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The University as a factor of urban re-composition

The University as a factor
of urban re-composition

G. Bertrando Bonfantini

This article develops a reflection on the 're-composition' effects that university settlements may have on the urban structure of a city
In particular, this analysis examines the case of Bologna, a city where a deeply rooted, long-standing relationship between the city and the university has determined the historic evolution of the urban settlement and has been a key issue in the public debate.

The university as an urban transformation factor, in its economic, social, spatial, organisation implications, is attributed a growing significance as an element affecting the development of the contemporary city. Though fascinating, the relationship between the universtities and the city is a theme that runs the risk of remaining indefinite. Many are the facets and many are the possible ways to address this issue.

Within this wide spectrum, in rigorous city planning terms, the question is about the contributions that university facilities can make to the organisation and the setup of the city, within the structuring and restructuring over time of space and urban relations.
In some cases the relationship between the city and the university is quintessential, rooted
in a centuries-old heritage. Sometimes it runs just as deep, but it is more 'secular', as its origins do not go this far back and date to a time associated with the construction of the modern city, when the university was viewed as one of the great 'equipments' of the nineteenth-twentieth century city.

Finally, the university can be a recent event that bursts into the present-day urban scenario. These aspects are interwined with size-related factors: the 'figures' of the city and those of the university are mutually correlated in very different proportions.
In Bologna this relationship has retained its significance through the years and has been explicitly acknowledged by the recent Municipal Structural Plan. In the 2008 Structural Plan, the new university facilities are viewed as one of the factors that qualify the City of the Railway, i.e., the most important of seven strategic images provided by the vision of the new plan.

* The considerations expressed here constitute an extended and critically revised version of an article to appear in Urbanistica. Journal of the Italian National Institute of Planning (INU | Istituto Nazionale di Urbanistica).

Bertrando Bonfantini 
DiAP Department of Architecture and Planning
Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy