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Feature: Milan sets example of urban transformation on World Cities Day

by Marzia De Giuli

MILAN, Oct. 31 (Xinhua) -- In a world where development has often to struggle with sustainability, Italy's business city of Milan has set a good example of urban transformation by dominating both economy and quality-of-living national rankings.

During the past few years, Milan has worked hard to gain international fame not only as the capital of one of the most industrialized regions of Italy, Lombardy, but also as the "smart city" par excellence in the country.

"We already had the first results," Cristina Tajani, Milan councilor for labor policy, economic development, universities and research, told Xinhua on Friday -- when the first-ever World Cities Day was celebrated worldwide. It will fall on Oct. 31 every year.

The idea of the World Cities Day was proposed by China at the 2010 Shanghai world exposition to promote sustainable urban development globally, with support from UN-Habitat and the International Exhibitions Bureau. The United Nations General Assembly endorsed the plan last year.

Milan was on the podium of the 2014 rankings for smart cities carried out by ICity-LAB, an Italian ranking program which collects more than 70 indicators describing the national urban system with a six-dimensional image made out of economy, living, environment, people, mobility and governance.

"After placing fifth in 2012, Milan this year has climbed the chart," Tajani highlighted. The secret for such a "leading urban transformation," which by the way was the theme of the first World Cities Day, lies in the collaboration between the private and public sectors," she said.

A recently launched project, Milan Smart City, has the task of coordinating all players committed to make Milan smarter and to assess its participation in European tenders of the Horizon 2020 program for research and innovation, promoting dialogue and exchanges.

In fact, Milan since 2011 has launched 70 "smart projects" worth a total of 200 million euros (250 million U.S. dollars) aimed at enhancing technological and social innovation, sustainable mobility and energy conservation, Tajani noted.

As a result, at present the Italian northern city counts 64 newly-developed apps, over 6,000 km of optical fiber, more than 500 Wi-Fi hot spots, 3,500 shared bicycles and over 120,000 subscribers to car sharing service.

Last but not least, separate waste collection has exceeded 50 percent of all household waste from 36.7 percent in 2012, well above the national average of around 40 percent, also thanks to door to door organic waste collection which is currently operating in 100 percent of Milan's districts.

The spread of "sharing economy," encouraged by online networks and recommendation systems that help establish trust between thousands of strangers, has played a key role in boosting good practices.

Though pollution remains a weak point, local institutions over the past few years have managed to prove that even one of the most car-dependent cities in Europe can change, Pierfrancesco Maran, Councilor for Mobility, Environment, Public Water and Energy, highlighted.

Milan was the winner of the 2014 Transport Achievement Award, promoted annually by the International Transport Forum at the OECD, thanks to Area C, a road pricing measure launched in 2012 that limits vehicle access to the city center through a system of electronic gates. The entrance ticket costs 5 euros (6.2 U.S. dollars).

After the introduction of Area C, Maran told Xinhua, traffic congestion fell by 28 percent, while public transport subscriptions were up 25 percent. But more goals have still to be reached, he added.

Milan's world exposition, which is expected to attract over 20 million visitors between May 1 and Oct. 31 next year, as well as the plan to transform from 2015 into a "metropolitan city" will encourage further improvement, with the goal to compete at European and world level, he stressed.

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