“Sbertoli Villas and the City” (Le ville Sbertoli e la Città) was a participatory process that involved citizens, local associations, and professional associations in a public debate to determine the future of the Sbertoli villas and the green system surrounding the city asylum.
Problems and Purpose
“Sbertoli Villas and the City” (Le ville Sbertoli e la Città) was a participatory process in Pistoia in 2009 which aimed at reaching three main goals:
- Making the community aware of the history and the evolution of these villas;
- Elaborating a plan for its use;
- Discussing the functions of the area in a larger perspective, involving Pistoia's “neighbouring” communities.
The Sbertoli Villas area under consideration included 23 buildings, 3 aristocratic villas, and 5 hectares of park. The area and its buildings once functioned as a psychiatric hospital and there was a broad interest on the subject within the community prompting a participatory process on this issue.
Background History and Context
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Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
“Sbertoli Villas and the City” was promoted and organized by the City Council of Pistoia in 2009. It obtained important funding from the Tuscany Region, equal to 34 thousand euros (the total cost of the project was 49 thousand euros), as part of the path activated on the promotion of participation in the development of regional and local policies. 
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Around 300 participants took part in the process. Among these, there were about 40 common citizens, selected randomly throughout phone interviews by SWG (an Italian polling firm) in order to ensure a representative sample. The other participants were representatives of professional, economic and civil society associations, and trade unions. Last but not least, the organizers invited also the “depositaries of memory”, i.e. people who experienced the mental hospital as medical staff, patients, or as relatives of patients; thus “marginal” people usually under-represented, such as those suffering from mental illness, had the opportunity to voice their concerns and ideas. Moreover, anyone interested could take part in the process.
Methods and Tools Used
The collaborative planning process was structured in several phases, beginning with a preparatory phase which lasted for almost two months, during which the organizers collected data, drew a schedule of the process, and created a Committee of Guarantors to supervise the whole process and made sure that it was carried out correctly. At the same time, the organizers paid special attention to communication with the community—they informed the community constantly through media throughout the process and created a website, forums, and newsletters dedicated to the process, where citizens could be informed about the process, write comments, etc. The following phase represented the core of the process, namely the public meetings, the focus groups, and the workshops with the previously selected citizens. The last two phases concerned the final monitoring, supervising and the final report.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Deliberation began on the March 25 with the first public meeting, during which the organizers introduced the process to an audience of about 70-80 people who were given two different information packs: the first one spanned the past of the Villas from an historical and cultural point of view, whereas the second provided some technical information about the area.
The first workshop, involving some 40 citizens, took place on March 28th. The participants visited Sbertoli Villas and then spent the day discussing the item both in plenary sessions and in small groups. They were assisted by facilitators. During this meeting, participants were asked to discuss and answer 4 main questions:
- What do the Villas represent today for Pistoia?
- What should be kept unaltered?
- What kind of needs should be fulfilled through the new use of the area?
- Suggestions on the new uses of the area?
In April, three different focus groups and two meetings with the “depositaries of the memory” took place. The focus groups involved professional associations, economic categories and delegates from a wide range of grass roots organizations, such as voluntary organizations, environmental organizations, and common citizens.
On the 10th of May, the second and last workshop took place. During this meeting, participants worked as a jury. They were asked to speak out about 6 questions which emerged during the previous meetings. The six questions were:
- Should the memory of the Villas, also as a mental disease hospital, be preserved?
- Should the new plan for the Villas be conceived in a city perspective, in a regional perspective, or in a global perspective?
- How many functions should the Villas fulfill?
- What kind of needs should the Villas meet?
- Should the Villas remain public property or should they be sold? Totally or partially?
- Should the urban plan emphasize the linkage between Pistoia and the Villas?
On the first of July, there was a public event during which the recommendations and the decisions of the jury were officially handed over to the municipal head of city planning who declared that the city council would respect and implement them.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The outcomes produced by the participants to the process are many and diverse. Two out of three main goals were achieved: the first and the second. With respect to the first one, the history and the evolution of the Villas became accessible to many people thanks to the information packs, but especially thanks to the media—local radios and television, local press and so on—which talked a lot about the process reaching the whole community. In regard to the second one, the last workshop drafted a list containing concrete ideas and suggestions about how to re-use the area; the list was included in the new Urban City Plan. Other important outcomes are the positive impact of the process on the community; many participants, especially common citizens—who showed a strong commitment to the process—reported that they were quite satisfied by it. The last remarkable outcome concerns the relationships between the different groups which took part in the process and also between the latter and the Municipality, which improved thanks to the open discussion.
The decisions emerged during the process have not been implemented yet but since the official report gathering all the ideas and recommendations has been included in the official Urban City Plan, there is reason to believe that the Municipality will respect the proposals. In addition to this, the Municipality committed to keeping the participants informed about the progress of the implementation or, should it not do so, it committed to explaining accurately the lack of implementation.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
All in all, the process turned out to be successful judging from the enthusiasm of the participants, the positive and constructive atmosphere during the process, and the achievement of two out of three aims. This could be due also to the old civic tradition which is particularly strong and embedded in this territory. On the other hand, the process failed to achieve its third aim; also, it failed to involve the professional associations (for example, during the professional association focus group, there were only architects) and generally speaking, economic categories did not participate as deeply as citizens. Finally, virtual participation through the ad hoc forums turned out not to have a significant role in the process.
 Comune di Pistoia. (n.d.). Le ville Sbertoli e la città. Il progetto di urbanistica partecipata promosso dal Comune ha ottenuto un importante finanziamento dalla Regione. Retrieved 5/23/2021 from http://www.comune.pistoia.it/comunicati-stampa/le-ville-sbertoli-e-la-citt%C3%A0-il-progetto-di-urbanistica-partecipata-promosso-dal
Final Report [DEAD LINK]