With one of the hottest Italian summers outside, the office of Turin mayor Sergio Chiamparino remains cool. The 17th-century building housing Turin City Hall is not only well equipped for the high temperature outside; its elegant rooms also complement Mr Chiamparino’s charm.
One of the best regarded mayors in Italy, Mr Chiamparino has retained his post for two terms, winning the support of people of all political colours and irrespective of the type of national government in place (this year it changed from Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition to Romano Prodi’s centre-left government). He enjoyed an overwhelming victory in May’s mayoral elections: two out of three voters wanted him back as the head of the city.
Turin loves Mr Chiamparino – and not only for his personality. The mayor has backed up his electoral programme with action. He has invested in regeneration projects for industrialised areas linked to automotive group Fiat (Italy’s most important industrial conglomerate), created academic profiles tailored for the automotive sector and brought the 2006 Olympic Winter Games to town.
Mr Chiamparino first took office in 2001 as a consequence of a sad event for him. The then left-wing mayoral candidate – and a friend – Domenico Carpanini, died during the electoral campaign and Mr Chiamparino was asked to step into the breach.
During his first term, he earned the trust of Turin and many describe him as a model for good politics, dubbing his distinctive understatedness as the “Chiamparino style”.
The mayor, however, is not a slave to popular opinion. For example, the high-speed train project (TAV), of which he is a strong supporter, faces vocal opposition from local communities. The TAV project aims to modernise Italy’s rail connections, and interlinks with the European Corridor 5 running from Kiev to Lisbon and crossing northern Italy.
The project will create a high-speed link with Milan to the east, and Lyon and France to the west. It is the latter part of the project that is upsetting many Turin residents. They believe a simple modernisation of the existing track would be sufficient, without invading the local mountain areas and villages further.
Mr Chiamparino, however, has a firm take on the matter and, although he is liaising with local communities, he is a fervent supporter of the project. “The problem that Turin has is its infrastructures,” he says. He believes there are advantages to a high-speed connection with Milan, which is due to be completed by 2009. It would enable businesses that would naturally consider Milan as their first-choice location to take advantage of the larger areas available around Turin and of the fast commute to the bigger city.
Infrastructure ranks highly on the mayor’s political agenda. Turin is also looking at port and airport developments, working with the nearby port at Genoa and acquiring stakes in airports of neighbouring regions to build a complete infrastructure network centred on the city.
Mr Chiamparino’s most obvious achievement has been bringing this year’s Olympic Winter Games to Turin. After getting the residents on board, he generated €3bn in investments, funded by local government and national resources and private investors. Just the preparation for the games resulted in a 3% increase in regional gross domestic product and the creation of 3000 new jobs.
As for the after-effects, Mr Chiamparino says “bisogna lavorare”: one has to work to obtain results. “You can’t take the post-games positive effect for granted,” he says. The current situation is, however, encouraging, and puts Turin in a good position to rise to the ‘Barcelona challenge’ – so far the best example of how a city can leverage on a sporting event, following its 1992 Olympic games.
The success of the Turin games also garnered praise from observers from Canada, which will be the 2010 host. They were impressed by the flexibility of Turin’s Olympic management, which allowed it to deal with any unexpected event (such as unusually heavy snowfall) in the most effective way.
The Olympic Games offered the world a window on Turin. Moreover, they offered the city an opportunity to capitalise on its new attractiveness to FDI. “It is important to know how to use what has been built during the games,” says Mr Chiamparino. “We have tried to design the Olympic structures – the city ones at least – so that they can be used after the games.”
For example, the Oval speed skating centre was designed without columns so it could be used to expand the Lingotto exhibition centre. The city is also working with the Lingotto managing company to create a joint venture to develop a 60,000-70,000 square-metre congress-exhibition centre.
If Mr Chiamparino is internationally known for bringing the Winter Olympics to Turin, the city is mainly known as the home of Fiat, Italy’s biggest industrial conglomerate – and most troubled company.
Until two years ago, Fiat was struggling. Now things are improving and the Turin city government has agreed on a partial acquisition and redevelopment of the company’s Mirafiori plant site. The deal will help to keep the plant open and should give Fiat a more positive outlook.
The agreement with Mirafiori will be a pilot programme in many aspects. The regeneration of industrial areas usually moves the nature of the development towards retail, commercial or university facilities. In this case, the mayor will re-industrialise an industrial area. His plan is to attract industrial enterprises that can benefit from the facilities that Mirafiori has enjoyed in the past and no longer needs.
Research and universities have been crucial in Turin’s transformation from an industrial city to a technological hub and there are plans for a design centre and a university course in automotive engineering in proximity to the development. “Experience tells me that the link with universities is very important,” says Mr Chiamparino.
The Turin Politecnico, which specialises in engineering and technology, has played an important role in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, and in companies such as Motorola and Skylogic establishing businesses in the city.
This is true of other ICT companies, about 6700 of which, including call centres and software houses, are present in and around the city.
The Politecnico also played an important role in retaining General Motors’ investment in Turin after its divorce from Fiat a couple of years ago. Attracted by the idea of retaining the engineers (and no doubt prompted by the prospect of high redundancy costs), GM installed its European diesel engine experimentation centre in Turin, preferring it to Frankfurt, where it already had a presence. Set up one-and-a-half years ago, the centre now plans to double its number of employees in 2008 and relocate even closer to the university area.
Turin’s transformation would not be complete without the promotion of its fine heritage and the addition of new cultural offerings. The beautiful Mole Antonelliana, one of the city’s landmark buildings (and official emblem of the Winter Olympics), is already home to a cinema museum. There are also plans for Torino Esposizioni, the exhibition centre, to host a modern art gallery and for the Egyptian museum to become the centre of temporary exhibitions, both for Egyptian and modern art.
On all fronts, it seems that Turin and its mayor have established a mutually profitable relationship.