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    By Gianni Carbonaro and Chiara Pancotti.

    The findings, interpretations and conclusions are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Investment Bank. 

    >> Download the entire essay as eBook or PDF

    Although in many ways a typical thriving Northern Italian post-industrial metropolis, Emilia-Romagna’s capital Bologna possesses a number of institutional, spatial and socioeconomic specificities that set it apart from its regional and national context.  As an important agricultural, industrial, financial and transport hub, Bologna is today Italy’s seventh most populous city, at the heart of a metropolitan area of about one million people.

    In the post-war years, Bologna positioned itself as a thriving industrial centre and a political stronghold of the Italian Communist Party. The city has a long history of progressive political thought and had an uninterrupted series of left-wing mayors between 1945 and 1999. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bologna, like many other European cities, was subject to discontentment with deindustrialisation. Between 1975 and 1995, the core city of Bologna was losing around 2,000 inhabitants per year, although the wider province gained around 2,500 per year, as people fled to the suburbs in search of a safer and more pleasant environment. 

    Since the 1980s, Bologna’s urban development has been underpinned by a strong cycle of investment in intra- and inter-city transport links. In the 1980s, Bologna was one of the first European cities to experiment with the concept of free public transport. In the 1990s, investment in the Milan-Bologna high-speed train network cut journey times between the two cities from 105 to 60 minutes, vastly enhancing the attractiveness of inter-city commuting and encouraging inner-city corporate investment. Finally, since the 2000s, Bologna has also benefitted from an increased rate of centrally funded investment in highways and motorways. A new Florence-Bologna motorway, to be completed in 2019, will replace the obsolete one built in the 1960s and cut the journey time between the two cities from 90 to 50 minutes.


    In recent years, the focus has increasingly shifted to honing the city’s inherited strengths in education and resilience. Bologna is unique in that it is home to the oldest university in the world and so has a distinctly cosmopolitan character. A new two-year, multi-sector programme has been launched that focuses on re-affirming this, by making the city a more attractive place in which to live and invest, and by enhancing resilience to earthquakes and climate risks. The programme includes renovation of municipal buildings, roads, public spaces and schools, together with the completion of an encircling bicycle path and upgrades to the city’s parks and open public spaces. In this context, the EIB, in tandem with various promotional actors such as the university and public utility companies, has been important not only in providing urban framework loans to the municipality, but also in assisting the development of the overall metropolitan area.

    Today, Bologna enjoys a reputation as one of Italy’s pre-eminent smart cities and has the third highest total GDP per capita among Italian provinces after Milan and Bolzano.  The city has affirmed itself as a European leader in the development of innovative transport policies, with zero tariffs during rush hour and special rates for students and pensioners. It is also known for the high quality of its child-care and education services, careful integration of green space into the urban fabric, and the presence of a major university. 

    Bologna has been particularly successful since the global financial crisis. By 2016, the Emilia-Romagna region was posting growth of 1.9%, almost double the Italian average. Local entrepreneurs attribute the city-region’s resilience to its proximity to the creative hub of the University of Bologna and to the fact that its mostly small and mid-sized companies have been able to respond more quickly than multinational corporations to market changes. 

    The findings, interpretations and conclusions are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Investment Bank. 

    >> Download the entire essay as eBook or PDF

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