Social Streets to notice negative behaviours or lack of attention towards the urban territory and to act consequently: «In one year and a half, every Sunday we met to clean all the entrance doors, all the gates and all the walls facing the street. We do it just because we are glad to do it and because we like to meet on Sundays». The presence of residents committed to this activity give the chance to other neighbours, who initially did not participate in Social Street or who were sceptical about it, to appreciate its values and to socialize more. Besides triggering the sociality in the area, this behaviour produces a second mechanism, similar to the one described by the theory of broken windows[3]: many inhabitants of the street start to clean their own facades autonomously. «Instead than saying “it will be dirty again, why are you doing it?”, there is this virtuous mechanism, without getting angry. You do what you can without complaining».

What is fundamental, however, is that citizens’ care does not depend on the collaboration with the urban local government and it has not to be triggered in any case by the public administration’s request. «I claim the city because I live here, not because the municipality asks me to do so […] We can do everything without political and economic compromises. We want to show that this experiment [Social Street] is possible staying outside of the existing structures, because sociality is out of the system». Luigi mentions many examples of Social Streets that decided to establish a formal collaboration with the local government, both in Bologna and Milan, some of them also signing a collaboration pact[4]. In Bologna the most part of parks and green areas are managed and cured by citizens – individuals or associated in formal organizations. This citizens’ attitude is not wrong generally and Luigi is not against either citizens/committees engaged in this kind of activities or the public administration that opens up this possibility. He does not agree with it just when Social Streets give more values and importance to this aspect than to the generation of sociality. Moreover, since the subjects formally involved in the maintenance and cleaning of public spaces are already numerous, Social Street does not need to base its activity from the same starting point. The possibility to take care of the urban territory is positive – reporting Luigi’s words – and it is possible that neighbours who met thanks to Social Street, decide afterwards to engage in the management of a common good collectively. Nonetheless, it has to remain characteristic of an individual agency, not of a collective and informal subject such as the Social Street that aims, firstly, to include everyone in socialisation practices. Inclusion, indeed, is a variable that strongly matters when one Social Street has to decide whether collaborating with the Municipality. Signing a collaboration pact implies getting closer to the political party that is leading the city at that moment. Some members of the group might disagree with political decisions of this party and, thus, disagree with their Social Street’s decision as well: the result would be that these specific members get distant from the group, not feeling included and engaged anymore. In Milan, really few Social Street – 28 out of 76 – decided to enrol in the official register for informal associations[5] founded by the current municipality’s administration. According to Luigi, this happened because engaging in the research of solutions for collective problems or in the regeneration of urban spaces is not the first aim of Social Street. These aspects become important within Social Street framework only as vehicle of sociality.

Together with sociality, another solid idea emerging from Luigi’s words is that social initiatives do not need to be framed in the existing mainstream structure and political system to be innovative. They can bring innovation by being free, unformal and based on little, but always kept central, values: «Small revolutions are made on even smaller things, but these things have to be really clear».



L’articolo riassume il significato di Social Street, basato sul valore fondante della socialità. La cura verso gli spazi pubblici si sviluppa in un secondo momento e secondo Luigi Nardacchione, amministratore della prima Social Street e fondatore del sito Social Street Italia, questo non implica una collaborazione con la pubblica amministrazione. Anzi, l’intento originale è quello di non entrare nel sistema politico ed economico già esistente, ma dimostrare che le innovazioni possono svilupparsi anche da piccole iniziative, libere e indipendenti.

[1] All quotations refer to the conversation that I had with Luigi Nardacchione on 16/11/2017.

[2] Simmel G., 1997, La socievolezza, Roma: Armando.

[3] Kelling G. L., Wilson J. Q., 1982, Broken Windows: The police and neighbourhood safety, Atlantic Monthly, pp. 29-38.

[4] Regulation on civic collaboration for the urban commons.

[5] Avviso pubblico Social Street, politiche sociali, Comune di Milano