Lab Conclusions
Accommodating Migration: Five Lessons from Sabaudia

Sabaudia is unique among the cities participating in the New Towns Arrival Cities project because it is a forerunner of the welfare state New Towns, built after WWII. It was built in the 1930s as a flagship of fascist architecture and planning. Sabaudia was part of Mussolini’s reclamation of the Pontine Marshes, aiming to increase agricultural production, reduce unemployment, revive rural Italy and build support for the fascist regime. This economic strategy was based on a network of urban centres, including Sabaudia and smaller “elementary urban cells”.

During the 1970s economic boom, because of its seaside location and proximity to Rome and Naples, nearby Bella Farnia was started as a holiday house development. In part because these residences fell outside of zoning regulations and because the hampered development left some houses unoccupied, they were rented out to Punjab workers who arrived in the 1980s to work in the nearby fields and greenhouses.

Today, the community of roughly 1900 Indians lives in a small, overcrowded part of Bella Farnia and constitutes around 40% of its population. However, the neighbourhood’s Italian families in the holiday houses and the Indian communities in the apartment blocks seldom mix. Can the Punjab community become more integrated in Italian society? Can renovating and upgrading public spaces help to foster inclusion?

Culture: A vibrant immigrant culture, yet segregated

The Punjab population in Bella Farnia has a rich culture, but one that remains little known by the nearby Italian community. Their religious life is focussed on the Gurdwara, the Sikh temple, where they gather for prayer and community activities. Anyone is welcome to come for a meal, whether Sikh, atheist or from another religious background. At the end of June, thousands of Sikhs from the province of Latina and from the regions of Lazio, Campania and even further from north-Italy join Bella Farnia’s Sikh community in a procession from the Gurdwara to the centre of Sabaudia, commemorating the martyrdom of the fifth guru Arjan Dev. Apart from religion, Indian culture becomes visible in sports: since 2001, Indians from all over Italy come to Bella Farnia every July to compete in the national Kabadi tournament – India’s national sport. The Punjab culture is also manifested in the spices, food and Indian films sold in the neighbourhood’s modest selection of small shops.

Despite this cultural richness, there is almost no communication between the Italians and the Indians. Even within the small confines of Bella Farnia, the two communities remain segregated.

Public Space: Short-term, local and participative action needed

The city centre of Sabaudia was designed to host the political, social and commercial life of its surrounding network of rural settlements. Its wide axial streets and public squares were built in proportion to the large region that they served. While Bella Farnia’s Punjab community bikes 9 km to the Gurdwara, however, they apparently do not find it worthwhile to travel a similar distance for the public life in Sabaudia’s centre. In Bella Farnia itself, open spaces are under-maintained and mostly unused. There is no school, no playground, and very few shops. It is basically a holiday resort without adequate services, that has not been adapted to its more permanent urban character. Can the open green spaces become social places of value and beauty instead of mere left over spaces?

The workshop proposed improving Bella Farnia’s open spaces with basic maintenance and small-scale, temporary interventions as a testing ground for shared activities such as a playground and small shops. Cooperation between the municipality and local community, either through sharing, organizing meetings to understand local needs, or involving residents in maintaining the spaces, would require fewer resources from the municipality and would give the community a sense of ownership. Moreover, there is possibly too much public space, making it a financial burden; some of it could be redeveloped with housing and commercial programme, generating finance to raise the overall quality of public space and public services in Bella Farnia.

In proposing these strategies, however, we cannot naïvely assume that improving public space and the physical conditions in Bella Farnia will solve its complex problems of inequality and non-inclusion. To make the effort sustainable, long-term socio-economic plans, changes in mentality and political decisions would be needed.

Adapting the founding principles: From serving a regional economic strategy to serving a growing and diversifying local population

Sabaudia was a “showcase” New Town built as part of the “Battle for Land” economic strategy to build consensus around the fascist regime. The O.N.C. (Opera Nazionale dei Combattenti, a charitable organization to support WWI veterans) coordinated agricultural production in a network of rural settlements to maximize yield and distribution. Its function was also political and representational, reflected in its solemn rationalist architecture and public squares.

The fall of the regime in 1943, the growing population in the 1960s and the arrival of immigrants from the 1970s onwards changed Sabaudia from a centre in service of a national economic strategy to a veritable city. New neighbourhoods and services were built around the original centre. Economically, the city suffered from decreasing funds as industry and (military) institutions closed their doors in the last decades. Today, the local democratic government must shoulder the sometimes conflicting demands of the ‘original’ inhabitants and the newcomers from India as well as Romania and Morocco in a situation with diminishing finances and a political climate which is not favourable towards integration of migrants. Sabaudia will need to rethink its original principles in the context of a growing and diversifying local population.

Building a positive narrative: Recognizing the Indian workforce as part of the city’s pioneering spirit

Sabaudia’s two main economic pillars are agriculture and tourism, based on the region’s fertile land and the beauty of its natural surroundings. Balancing an increasingly intensive agricultural production with the preservation of the natural environment are therefore a primary focus for the municipality. However, relatively little recognition is given to the immigrant community as an asset when, in fact, Sabaudia was built by immigrants and continues to be sustained economically by them. The Punjab community is a new workforce that supports the agricultural sector, which accounts for 60% of the city’s economy.

Building a narrative that recognizes the importance of immigrants would firstly require to recognize the ongoing pioneering spirit of Sabaudia: after the first generation of immigrants from the north of Italy, there have been consecutive waves of migrants coming in and the Indians and other migrants form part and parcel of this ongoing development shaping the city. Secondly it would require empowering migrants to participate in urban life. This effort is already being made by schools, which offer language courses and teach immigrant students and families about public services. Participation of youth also happens through sports. However overall, the immigrant residents are not yet an integrated part of Sabaudian urban life.

Government-citizen relations: Private organizations fill the “communication gap” between the municipality and its immigrant residents

While the initiatives taken by schools and sports organizations are an important first step towards recognizing and empowering the immigrant population, there is not yet enough support from the municipality’s side. Independent organizations are working to fill this gap. FLAI (the federation of agricultural industry labourers) organized numerous strikes, resulting in the passing of the law against “caporalato”, the illegal hiring of agricultural labourers for very low wages through an agent. Every Wednesday, FLAI worker Hardeep Kaur parks a minibus-turned-mobile-office in Bella Farnia, from which she offers legal advice and helps the Indians to arrange their resident permits and other documents. InMigrazione, a social cooperative in Sabaudia, offers support for immigrants including a welcome centre and language school, and they engage in research and activism on the issue of exploitation of agricultural workers. Amici di Bella Farnia, formed in 1948 to provide basic community services for the first generation of immigrants from the Veneto and Friuli regions, organize activities and workshops for the elderly Italian community. They regularly offer their community centre for the Indians to gather, but the two groups don’t mix.

Although government-citizen relations in Sabaudia are in development, particularly with the Punjab community, the municipality has made a step in supporting local needs by establishing a 2018 participatory budget of 360 000 euros. However, more engagement is likely needed to address this complex situation.