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"Faventia vulgo Faenza"

Cultural Heritage: Faenza (Italy)

'Faenza PRG 2000: the Town Planning Regulations for an ecological growth of the town and environmental protection

Ennio Nonni and Mauro Benericetti

"…we regard the territory
as a time machine that
preserves the past and prepares the future"

General information
Faenza is an important historic city situated on the Via Emilia between Rimini and Bologna with a population of around 53,000 inhabitants. It covers an area of 215 km², partly on the plain and partly on hilly terrain. The city centre, dating back to the 18th century, hosts the International Ceramic Museum and other major cultural institutions. 
The drafting of the new Piano Regolatore Generale (PRG,Town Planning Regulations) was begun in 1996 and was concluded in 1998. These regulations were drafted by Ennio Nonni, Mauro Benericetti, Giovanni Alboni, Oliviero Ponti, and Franco Emiliani, all employed by the municipal administration of Faenza.

Challenges, strategies and results
From an historical point of view, Faenza has always made use, since the first town planning regulations of 1890, of certain urban planning tools aimed at regulating its growth. For instance the projects for the renewal and external enlargement of 1912, the national competitions of 1930 and 1959, the town planning regulations of 1970 conforming to the Italian urban planning regulations pertaining to renovation as laid down by law of 1967 and 1968. This long-lasting tradition is at the basis of Faenza's innovative potential for the elaboration of its urban planning projects.
Over the last few years Faenza has been the focal point of a whole series of initiatives concerning bio-architecture. At the time of drafting the new PRG, these sporadic initiatives were instrumental in ensuring the systematic application of ecological building methods, right from the general planning stage, at a town-wide scale as well as at the scale of individual buildings. It is the first Italian town planning regulation to achieve such levels of innovation in the field of bio-architecture and environmental protection.
Faenza represents an emblematic case of "environmental planning", with town planning regulations that go beyond the traditional economic and quantitative approaches (based on the demand for social and economic development, on the production-oriented use of land and on qualitative standards) and is instead based on urban "sustainability" and on a concrete environmental development. The pursuit of ecological aims is inherent to the urban planning of the entire territory and a radical innovation from the point of view of procedures and rules.
In the new Faenza PRG, the typical town planning terminology of homogeneous mono-functional areas, indexes, volumes, distances and ratios has been accompanied and sometimes replaced by new town planning and building compatibility evaluation instruments which take into account aspects not previously considered by town planning tools. These evaluation instruments were preceded by an environmental compatibility analysis of town planning policies, that even if not required by regional laws is integral to them and shows how municipal planning is the ideal instrument to be used for improving environmental quality. The idea of a tool that is not just a planning instrument but can also lead to environmental improvement, has found a precise normative expression in the building sector where a new procedure has been defined for checking the acceptability of building permit applications.
This is a PRG of opportunities and incentives. Opportunities for the town to strive for superior architectural standards and, in a wider planning sense, continuous, dynamic qualitative research; incentives for the citizen who sees his commitment to a superior type of architecture rewarded by actual economic savings.

To meet the established objectives, the planning organisation attributes a less important value to traditional building reference parameters and concentrates instead, through incentive mechanisms, on the application of new rules that define the parameters of architectural plans.
The main aspects taken into account while drafting the new PRG, which will have to be observed when the present work begins , are the historical-environmental protection rules, the ecological protection rules, the archaeological rules, the open space rules, the building type rules, the bio-construction rules, the rules on permeability of open spaces and the rules of practicality as well as well-being.
In short, minimum requisites with which all plans shall have to comply are translated into formal standards; these performance requisites designed to establish the admissibility of all building plans can be summed up in four basic rules:

1. full utilisation of space in dwellings to be achieved through elimination of architectural barriers
2. soundproofing of buildings and indoor areas
3. maximum ground permeability and full water restoration
4. housing zone green areas and proper landscaping of the external environment.

Without this initial 4-rule check it is not possible to proceed either with the residual parametric checks or access the incentive systems.
The new standards (to provide incentives for those who wish to build) may be summarised as follows: when there are minimum building standards an increase in volume is admissible for those who conform to additional optional, bio-architecture compatibility regulations ( better quality for the public and greater economic advantages for the private citizen).
To be able to gain access to incentives which, depending on the case, significantly increase building volumes, and increase possible fields of use, buildings must observe, from experimental and improvement viewpoints, the following additional planning directives:
The building and town planning project must be drawn up in observance of bio-construction rules.
The project must include quality design of courtyards and communal areas.
Existing buildings must be upgraded and re-organised .
A procedure must be followed on the part of the citizen which includes the presentation of at least three different proposals.
Depending on whether the project is part of the urban or extra-urban landscape, there must be an expansion of "green" components.

In particular, the rules of bio-construction, again in combination with the rules on permeability (permeability/absorption and rainwater recovery coefficients), functionality (generalised elimination of architectural barriers on a town planning and individual building scale) and well-being (drastic reduction of noise) can be applied to all works effected within the town borough and, more specifically, are highly suitable for all new building areas.
This type of town planning ignores the strictures of standards and hence of a fragmented green areas model and develops a continuous, linear green system designed to fit the urban dimensions abandoning its traditional subservient role in the neighbourhood context. The green areas link the town with the rest of the territory, and have special ecological balancing functions to be attained through an agreement between public and private bodies.
The 'green system' project is a public service par excellence, especially where it surrounds the town with a green belt with cycle paths and meeting points.

The green belt represents a new type of city wall, a system that returns dignity to the surroundings and at the same time sets a boundary within which the irregularly planned areas of the suburbs are to be upgraded to town level, whereas the external ones must become countryside once again.
The PRG is aimed mainly at guaranteeing a balanced, environmentally sustainable growth for the town, paying attention to the quality of the interventions that must respect and take into account its cultural heritage; it has developed an innovative management methodology, defining administrative and technical procedures that can contribute to the realisation of urban planning forecasts while combining public with private resources.
Another fundamental aspect is the approach towards future architecture as an aesthetic quality that cannot be defined and limited by standards. This PRG intends to avoid imposing any prior parameters (for example safe distance from roads), leaving the evaluation of any specific situation to the responsible building management, with the aim of giving the town a new shape and preventing the formation of a random building pattern. The basic strategy is not focused therefore on the quantity (number of dwellings, services, etc.) but on the quality of the buildings and on the aesthetic results that may be obtained from their being located in one area or another.
The Faenza town planning regulations define a method for 'designing the urban spaces' that is closer to and takes more account of the citizens with whom it is possible to conduct a dialogue, not in terms of building parameters but of architectural and urban quality.
The importance of these town planning regulations within the framework of the innovation of urban design instruments, was recognised at the national level in 1999, with the awarding of the ENEA (National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Environment) award for the environmental protection "…for the consideration and promotion of energy and environment sustainability …the application of bio-climatic techniques, the adoption of flexible procedures, the innovative incentive system…".
Project philosophy and participation of the citizens
The Faenza PRG, clearly very different to the urban design principles of the 1980's, opens the way to a new era for town planning regulations. Instead of a check for compliance to standards (namely the traditional building standards) there is a performance-related check (referring to the quality and intrinsic functionality of the building). The flexibility of the rules becomes the leit-motiv for the transformation and active preservation of the urban fabric while respecting its cultural identity.
In practice, the rules and standards assumed before starting the project, replace the true standards and the initial indeterminacy favours the search for innovative solutions.
The role of private citizens thus becomes fundamental during the planning phase. Citizens contribute fully to the protection of the environment and to the development of the project. 
The true innovation compared to the prevailing urban design concepts, is in the pragmatism of the actions that since the very beginning of the PRG planning involve:
the town administration on the one hand, requiring actions that are environmentally sustainable (bio-building), prestigious architecture and high quality public spaces;
private citizens on the other hand, who take part in the urban design decision-making process and realise a clear system of economic incentives.

View of Piazza Maggiore (now Piazza del Popolo) and the Loggia Pagnocca Zenith view of the town centre of Faenza, crossed by its historical axis, i.e. the Via Emilia (in the middle) Zenith view of the historical town centre of Faenza A detail of the historical town area (zenith view of 1994), with the main squares The strategic points of the Town Planning Regulations and the town borders An example of a green area (Via Diaz). The river park. The river Lamone and its relation with the town of Faenza have a fundamental role within the PRG