A regional participatory process coordinated by three municipalities to inform citizens and gather feedback on proposed renovations to the Florence Airport. Five face-to-face meetings were held but the process ended in political disagreements and stakeholder discontent.
Problems and Purpose
The initiative "Airport: Let's Talk About It" (Aeroporto Parliamone) was a regional participatory process coordinated by three municipalities in Tuscany: Calenzano, Carmignano, and Poggio a Caiano. The planning and development of the Florence Airport was designed as a participatory process in order to:
- Inform the Tuscan citizens about the characteristics and impacts of an enlargement and requalification project on the Florence Airport
- Allow affected citizens to deliberate on said plans and to have their thoughts and opinions taken into account before the proposal was finalized
Background History and Context
In 1995, a regional urban planning law was passed granting the construction of a metropolitan park to serve as a green belt in the Florence metropolitan area. While initially intended to promote environmental sustainability, the park was gradually expanded until it became the Parco agricolo della Piana (Park of the Plain) project which would see the development of a central meeting place for the residents of surrounding municipalities ultimately intended to have positive social and economic effects on the communities. The Parco agricolo della Piana was discussed and formulated through a participatory process in 2005 which was coordinated by the communication guarantor of the Tuscany Region.
Unfortunately, the Tuscany regional government was put in a difficult position: giving formal support for the Parco agricolo della Piana meant going against the wishes of other regional government sectors who supported a proposal to enlarge the Florence Airport – a development proposal which overlapped with the Parco.
In 2009, the Aeroporto di Firenze (AdF) company proposed a study for the functional qualification and extension of the Airport. Following this proposal, the regional government of Tuscany began a process of strategic environmental assessment that included discussions with stakeholders, with the hopes of making the airport extension proposal compatible with the plain park project. The assessment lasted four years,starting in 2010 and concluded on June 16, 2014 with a comprehensive territorial plan that reached a compromise between the airport and the park development plans. Among the compromises was a limit of 2,000 meters for the new runway and a series of impact mitigation measures.
Towards the end of 2014, the AdF company argued that a 2,000 metre runway could not accommodate the larger aircrafts needed for the re-qualification of the airport. Subsequently, the company demanded the runway length allotment be extended to 2,400 metres. The incompatibility between AdF's objectives and the 2014 territorial plan led to a conflict, with the majority of Tuscan Regional officials in favour of the AdF. In opposition to the new runway were several civil society organizations (who were partial to the Parco agricolo della Piana) and some municipal governments that would be negatively affected by the Airport requalification. The municipalities of Pisa (in 2014) and Calenzano, Carmignano and Poggio a Caiano (in 2015) formally proposed a public debate, in accordance with the law 46/2013 which regulates the Tuscany Regional Participation Policy.
The Regional Authority for Participation (APP), an independent body linked to the regional participation law 46/2013, argued against holding a public debate for three reasons:
- The requisition of the public debate was made in a time when the main choices about the airport project had already been taken, and a public debate, as provided by law, needs to be done when there is still possibility to discuss various options and alternatives
- The regional law does not provide mandatory public debates on works of responsibility of private companies[i]
- The regional authority contacted the offices and companies responsible for managing the airport (Toscana Aeroporto and Italian Civil Aviation Authority - ENAC) and these companies refused to participate in a potential public debate.
The APP stated that activating a public debate without the presence of the companies would create a flawed process "with high formal ambitions and few resources and tools to reach concrete results and to repay the stakeholders commitment in participate in a public debate".
Nevertheless, based on the high level of conflict around the issue, the APP, together with the Calenzano, Carmignano and Poggio a Caiano municipalities, proposed an alternative participatory process: one whose main goal was to inform the public of the airport re-qualification project, but one which would also give citizens the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions with government officials.
Organizing, Funding, and Supporting Entities
The participatory process was promoted by the municipalities of Calenzano, Carmignano, and Poggio a Caiano (in the Florence metropolitan area) and by the Regional Authority for Participation (APP). The activities had a total cost of 35,000 euros, of which 25,000 euros were financed by the APP based on the resources available from the regional law 43/2016. The remaining 10,000 euros were financed by the three municipalities. The Cantieri Animati society was hired by the APP to facilitate the process.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participation in the public meetings was open to all as the organizers made it a priority to disseminate as much information to as many people as possible. The participants were informed of and invited to the meetings using various strategies such as a website, letters and emails sent to civil society organizations, flyers and posters distributed in public spaces, and by direct mobilization of local government supporters. Registration on the website prior to the face-to-face meetings was recommended but not required. In keeping with the 'informative' approach of the events, organizers sought to include as many stakeholders, experts, and officials from related agencies to help relate technical aspects — such as economic, social and environmental impacts — to the lay persons. While citizens could attend several meetings, experts were limited to one meeting each.
Methods and Tools Used
While broad recruitment strategies were used to include the largest number of people possible, large groups are less amenable to inclusive discussion and deliberation. Accordingly, thematic dialogue tables were used to break participants into small groups. The thematic dialogue method has two major advantages: 1) themes or ‘issues areas’ are predetermined by planners and officials, allowing for targeted feedback on areas of key interest; and 2) participants are given the ability to choose which topic/theme to discuss, increasing their sense of agency, inclusion, and trust which may, subsequently, make them more inclined to share their thoughts and opinions. Each table was assigned a trained facilitator to ensure equal and respectful deliberation.
Organizers also made use of the ‘OpenToscana’ regional website to host a webpage on the Airport planning process. The webpage allowed for the public to access information about the airport, the proposals, and the face-to-face deliberation process. As well, experts and community organizations were able to submit feedback and suggestions on the webpage. All public input gathered through face-to-face and online methods were collected and collated by the Cantieri Animati society as part of the final report drafting process.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The core of the participatory process was composed of 5 biweekly face-to-face meetings, which took place in the following days/municipalities:
- 05/03/2016, 9am-1pm, Sesto Fiorentino municipality: opening session; explanation of process, purpose, and methodology; experts interventions about the main issues.
- 03/19/2016, 9am-1pm, Calenzano municipality: thematic dialogue tables moderated by facilitators.
- 04/02/2016, 9am-1pm, Poggio a Caiano municipality: thematic dialogue tables moderated by facilitators.
- 04/16/2016, 9:30-1pm, Florence Municipality: Results presentation and round table.
- 05/24/2016, 9pm, Calenzano municipality: Final report presentation.
The meetings were attended by 300 registered participants and by 25 invited experts. The public was composed of a large majority of people with a high educational level, with a prevalence of males and between 25 and 85 years old.
In the meetings, the participants were divided into thematic dialogue tables (according to the choice of each participant). The use of small groups divided by theme allowed for the sharing of in-depth analysis of the airport and its possible impact. The following five themes were discussed: (1) project features; (2) air quality and noise impacts; (3) impacts on the landscape and on water networks; (4) project costs and economic impact (5) regulatory and procedural aspects.
Group discussions at each table were conducted and recorded by a professional facilitator. At the end of the meeting, summaries of the group discussions were shared in plenary. As well, the main discussion points and public feedback obtained during the first four face-to-face meetings was published in 12 reports sent to participants and published in the OpenToscana Website.
The process webpage, hosted in the OpenToscana portal, served as an information center, giving the public access to the minutes of each meeting, and impartial, technical information on the conflict between the airport and the Parco agricolo della Piana. The website received more than 21,500 visits (over 11,000 of those occuring during the meetings) and allowed direct contributions from experts and associations. All contributions — from face-to-face meetings and via online submission — were collated by the Cantieri Animati society, and a final report was simultaneously published on the webpage, sent to public and private authorities related to the topic, and presented in a public meeting on May 24, 2016, in Calenzano.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
An important limitation of the participatory process was the absence of the two private companies in favour of the airport project: ENAC and Toscana Aeroporti. While they were repeatedly invited, the companies refused to take part in any public debate or participatory process.
Consequently, the results of the participatory process were not representative of all points of view, especially those of the airport project proponents. The public discussion was limited to the analysis (by experts and citizens) of the plans and projects made publicly available by the companies and the findings of the environmental assessment carried out by the Italian Ministry of the Environment during the 2010-2014 Airport Parliamone process.
The absence of the companies caused some participants to question the usefulness of the participatory process. As well, by refusing to participate, the companies never reconciled with the various civil society groups and municipalities who opposed the airport projects. However, the public debate generated during the meetings and the experts discussion of the projects allowed for the voicing of 'outsider' objections to the airport project and even the technical deepening of such objections, contributing to the existence of a counter-expertise: a technically-based analysis of the studies and projects presented by the companies.
Despite the low support from the companies and from the Tuscan regional government (which remained in favour of the airport's re-qualification), the participatory process and its results attracted the attention of members of the environmental assessment commission of the Italian Environment Ministry. The commission invited the mayors of Calenzano, Carmignano and Poggio a Caiano and the meetings facilitator (Cantieri Animati) to present the participatory process results thereby elevating the knowledge produced during the Aeroporto Parliamone process into the discursive arena of higher decision-making.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Aeroporto Parliamone case had an ambiguous result, consisting of both success points and significant limitations.
The participatory process dealt with a central regional issue. Funded by regional and local governments, the Aeroporto Parlianome process was an example of how social participation begins to address the main political choices in Tuscany.
On the one hand, the fact that the process was funded with regional government resources demonstrates that the regional government is not a cohesive whole; rather it is subject to internal contradictions. On the other hand, it is a sign of a relative autonomy of the regional authority for participation. The APP indicated the need to promote a participatory process in a conflictual issue, even if central regional government actors were not favorable to the opening of a participatory process.
The participatory process itself was very useful as a tool to inform the citizens about the characteristics and impacts of the new airport project, since up to that point, there wasn't an adequate information process that indicated the various points of view around the issue (before that, the information campaigns were produced by the companies responsible for the airport management, which were broadly in favour of the re-qualification proposal).
In addition to its informative nature, the debates allowed for the deepening of relevant technical issues, especially in relation to the incompleteness and deficiencies of the airport projects. The Aeroporto Parliamone process strengthened a counter-expertise movement, highlighting, based on technical and scientific arguments, the shortcomings of the studies produced by the companies.
The final report did not receive adequate reception from the regional government and by the companies, which are largely in favor of the re-qualification works. However, this report (and the debates) drew the Ministry of the Environment Commission's attention. So, the Aeropoto Parliamone process was successful in influencing decisions beyond the regional level, having been taken into account by national authorities.
Although envisaged in Law 43/2016, the regional authority for participation decided not to activate a public debate (in the French style of Débat Public), with the justification that (1) the request for public debate was made at a time when the main choices had already been taken; (2) the regional law does not provide for a mandatory public debate for private bodies' works, and; (3) the airport management companies have refused to participate in a public debate. Although technically well founded, the APP decision generated a stakeholders' negative feeling in relation to the (real) autonomy of the authority and about the usefulness of a "minor" participatory process, with reduced decision-making capacity. From this perspective, some important civil society actors, such as the Piana Sana society, refused to take part in the participatory process.
The proponents refused to participate in the meetings, likely due to strategic analysis that a public debate could delay the airport project execution and that it could raise public criticism with respect to the companies' technical studies. It generated a negative feeling among the participants, not helping to reduce (and even amplify) the conflicts around the issue. In addition, the non-participation of the companies led to an informational imbalance within the process, where the potential solutions were not presented and debated in a neutral and egalitarian manner.
The reduced participation of regional government officials and representatives (with the exception of the APP staff) indicated that the regional participation policy goal to transform the social participation in a "ordinary form of government" is still far from being implemented. Although funded by the regional government, the Aeroporto Parliamone initiative was not embraced by the central body of the Tuscany government.
Thematic Dialogue Tables (method)
Tuscany's Regional Authority for the Promotion of Participation (organization)
 Tuscany Participation Regional Law No. 46/2013: http://www.consiglio.regione.toscana.it/upload/AUTORIT...
 Tuscany Regional Participation Policy. Participedia. https://participedia.net/method/5594
 Aeroporto Parliamone. Open Toscana. http://open.toscana.it/web/aeroporto-parliamone [with several documents about the participation process and about the Airport project and impacts]
Final report in Italian: http://open.toscana.it/documents/238650/0/Rapporto+finale+del+percorso/0...
Tuscany Authority for Participation website: https://www.consiglio.regione.toscana.it/oi/default?idc=47&nome=PARTECIP...
Aeroporto Parliamone administrative documents in the Authority for Participation website: https://www.consiglio.regione.toscana.it/oi/default?idc=47&nome=dibattit... [Italian]
Initiative Webpage on OpenToscana (Italian)
[i] Since June 2015, the Florence Airport has been managed by a private company, called Societá Toscana Aeroporti Spa, which is also responsible for the management of the airport in the city of Pisa.