A few months ago I returned to live in Italy. I should certainly write a lot more about this important passage in my life. Who knows if I will have the time and desire to do so.
In the meantime, I want to talk to you about one of the reasons that contributed to my return to Italy.
I want to talk to you about the Villa Buonaccorsi.
You may have already glimpsed something on my various social channels.
The time has come to tell you a little more about what it is.
The Villa Buonaccorsi, in Potenza Picena, in the province of Macerata in the Marche region, is famous for its numerous mythological statues and sculptures, fountains and obelisks, niches and water features. It dates back to the 18th century, with five terraces on the hill crossed by laurel hedges, fishponds and geometric flowerbeds that look like diamonds and coloured stars. Find out more here https://www.italianways.com/villa-buonaccorsi-the-gardens-of-a-jesuit-botanist/
My dear friend Francesco Cingolani has been telling me about this Villa for years, perhaps since we met back in 2002 during my time as an Erasmus student in Paris. For him it is a sign of home, because it has always been there, a stone’s throw from the house where he grew up.
Last year Francesco discovered that the Villa had been put up for sale. In fact, it should be pointed out that the Villa is strangely in private hands. At that point Francesco took action to do something about it and wrote about it in his blog (https://www.immaginoteca.com/pensieri-sulla-villa-buonaccorsi/).
And so, at the beginning of 2020, in the midst of the covid19 pandemic, the Villae association was born, bringing together various people from the area plus others who, like me, are of more distant origins, with the aim of making the Villa a common good, accessible and inclusive.
I’ll tell you straight away that we have just achieved our first great result. It was announced a few days ago that the Ministry of Culture is going to grant pre-emption rights to the villa; in other words, it is going to buy it back from the Rome-based real estate company that bought it this summer, as it was the only bid received at the bankruptcy auction.
As Francesco comments on his blog, this news is a first major victory for us, ensuring the positive outcome of the first phase of the project, and thus allowing us to continue working on the next phases, which represent equally ambitious challenges.
Let’s see how we did it.
In July 2021, the Volumes team gathered in the city of Potenza Picena, to support the association Villae in what we called the “Villa Summer Camp”: an undertaking to transform the historic Villa Buonaccorsi into a potential innovation hub.
From Spain, France, Greece and Italy, a mix of urban planners, architects, technology experts, geographers and creative people came to the city of Potenza Picena to discuss the future of Villa Buonaccorsi.
With the association Villae we are imagining a transition for the Villa, and we called on the expertise of Volumes to structure it by drawing on the team’s experience of daily practices focused on a sustainable city, the circular economy, new working methods and familiarity with partnerships on a European scale.
In cooperation with the local authorities, the Villae team, also thanks to the support of Volumes, succeeded in raising awareness of the cause.
The Villa Summer Camp initiative brought local people, such as citizens and professionals, and international experts together around a common understanding of the value of this kind of property. Even to the unfamiliar eye, the beautiful Villa Buonaccorsi somehow encapsulates the Italian imagination: the Baroque identity, the Roman-inspired decoration and even the ruins, containing within itself the universal vision of what the country has prided itself on for centuries.
But if it is so obviously grandiose, why then is this residence so neglected, left empty most of the time?
We could say that it stems from the paradox of our time: the cut in public funding for cultural purposes, the rapid decline of centuries-old domains, the rural exodus, the rise in property prices worldwide, reserving this precious right of ownership for only a privileged few, but also intensive agriculture, mass tourism, Instagram!… Leaving a historic villa to be used only for temporary purposes and only as a splendid backdrop.
The Villa Buonaccorsi has both economic and social symbolism. Such a beautiful, abandoned building is an analogy to the region’s untapped potential and the anomalies of our global economy. We are convinced that this rare combination can offer a common ground for ‘crazy ideas’, the kind of innovation driven by a sustainable approach, which brings long-term economic opportunities and can transform an entire region.
With Villae, we want to promote the principles of horizontality, participation and inclusiveness. Far from the neo-colonialist approach that has governed philanthropic initiatives for so long. With a vision centred on the circular economy, we have worked throughout the event to propose projects that we think will bring the Villa back to life, keeping it accessible and useful to the neighbouring community.
The experience and collaboration networks created by Volumes, which is involved in several European projects, could also help here.
For example, with the Centrinno* network, a European project involving nine pilot cities, we (Volumes and partners) are experimenting with the re-appropriation of abandoned historical industrial and cultural sites: Paris with the 19th arrondissement, the Charmille industrial zone in Geneva, Poblenou in Barcelona, a former factory in Zagreb, but also sites in Copenhagen, Tallinn, Amsterdam, Milan, Blönduós in Iceland…
Are we working on adding Potenza Picena to the list? Being able to recover Villa Buonaccorsi would complete a vision of sustainable production in cities that cannot function without the productive capacities of rural areas.
Involving local people was the key to turning a ‘crazy idea’ into a thriving urban policy, but the participation of experts made the initiative a neutral ground for discussion. The meeting was not about confrontation, nor pressure, but collaboration. We can call it soft activism: without the battle but still imbued with a noble cause that allows all parties to care. Thanks to the citizens’ initiative, the team had a good knowledge of the context: history, economy, innovations and possibilities.
The meeting was organised around four workshops that also served as perspectives of possible futures for Villa Buonaccorsi:
- The Villa as a city laboratory (which I took care of);
- Regenerative tourism (coordinated by Jonathan Reyes as vice-president of Fairbnb.coop);
- Technology for sustainability (coordinated by Aldo Sollazzo of Noumena);
- Remote incubation for tomorrow’s world (coordinated by Yara Tayoun and Michael Araujo from Volumes).
In addition, two online workshops were open to the public who could not be physically present:
- Reinhabitation for Regenerative Tourism (coordinated by Adolfo Chautón as part of CivicWise and Fairbnb.coop) ;
- The creation of games (Coordinated by Maria Tomé as part of the Oficina de Innovación Cívica y CivicWise)
In order to generate new ideas from all these participants, we structured four working groups. In each group, a “facilitator” presented his or her experience. This was a way to give tools to people who were not familiar with the topics, to introduce the principles and opportunities of a circular economy project, so that they could express themselves and contribute their own point of view afterwards.
In this way, the abstract ideas, the long-term possibilities, the essential “crazy ideas” that inspire us all emerged first. Only in this way were they able to imagine then
Follow Volumes on Twitter (@wevolumes) for continuous updates on the future of Villa Buonaccorsi.
For more information you can visit the website of the association Villae https://vill.ae