Anti-racism as a Urban Common: the experiment of the City of Torino

Nuove Narrazioni
7 min readJun 16, 2020

Anti-racism as a Urban Common

On March 17, 2020, the Municipality of Torino approved a two-points resolution [link in Italian] on anti-racism. First of all, the City adopted the Action Plan Against Racist Hate Crimes developed within the framework of the European-funded project G3P-R [link in English]. The second and more innovative point of the resolution declared the “knowledge, actions, and good practices” in the field of anti-racism as a Urban Common (see the definition used in Torino [link in English]) and committed to draft a Pact of Collaboration for its care. The process came to a stop during the Covid19 quarantine as public offices dedicated their time and energies almost exclusively to the emergency-management: only on June 8, with the situation slowly turning back to normality, the Human Rights Office could publish the call to participate in the process.

In this post, I will try to address the following questions: how does the drafting of a Urban Common’s Pact of Collaboration work? What needs are at the basis of this action? What outcomes are expected, and what questions are open?

Before starting, I would like to make two points.

The first one: since 2016 I work as Chief of Staff for the Torino Deputy Mayor for Human Rights. I was involved in all phases of the G3P-R project, I co-drafted the Action Plan and the resolution, and I coordinated the launch of the public call. My bias in analyzing this process is obvious.

The second one: this post is the first entry of an open diary about the whole journey. I hope that — for better or for worse — Torino’s example will be useful for other administrations or civil society organizations. But there’s more. If I only aimed at creating a guideline, I would have published a paper once the process was complete. On the contrary,

I do believe that intelligence is collective. I therefore want to open a discussion and get comments, ideas, reflections, and criticisms during the process, in order to be able to learn from, and network with, other interested stakeholders.

Having made my position and my expectations clear, I think I can start. First I will describe the technicalities of the process, and then set some open questions on the table for future steps.

The public notice and the administrative procedure

The text of the open call can be found here [link in Italian]. It is based on the City of Torino’s Urban Commons Regulation [link in Italian] and describes the path ahead. In this chapter I will try to explain it more in detail and without bureaucratic jargon.

First phase: the call for ideas. Institutions, associations, informal committees and individuals can apply by June 23. The form is fairly easy as applicants need to answer only two questions: who they are (personal data and previous experience; max. 500 characters) and what they want to do (what are the most relevant needs to counter racism; what practices are important to address those needs; max 1,500 characters).

It is important to understand that this is not a call for funding or a competition for money — on the contrary, the whole process is meant to foster participated decision-making and coordination rather than competition.

Second phase: participated drafting of the Pact. Once all proposals are collected, the parts will engage in a process (expected to end in October) to draft the Pact of Collaboration. This will include mutual commitments among institutions and civil society actors on different areas of work (examples: education, organization of events, training of public officers, etc.). The priorities, the level of detail, the targets, even the focus will be decided together.

The richer and more diverse the group of participants, the more the Pact will reflect the composition and needs of the whole city.

Third phase: practical implementation of the Pact. As already mentioned, it is impossible to foresee details now: “how”, “what”, but also “for whom” and “when” will depend on the co-drafting process. Every Pact of Collaboration is different from another: one can have a single specific objective (example: “to train two thousand civil servants on the topic of anti-racism by 2021”) that partners join forces to achieve; another option would be to agree upon yearly focuses (example: “in 2021 anti-Gypsyism, in 2022 intersectionality between race and gender, in …”); and so on.

Urban Commons Pacts are flexible and their nature aims precisely at preventing top-down approaches.

Urban Commons and anti-racism: some reflections

As already mentioned, it is not possible to foresee now the actual structure and goal of the Pact. I would therefore outline a few reflection-points in order to better frame the experiment, the expected results, the foreseeable difficulties. The following thoughts are personal and do not necessarily reflect the position of the institution I work for: as a matter of fact, you can consider it a brainstorming where your contributions are welcome. If you want to help me, or discuss with me, or give me your opinion, please comment here below or find me on Twitter at tw/@orpheo85.

  1. The Pacts for Urban Commons are different from other public-private relations as they rely upon different co-management mechanisms: Pacts are horizontal (all involved parties make reciprocal commitments) and flexible (obligations can be re-defined by the partnership). It is a rather uncommon procedure in the Italian institutional structure, which is mostly based on a chocking bureaucratic and normative approach: which impact will such a mechanism have on the relationship between Public Institution and Third Sector?
  2. Although flexible and horizontal, however, a Pact is a formal act. It is not a gentle(wo)mxn’s agreement. Parties are committed: a future city government that should revise its priorities and downgrade anti-racism won’t be able to just neglect the Pact. What is set up through a resolution can be unmade only through another resolution, which has political costs. What mid- or long-term effects will this Pact produce on the political culture of the Municipality towards antiracism and, in general, human rights?
  3. This commitment also applies to non-institutional actors: while in the last decades institutions incentivized competition (by applying for limited financial support) and one-to-one relationship with the institutions (where civil society is by definition the weaker partner), Pacts of Collaboration aim at increasing coordination and collaboration among civil society actors. In this very moment, the constellation of stake- and need-holders on anti-racism in Torino is extremely fragmented: what long-term impact will the creation of a space for meeting, debating and coordinating have on civil society?
  4. You may like it or not, but chances are high that most of the actors involved in the Pact-drafting will be… white. That is, actors belonging to the privileged/oppressive majority (the writer of this post includes himself in the category). While it would have not been possible to do otherwise (see point 5), the main question is how to critically address this challenge.
  5. The objective to include as many non-white actors (whatever that means: see point 6) as possible in the process is difficult to achieve because “white” is not a legal concept. Due to Fascist and Nazi past, in Italy (like in many other European countries), you rarely talk of “races”, rather of ethnicity. While the term is used more or less with the same meaning of “race” in the USA, European States (still remindful of Fascist and Nazi ethnic cleansing) are shyer to collect data about their citizens’ race/ethnicity (the UK is an exception in Europe). Hence the legal challenge to restricting access to the anti-racist public call: on which basis? The only legal distinction is nationality: but nationality does not equal race, not even in a country of fairly recent migration as Italy. Would it make any sense to restrict access to the Anti-racist Pact only to “foreign” people and therefore exclude migrants who have obtained citizenship as well as second generations? And what norms should one use for legal entities such as associations? Should only the president be a foreigner? Or the whole executive board? Or all members?
  6. Moreover, while the legal dimension is crucial for a public act, also the political boundaries of “whiteness” aren’t clear at all in the Italian context. It is an open discussion among activists: who’s non-white? While focusing on skin-color would exclude some European (but still discriminated against) migrants such as Rumanians and Albanians, focusing on migration would exclude second generations. A broader definition including “migrant-background” would exclude Jews and Sinti (Italian Roma, who lived in the country for four or five centuries). And so on: every definition is a political choice which has a political impact. Of course, in the long term the discussion within the anti-racist groups will make the impact of the choices clearer: but if the answer is not there yet, it is not up to the institution to come up with one. However, I wonder (and actually hope) whether the partnership of the Pact of Collaboration could become one of the places that civil society use to reflect upon the issue.
  7. The current and future composition of the partnership is not written in stone. Today, the width and diversity of the partnership will be decided by the applicants’ will to participate and by the capacity of the Municipality to make the path truly inclusive. Tomorrow, the results of the initiative will make it more (or less) attractive for new members. There are no rules, and there are no examples: not only hasn’t the Municipality of Torino ever approved a Pact of Collaboration on an immaterial Common, but there are no other examples of Pacts on anti-racism in Italy. A distant relative is the Pact that the Municipality of Bologna has signed on LGBTQI issues [link in Italian] and that we partially took as inspiration. We sail through uncharted waters, and the future of this initiative is unwritten: how it will go, depends entirely on those who’ll take part in it.