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Renzo Piano on the Potential of Suburbs

In an interview, architect Renzo Piano says European suburbs are not desolate. He argues they shouldn't be treated as such in the quest for cohesive cities.
March 12, 2015, 2pm PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Sylvia Poggioli shares a radio interview with architect Renzo Piano, who aims to reinvigorate city outskirts in his native Italy. "Whatever he calls them, Piano believes 'the suburbs are the place where energy is in the city — in the good, in the bad. When you say Milan or Rome or Paris or London, you mean that 10 percent of people [living] in the real center. But the 90 percent live in the outskirts.'"

It is often observed that European cities resemble American cities in reverse: rich inner city and poorer suburbs. But Piano's quest for social cohesion applies on both sides of the Atlantic. "Either, Piano says, 'We are able to transform the peripheries of the big cities [into a] real urban place, where people stay together, where tolerance is found, where people share value in the same place[s] — library, concert hall, museum, whatever; or the city will be broken in two pieces: the rich part in the center — that will be about conservation — and the poor part in the outskirts — that is about protest. It's inevitable.'"

Piano echoes fellow urbanists in his criticism of sprawl. "And it's crucial, Piano says, that Italians not build any more peripheries, because stretching services and public transportation further outward is unsustainable. He says peripheries must be developed not by expansion, but by implosion; by transforming what's already available — what's known as brownfields."

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Published on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 in WNYC
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