Walter Aprile, Henrik den Ouden Runshaug and Eyal Fried – Applicable culture: Towards future services for the city of Milan
This paper briefly introduces an Id-Lab project for the design of the future services for the city of Milan. It touches on the principles of the methodology formalized while realizing the project, proposing an adaptive system for need-prediction and design of future services based on cultural criteria, diverse human resources and innovation use of available technological platforms.
This paper speaks, purposefully, in three different voices: the structural-methodological voice, the techno-historic voice, and the voice of the personal narrative.
It is 10:30 in the morning in the outskirts of Milan, Italy. You are already exhausted.
Your house is filled with twelve kids, only one is your own.
They are screaming, laughing, playing, eating, reading and climbing on you.
Sometimes, you wish you hadn’t agreed to that…
Here you are, a fifty-two year-old woman, an immigrant from Peru.
Back home you wanted to become a teacher, but that was a long time ago.
Here you try to steer through life, surrounded by extended family and expatriates.
Your husband is at work; your neighbors’ husbands are at work, some of your friends too.
About a year ago, one of them asked you if you could watch over her son until lunch time,
as the closest kindergarten is two bus-rides away.
She would cook dinner in return. You said yes.
You have twelve kids to watch over now, and you are tired.
A Plan for Future Services
The Id-Lab has in the past year worked alongside the City Administration of Milan to improve the city`s public services. A truly innovative project, it is unique of its kind in Italy, setting new paradigms for public service provision.
Milan is currently looking at two future “horizons”: the year 2015, when the city plays host to the EXPO, and the year 2030, as the long-term planning goal for the city`s urban development projects.
The Service Plan for a major metropolis such as Milan lives on collaboration, intersection and overlapping. A project such as this can only be understood as a complex composition of various contributions. The Id-Lab has been able to build on the cultural framework of the Public System and extrapolate a new method and instruments for the new Service Plan.
The territorial and cultural identity of the city plays an essential role in the design process of flexible solutions based on qualitative information – the “Real Need”.
What is referred to when speaking of a real need is the perceived quality of existing services by their users in a given area, as well as its problems and potentials. The instruments to reveal these needs have been developed as observation tools of local media feeds, online resources and interviews with the citizens on a direct and local level, providing profound and applicable feedback.
These instruments, as the model itself, work according to a cyclical structure, through which rapid changes in various needs can be detected, and viable predictions can be deducted. We imagine, therefore, not a model of finite, or best, solution, but rather one that addresses and repeats processes of listening and defining the priorities of action.
Extracting qualitative information of which cultural data is a major component, is performed on the basis of defined areas of the city labeled Local Identity Nuclei (NIL). Each one of the 88 NILs of Milan has its unique requirements, problems and potential solutions, given the public and private assets already present. We call the process of extracting and mapping cultural data “L’Ascolto della Città” – Listening to the City. This information is then cross-referenced with the existing public services and available spaces in the NIL through the Table of Services. A dynamic matrix, it cyclically renews themes and objectives. The Table of Services is the strategic instrument which defines the method of action.
Each NIL is given its own set of action priorities and defined needs, problems and potentialities shown through a dedicated interface, a virtual “dashboard” of service provision information, i.e. the Environmental Atlas. Constantly renewed, these are accurate city-planning instruments that allow the city administration to make strategic decisions with regards to what is defined as Constructed Services. These include all services which residents demand and take advantage of daily, such as schools, kindergartens, libraries, health and social services etc. The new Plan does not determine which of the facilities will be activated in the future and where they will be placed, but rather detects the rapid changes of city life, facilitates the accurate and sustainable supply of public services.
It is 10:30 in the morning, center of Milan, City Hall, Third floor.
You are on your way to your office back from a meeting with the Deputy Mayor.
You feel a bit lethargic. You gave it your best shot, but budget for educational facilities was cut again, 10% this time, despite 6% population increase.
They told you to forget about new positions too.
Yes, they realize what the meaning of the budget cut is, and yes, they know it will damage the bottom two tenths of the socio-demographic ladder first and foremost.
Still, reality bites.
Tools for the design of community services
The design of services, and in particular of the class of territorial services that are related with land use and architectural planning, has been a public concern and a topic of public discussion since Classical times. Over the centuries the technologies used for discussion have changed and become more complex and refined, featuring more realistic models and presentations. To outline just three points on a long and complex graph:
Paxton’s 1851 Crystal Palace  was presented with sketches and models, and the feedback was channelled through the well-operating Victorian era public forums of clubs and letters to newspapers and parliamentary questioning.
Yona Friedman  designed all sorts of mechanical and electrical devices, including the Flatwriter, a typewriter to let untrained people type out architectural plan.
Liz Sanders , a leading light in the field of collective creativity, is experimenting with tools that let users and other stakeholders influence a project from the concept phase (as opposed to what happened to Paxton, who had to revise the design of the Crystal Palace in order to spare a beloved elm tree and a water pump from destruction).
In the recent past, electronic tools for community building and communication have been the focus of many communitarian dreams and desires. To quote one single example out of legions, Zappen, Gurak and Doheny-Farina  state the belief that “new computer-mediated communication environments have the potential to become contemporary rhetorical communities –public spaces or forums- […] quite unlike the traditional model of the single rhetor seeking purposefully to persuade an audience”.
These visions, prevalent in the early “cyberspace” literature were rapidly supplanted by the growing consciousness that interaction within computer-mediated environments has the potential for every possible nuance in the spectrum between authoritarianism and anarchy; and that whoever sets up and maintains the environment is in the position to set up and manipulate its rhetoric. As designers of services that involve communication, we take this responsibility ever so seriously, and we feel the need to design the power relationships within the system (Who moderates whom? How distributed is control? How permanent is the content? – countless other questions), and, perhaps more importantly- their representation outside of the system.
The service designer of any shared system (and very few services do not have some degree of sharing) finds himself hesitating between luminous self-moderating anarchies à la Stallman  and oppressive Foucauldian systems of observation, control and punishment . Oddly enough, the latter are quite frequent in online environments for children.
The facade we chose for the Milano Future Service Plan is based on the rhetoric of openness and appropriation of existing online tools. We hope that our own view and appreciation of technology will shine through our graphical representations and user interactions.
You are sitting in front of the Environmental Atlas, reviewing monthly activity of NIL 62, “Elementary Education” map. Four more requests for basic “Domestic Kindergarten Management” have come in, seven requests for used books and toys. In the past eighteen months, eight domestic kindergartens have been opened in this NIL alone.
The city provides the micro-enterpreneurships with basic training for handlers/teachers, basic equipment and discount in city taxes. All in all, about 120 children ages 2-6 are receiving daily care and education under this program, twenty-two domestic educators have so far been trained and supervised. Information travels fast, both through local “value hunters” and the online system, and other NILs are queuing up. Despite initial doubts, the Deputy Mayor is pleased – reactions from the community are positive, ROI is high, elections are approaching.
You send your colleague an alert about opening another training workshop, and switch to the “Local Security” map.
 – Pile, J. F. (2005). A History of Interior Design. Laurence King Publishing. p. 243
 – An Interview with Yona Friedman at http://www.venturabroadcast.com/index.php?page=idcast_archive_02.
 – Zappen, James P., Gurak, Laura J., Doheny-Farina , Stephen, “Rhetoric, Community, and Cyberspace”, Rhetoric Review, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Spring, 1997), pp. 400-419
 – Stallman, R., Lessig, L., & Gay, J. (2002). Free software, free society: Selected essays of Richard M. Stallman, Boston, MA: GNU Press.
 – Foucault, M. (1975). Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, Paris: Gallimard.
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