When Cities Start Dreaming They Create Nests

Utopic planning, but not that utopic

Danile Capasso – Diego D’Agostino – Giovanni Ferrarelli – Diana Marrone

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Via Argine, abandoned industrial park. Photo courtesy Danilo Capasso

There is no such district as Napoliest, EastNaples, – yet it exists nevertheless. No-one ever thinks about the districts to the east of Naples, four in all, covering an area of around 20 kilometres squared, as ‘Napoliest’: all in one breath, a conceptual and geographical continuum running from the centre to the outskirts.

Napoliest is a real area, that part of the city two kilometres from the historic centre, starting from behind the main station. It is an industrial area, half derelict, the hinge which links the city and the area of Vesuvius to the east, and overlooks the sea to the south.

We created the concept of Napoliest to lay claim to this part of the city as a kind of utopian drawing board, and because it exists primarily on the web it is an open, shared project. Operating in a utopian dimension not only inspires planning, but also lends the encouraging impression of being able to work miracles, a realm which lies somewhere between research and production in every field of knowledge. The domain www.napoliest.it was available and it became the niche where our project/database came into being. N.EST developed by induction, attempting to find a way to represent and map reality, with two objectives: that of experiencing the city through the web, and using the web as a platform to develop solutions for the city itself, starting from shared points of view and genuinely ‘site-specific’ and ‘site-oriented’ art, architecture and creativity. N.EST is a database of documents and critiques of urban transformations, as well as a workshop dedicated to aesthetics, art and planning regarding the city.

“Utopias inevitably represent a critique of current town planning and a debate on the art of government”

Mapping something, especially if it combines a geographic drift with an emotional one, enables you to acknowledge and identify with the subject being mapped. You can map your own network of affections, an econometric calculation, a year of work, or a place; traditionally it is an operation of a (psycho)geographical nature.

We divided Napoliest into 5 areas, corresponding to our perception of the space, taking in the districts of Barra, San Giovanni, Ponticelli and Poggioreale, and basically grafting a traditional map onto a perception-based version. The five sections also enable a user who has never visited the city, much less its eastern side, to get a picture of the area (just by running the cursor over the map on the home page): an area which is divided by the railway lines running in and out of the main terminal of southern Italy, oil pipelines, motorway exits, coastal railways and huge, impenetrable, uninhabited industrial lots.

Napoliest, a land waiting to be restored to urban quality, is above all up against the slow-moving implementation of the Town Plan for the eastern area. Which, among other things, entails the relocation of all the oil refineries, the simplification of existing infrastructures, the creation of the huge Sebeto park (170 hectares), a large aquarium, the sea hospital and a tourist harbour in Vigliena. All worthy projects, but projects which will only reveal their potential to bring about a positive transformation in the long term. N.EST, on the other hand, focuses on minimal, tangible aspects of the city, the stuff of everyday life, and this is why we ask – addressing artists, creative people and planners through the calls for entries on the site – what can be done right now, in the current time frame.

We want to spark off a series of practices in the area to record the present and bring the future closer: practical, current, temporary things which can be used to trigger a viral process leading to change. “Every generation should construct its own city”, said Filippo Tommaso Marinetti at the beginning of the twentieth century. N.EST is an attempt to generate a process of creative activity In the area in question. The game starts as follows: A01, E01, F03: the squares of the grid that divides up the area become puzzle pieces where ideas, thoughts and projects can nest. In the present era transforming an area is a complex operation which cannot be reduced to mere physical transformations: a radical change in the perception of the place is required beforehand.

In view of this the application of a utopian process like N.EST can enrich and complement the large-scale changes and planning initiatives, as, in the words of J. Rykwert: “Utopias inevitably represent a critique of current town planning and a debate on the art of government”, namely a product of the intellect which lands in the real dimension and transforms the image and desirability of places. N.EST came into being on the web with the aim of eliciting reactions, with the accent on projects and solutions that can exert a positive influence on the area in question.

Pevsner associates the concept of utopia with the avant-garde movements of the past, and people like Le Corbusier, Gropius and Marinetti influenced society both from a theoretical point of view and in terms of planning practices. In view of this, using a utopian frame of reference enables us to tackle the area free of constraints and prejudice and consequences, and observe it without filters.

Today the database contains the work of photographers, architects, artists and musicians featuring elements of the area interpreted using different tools and techniques. Alessandro Cimmino offers sequences of photographs taken from CCTV images, evoking the areas which require protection, and are closed off from the external world. Bianco-Valente travel along the roads of the eastern city limits, marking out the area which formerly belonged to the refineries, exploring the typical abandon of a derelict industrial area. While Cimmino works on a general scale which can be applied to the entire system, Bianco-Valente plot an area to be analysed which is inspired by entirely personal criteria (one of the two artists was born in the places portrayed in Area, an original work presented by N.EST). Tonino Niego uses poetry and images to offer up a direct, hard-hitting portrayal of the wounds man has inflicted on the landscape, as does Maurizio Braucci, in his prose and insightful ethnographic essays. Then there is Florian Huettner, whose vision of the area recalls that of the travellers on the Grand Tour: fiction with a Germanic flavour, coloured with romantic overtones.

The ‘Urban Amenities’ are designed to convey the energy generated by the works present in the database onto the area itself. They offer location-based proposals, architectural projects, works of art and events which spark off a creative/relational process to form a new perception of the area. The collective vision of the images is what serves to create the icon/area Napoliest. The creation of a new iconic image of the area leads to the creation of what K. Lynch calls imageability: the potential of an object to evoke a structured image in the minds of its beholders. The Tag-mission (a mission of urban topography to spray stencils with the coordinates of the street map), the distribution of badges with the N.EST logo, and participation in art exhibitions, are all examples of “amenities” which have been put into practice. As well as exhibiting the first 50 works in the database, lighting the 3 disused chimneys at Gianturco, and the writing competition in the area behind the Brin carpark, and more. An English-speaker passing through N.EST could mistake it for the word NEST. And when cities start dreaming they create nests.