‘Pedibus’ micro-projects in the Oltrarno quarter in Florence

Published on Aug 24, 2014

URBAN ACUPUNCTURE: public space regeneration through the ‘Pedibus’ micro-projects in the Oltrarno quarter in Florence.
AGOPUNTURA URBANA: riqualificazione dello spazio pubblico attraverso i micro-progetti del ‘Pedibus’ nel quartiere Oltrarno a Firenze.

Project: studiostudio architettiurbanisti
www.studiostudio.it | mail@studiostudio.it
Client: Municipality of Florence
Location: Florence, Italy

Music: “Mandirek b’ida” by Cheb Khaled

Pedibus: Florence, Italy

Project: studiostudio architettiurbanisti
www.studiostudio.it | mail@studiostudio.it
Client: Municipality of Florence
Location: Florence, Italy

Intervention by spot-projects:Urban acupuncture as a public space regeneration strategy Public space regeneration through the “Pedibus” micro-projects in the Oltrarno quarter, Florence The Oltrarno is a historic district south of the River Arno in Florence with a number of intrinsic characteristics that makes it one of the most problematic areas of the city. The morphological situation is complex and varied: the historic city center is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site while the pedestrian areas must coexist with congested traffic roads. Moreover the dynamic participation of local citizens in spontaneous committees and the richness of social life (locals, immigrants, tourists) envision the possibility to test here a pioneering project for the regeneration and re-appropriation of public space. In particular the need to re design the school-home paths among the three existing schools of the district offered the chance to trigger a participation and sustainable mobility process as driver of urban space regeneration.


What is the “Pedibus”: The major difficulty in using the pedestrian urban space made necessary to define some interventions for the benefit of the whole neighborhood. The preliminary surveys immediately clarified the need for a project able to reclaim the physical space of the city through the definition of new safety standards. The project proposed to establish an intervention strategy for the realization of school routes along the pedestrian pathways reorganized according to the idea of Pedibus. The lack of pedestrian security requires parents to take up to four trips to accompany children to school in their cars. Paradoxically, the safety of some restricts that of others and increases traffic and air pollution. In Switzerland, France and Canada an alternative to use of cars to go to school is provided by the “Pedibus”, a sort of pedestrian school bus.

The name Pedibus is derived from Latin pes, pedis (foot) and bus. Inspired by the Human Powered Transports (transport systems in human potential) provides an incentive to avoid the use of cars and motorbikes in the city. It is organized just like a city bus with terminals, fixed routes, stops and running times. If one child is helpless, the union of many children gives strength and visibility. The Pedibus suggests the participation of citizens through the organization of natural forces already in the field: parents, grandparents, volunteers, local police who in turn deal with the accompaniment of children. Children are involved in a new game. In the children’s perception everything is turned into play, adventure and discovery and going to school alone become an exciting adventure in which to follow the colored signs and arrows that indicate the safest path to school. Moreover children are encouraged to improve their autonomy and self awareness.

Safety and traffic: Inside the whole historic center of Florence is already in force a restricted traffic area with a speed limit of 30 km/h. Its establishment, unfortunately, does not guarantee the limit to be respected. The master plan proposed interventions and safety measures on pedestrian paths that do not alter the road situation but take advantage of the existing resources, such as the roads regulation, the existing signage, the parking, the traffic limitations, adding to bans and speed limits a series of structures meant to improve the pedestrian safety and accessibility (i.e. Berlin cushions, chicanes, widened sidewalks, ramps, together with the redesign of pedestrian crossings).

Participation Laboratories: The project’s first phase required the definition of the Pedibus routes and lines. Through several site surveys, meetings with parents and teachers and work done in classes directly with the children, we collected the essential data necessary to implement the Pedibus, including the starting points of the pupils, their modes of transportation, the identification and optimization of the routes to school.

In participatory school workshops we also asked the students to imagine the road in front of their school without cars and to propose many different possible alternative uses. The result was a drawing by the kids themselves of over 25 meters long, which collected their creative wishes. The design of routes was then tailored on the physiological and psychological needs of children to allow them a certain degree of independence. Both space and time were reconsidered on the basis of forces lower than those on which adults can usually count on. The Oltrarno was re-measured according the city Childs’ Minute Step Grid (CMSG), a pattern defined by “how far a child can walk in one minute” A project by points Crossing and overlaying the collected data determined the possibility to finalize the routes, identify the points of conflicts with the traffic system and the resources on the map. In particular we indicated the critical points of “low pedestrian safety” as a priority for the implementation phase and defined as “Minimal Units of Intervention” (MUI), small or very small recovery project along the routes/lines of the Pedibus.

The need to dilute the project over time and the lack of founding to guarantee a comprehensive implementation of the whole project at once, suggested to rethink the implementation of the “Pedibus’ service” with spot-projects that co-operatively take advantage of other simultaneous construction opportunities. Structural measures along the Pedibus path will be implemented gradually in accordance with the availability and opportunities of the moment. The different “Minimal Units of Intervention” (MUI) can be taken apart and reassembled with almost infinite combinatorial formulations according to the priority given to individual actions and based on the available economic resources and opportunities. This strategy allows a search for funding through grants, private sponsors or program agreements with public entities.

This sub-division of the realization in timed actions for small and very small works also gained a greater chance to settle the new proposed arrangements in the citizens’ collective imaginations. The MUI #12 The MUI #12, in front of the Torrigiani School, was the first Minimal Unit to be built. The project’s goal was to provide a safe and easy access and increase the value of the public space according to the needs of both children and residents.

The roadway in front of the school was reduced to 2.75 m, allowing the easy passage of cars, vans and emergency vehicles at a moderate speed and a significant widening of the pedestrian space to a length of about 40 m. The new pedestrian space consists of a 4 m wide platform, raised to the street level.

The square was finished with a single paving of local sandstone “alla rinfusa”, the same used in the tradition of the ancient streets of Florence, which differs from the rest of the existing pavement. The large sidewalk of the new “plaza” contains two inserts of polished stone suitable for use by children to draw on with colored chalk. On the platform we placed benches made of modular blocks of local grey limestone. Two ramps allow wheelchair access. These ramps are paved with colored asphalt and illuminated by LED signaling steps with built-in solar panels. The ramps are protected by a low wall of squared sandstone blocks in order to guarantee a safe and accessible path into the school.

To the west of the school we created a pedestrian area with bicycle racks, a Magnolia Soulangeana tree and a Rhyncospermum Jasminoide hedge trellis. The new “plaza” took the place of the existing parking lot and serves as a significant meeting point of the residents. The former street space in front of the school has regained a social dimension that previously did not exist. Ultimately, the project served many functions as an economic feasibility and recovery plan for the district, a regeneration project of public space in the historic city and finally a participative process with the citizens for the re-appropriation of street sociability.

The project also co-operates with Marc Augé’s proposal to go “back to the city as an adventure-land” for adults and children. The projects received the following awards: – Florence Territory Architecture Award, 2014 Florence Italy – 1st prize in the category “Urban spaces and landscape” – “Design for all” – Innovation and urban quality Award 2013, Ferrara Italy. – “Participatory Design of Public Space” 2011 Award, 1st Urban Public Space Biennial, promoted by INU National Institute of Urban Planning, Rome – 3rd prize in the “Historic Town” section. – “Tuscany Eco-Efficiency” 2010 Award, Tuscany Region – honourable mention in the framework of good practices of public administration in “Sustainable Mobility” – “Pedestrian Safe Ways for Children in the Historic Center of Florence” 2003 Ideas Competition; Florence Municipality —- Lasciamo viaggiare l’immaginazione.

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