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la società contemporanea / Re-thinking the quality of public space (I)

The Quality of Public Space Among Hybrid Nature-Ruins

The Case of Bullicante Lake in Rome
Paolo Do e Letteria G. Fassari
p. 29-45


In the attempt to understand spatial transformations in contemporary society and to frame the quality of public spaces, the article proposes the empirical case study of Lago Bullicante located in Rome (Italy) where a recent and unplanned event, initiated with an illegal development of an abandoned factory, has turned a ruined industrial area into a ‘Natural Monument’.
We will consider this area as a hybrid which cannot be classified as natural, nor as a place where the cultural action of humans has prevailed, but rather it takes the form of a hybrid. The article examines the social practices and relations that are built around the hybrid among ideas, actions and emerging controversies in the process of renaturation.

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Note della redazione

This article was written collaboratively by the authors. Paolo Do and Letteria G. Fassari jointly wrote paragraph 1, while Paolo Do wrote paragraphs 2 and 4, and Letteria G. Fassari wrote paragraphs 3 and 5.

Testo integrale

1. Introduction

1In We have never been modern (2012), Latour claims that ‘moderns’ see double. On the one hand, there is the theory that ‘moderns’ have produced such a masterful narrative of purification and isolation of objective meanings in nature by producing a caesura between nature and culture and subjects and objects; on the other hand, there is what they have done which shows something else, because modernity is a story of constant hybridisations and associations between nature and technology, of juxtapositions between objective realities and subjectivity in the construction of networks and quasi-objects.

2In an attempt to understand the spatial transformations in contemporary society and to frame the quality of public spaces, this article proposes an empirical case study from Rome where a recent unplanned event, initiated with an illegal development of an abandoned factory, has unexpectedly turned a ruined industrial area into a Natural Monument.

  • 1 In the literature relate to quality of public spaces, Carmona (2010) notes two areas that can be su (...)

3We will consider this area as a hybrid (ibidem): it cannot be classified as natural, nor as a place where the cultural action of humans has prevailed, but rather it takes the form of a hybrid. In particular, what interests us are the social practices and relations that are built around the hybrid among ideas, objects and actors in the process of renaturation that is taking place here. A public space with a quality strongly correlated to the hybrid introduces into the debate on the quality of public space, which in fact, allows us to go beyond the dichotomy between undermanaged and overmanaged public space1 and, at the same time, to reveal the controversies generated by this dualism.

4Our sociological analysis has two main focuses. The first analyses and accounts for relationships between public institutions, stakeholders and local community, which has played a crucial role in the transformation of this human-disturbed environment into a fragile green infrastructure. Since years, the neighbourhood inhabitants create a community space entails a high level of residents’ participation in managing, influencing, and (co)determining their local environment. «Preserving the natural and cultural value of natural places» (Procesi et al., 2022, 4) is a fundamental element of the identity of this local human community; their involvement in the history of Lago Bullicante started earlier in 1992: it is in fact because of their voice (Hirschman, 1970) and determination that the illegal works were immediately blocked.

5Then, in 1995 they occupied a space within the ex-Snia factory to patrol and oversee the entire area, thus establishing the social center Snia. Since then, they have fought against new exploitation of the abandoned buildings of the industrial plant promoting broad mobilisations, organising protests such as demonstrations, presides, sit-ins and happenings in the neighbourhood and in the city. In 2010 they established the Permanent Forum Parco delle Energie composed by experts, amateurs, academics, artists, activists, politicians and inhabitants of the local district. They organize cultural initiative related to the protection of the new lake; interdisciplinary seminars to study the ecosystem, international symposiums to narrate and to share knowledge about Lake Bullicante.

6The second examines the controversy emerging from the management practices of the hybrid. The controversy is defined by two positions on the future of the hybrid nature.

  1. A position that recognises the hybrid nature of the place and understands it as a place to be protected and preserved from human action by ‘doing nothing’. Conceiving this place as wild and untouchable is the opposite of the last hundred years of this place, where first a factory, then an abusive excavation and later an illegal camp have treated it as a disposable resource, an inert object. In this perspective, the lake is the designer and implementer of the possible changes to the area.

  2. A position that also recognises the hybrid nature of the place, but instead of preserving this place from human action by staying away from it, proposes selective forms of intervention raising the questions of accessibility and fruition, and reflects an ‘attitude’ that respects otherness by seeking a possible respectful coexistence between humans and non-humans, starting first and foremost with the indigenous knowledge of alter-modernity.

7This controversy suggests a fascinating perspective, especially regarding the following points:

  • the manifestation of hybrid qualities;

  • the use of knowledge in the definition, protection and institutionalisation of hybrids;

  • the future of urban hybrid governance;

  • the consequence of the hybrid concerning the quality of public spaces.

8The methodology employed in the construction of this investigation is that of a case study based on a sociological approach, which it seems appropriate to us because its purpose is not to generalise the case under examination, rather to understand it accurately in its peculiarity, uniqueness, complexity and specific social context (Stake, 2005). We went into the field with the aim of defining the hybrid, its uses and the conflicts that surround it, starting from the points of view of the residents and the expertise they have mobilized in its defense. The extracts from the interviews exemplify the different positions in conceiving and using the hybrid present in the local community whose considerations were collected during participation in the public meetings and the interviews.

9This study is conducted using various techniques: analysis of documents, participatory observation and qualitative interviews.

  • 2 Every first Wednesday of the month from September 2021 to March 2022.
  • 3 In particular, the “forest on the move” city-march on 22 May 2022; presidio at the lake on 22 Janua (...)

10First of all, we proceeded with the collection of empirical material online and the processing of information that came from local and national media, the numerous proceedings of conferences and seminars organised by the Forum Parco delle Energie, and from the numerous interviews conducted with the local community and public statements written on the occasion of protests. With regard to participant observation, this was carried out through participation in the Forum’s meetings2 and protests organized by the local community3. Finally, with regard to focused interviews, these were conducted with local residents who mobilised their knowledge as experts to contribute to the preservation of the area. The interviews focused in particular on the theoretical framework of the hybrid and the mobilisation practices performed. We conducted ten face-to-face interviews, asking participants open-ended questions to identify problems and suggest solutions. The interviews were defined by a flexible outline rather than a standardised set of questions. This semi-structured conversation model allowed us to design each meeting, easily tailoring discussions and questions. People were asked to describe their interaction with this place and their involvement. The encounters all took place within the area, allowing us to resonate with the place.

2. The notions of hybrid, hybrid nature and renaturation in academic literature

11Ruins are hybrid entities: «Architectonic objects originally defined by human intentionality but disfigured and deprived of their function by time and the elements, they are mixtures of nature and culture» (Ferri, 2014, 169). The definition of ruins as hybrids is not really a novelty. Georg Simmel (1958) described ruins as a product of the forces of nature on the work of humans. He portrayed the fragile balance of ruins between human intentionality and the downward force of nature: «What has led the building upward is human will; what gives it its present appearance is the brute, downward-dragging, corroding, crumbling power of nature» (ivi, 381). Simmel’s reflection referred to a ruin as a hybrid in which natural events and human undertaking unfold together; his definition, however, «presented it as an unstable form, subject to two opposing forces – man and nature – but actually defined by neither» (Ferri, 2014, 169).

12While a ruin offers an image of a world where humans and nature are conceived as in a state of continuous intertwining and interchange, inextricably coupled, suspended in a state of becoming between past and present, hybrid emerges as an intriguing, but also elusive concept. The term hybrid is from the Latin hybridia, but according to Kingsbury (2009, 75) it is possibly related to the Greek hubris, which can mean pride but also «outrage against nature»; hybridisation is a process of production, of perpetual transgression (Swyngedouw, 1996). Rarely used for most of its history (White et al., 2016), in biology the term refers for the most part to animal and plant crossbreeds, indicating offspring that belong to different species. However, the idea of ‘hybridity’ has broadened its semantic scope and moved from biology to the social sciences (Stross, 1999), increasingly referring to phenomena that mix elements of ‘society’ and ‘nature’ formerly viewed as separate (White et al., 2016). The term hybridity was introduced in environmental and science and technology studies especially by Bruno Latour, to examine the potential intertwining and to conceive reality as co-shaped and co-produced by various social, material and ecological processes (ibidem).

13According to Latour, a hybrid is produced by the intersection of human and non-human entities in an irreducible intertwining of culture, society and nature. However, this entanglement is relentlessly reduced to a straightforward dualism, or, as Latour suggests, to ‘purifying’ the hybrid by creating «two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on the one hand; that of non-humans on the other» (Latour, 2005, 11) that were «invented together in the 17th century» (ivi, 110). For Latour, the issue of the hybrid, its status and meaning, stands at the very centre of the critical self-reflexivity of modernity.

14From this point of view, the figuration of a cyborg proposed by Donna Haraway is interesting because it describes the fading boundaries revealing the hybridity of our emerging worlds. In 1985 Donna Haraway (1985, 11) introduced the cybernetic organism as a hybrid: «A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction». The hybrid bodies of cyborgs refer to contingent creatures and forms of becoming that challenge the dualism nature/society by trespassing across at least three boundaries: human/non-human, organism/machine and the physical/non-physical (Wilson, 2009). The notion on hybridity from cyborgs was further adopted to narrate urban space: Erik Swyngedouw (1996) applied the notion of cyborg and hybrid to study the city. More recently, even more, interesting for our purposes, is Haraway’s (2016) proposal to establish new alliances with the humid world, declaring that we are not anthropos but ‘compost’. Haraway refers to posthumus rather than posthumanism, suggesting the need to ‘relate’ to the earth’s soils.

  • 4 In this debate, Jason W. Moore and Andreas Malms suggested that the word Capitalocene would instead (...)

15In the last decade in particular, discussions about the hybridisation of human, social and natural worlds have increased within the Anthropocene debate (Morton, 2016)4. According to Crutzen (2002), in the Anthropocene every piece of nature is inseparably mingled with human traces, and humanity becomes a force of nature, not the only force of nature (Pellegrino, 2021) despite for Moore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of this interweaving remains unclear and highly debated. Although the Anthropocene correctly poses the issue of nature/society dualism without, however, resolve it (Moore, 2016), nature, understood as the eternal, unchanging and independent background of human history, and society as an autonomous domain to nature might no longer thought as separate spheres. The intention-driven actions of human beings become intertwined with natural forces without intentionality: the moment the natural and human intermingle, they are no longer juxtaposed, their influences can no longer be clearly distinguished (Morton, 2016).

16The descriptive force of notion of the Anthropocene, albeit in its partiality, allow us to argue about no purely natural elements, since they are irreversibly tainted by human touch: hybrid entities acquire a novel joint-identity, not directly derivable from the characteristics of either party. The rise of ‘hybrid’ highlights new qualities that are not reducible to their initial components – otherwise the new entity could be called assimilation, integration or mixture (White et al., 2016).

17Exploring the hybridism of a damaged landscapes, we consider the practices of regeneration which are oriented to reverse physical, social and economic decline of brownfields (Rodopoulou, Hunt, 2017) in developed urban areas that have been affected by the former industrial uses of the land, are derelict and may have contamination problems (Franz et al., 2006).

18The regeneration of brownfields includes restoration and renaturation, or rewilding. Restoration aims at recreating pre-settlement conditions from a chosen point in the past, which is considered problematic, especially in an urban environment, where human activities seriously «restrict hopes of returning a site to historic conditions with any degree of authenticity» (Westphal et al., 2010, 208). This is even more troublesome considering the Anthropocene (Pellegrino, 2021, 216). Repairing ecosystems and returning them to their original condition is unrealistic since world non-human nature is no longer separated from the sphere of human action. Instead of returning a degraded ecosystem back to its pre-human damaged state, renaturing or rewilding brownfields intend to metabolise «the natural environment through which both society and nature are transformed, changed or altered and new socio-natural forms are produced» (Müllera et al., 2017, 446). According to Aouad, renaturation «acts as a catalyst for those interim spaces to become platforms for citizen participation hence providing an experimental opportunity for an urban platform for democratic action and human expression» (Aouad, 2017, 629). All the academic articles on Bullicante Lake highlight the active role of the local community: Battisti et al. (2017, 184) underline that this area «shifted from ecosystem collapse to restoration largely because of the involvement of the local community». In another contribution (Battisti et al., 2021) they evoke the Iucn (International union for conservation of nature), which calls for the involvement and participation, active and deliberative, of resident communities. Ingo Kowarik (2021, 100) mentions the «engagement of local initiatives’ or ‘grassroot movements’ as a ‘key in preventing the destruction of novel wilderness areas that are often located in the neighbourhoods with limited access to green areas». Procesi et al. (2022) emphasize the involvement of the local community, describing a bottom-up process by which the active participation of citizens promoted the ecological reconversion of a lake, allowing its protection and recognition as a Natural Monument.

19These articles present a vision of local community without divergences, a vision of harmonious community based on shared meanings, which appears to us to be a somewhat romanticised representation. On the contrary, the interviews collected allowed us to capture the informal positions among the local community showing how it embodies different dynamic forces, and the tension between these fractures defines and informs the local community and its approaches.

3. Fieldwork account

3.1 Bullicante Lake: a case of hybrid nature

20In Bullicante Lake human history and natural time have merged in a way difficult to replicate. It is not totally artificial, but neither is it totally natural: it is a piece of hybrid nature. Around one hundred years ago, humans began to change this rural area to build the Snia Viscosa factory, which opened in 1923, producing artificial silk (rayon). It employed 2.500 workers, and at that time was the largest industrial settlement in Rome. 70% of the workforce employed in the factory were women, which went on strike in 1924 demanding higher wages. Another strike led by women took place in 1949 demanding better working conditions. The factory was occupied for 34 days and it was supported by the whole neighbourhood (the area has an intense awareness of the importance of its social history: the archive of the Snia Viscosa was established in 2012).

21The environmental and human health damage caused by this plant is extensive, profound and documented. The factory closed in 1954 and the area was abandoned. In 1990 a private builder bought it and in 1992 unlawfully began to build a shopping centre. The illegal excavations caused a leakage of groundwater which created a small lake. Thanks to the citizens’ protests, the works were immediately blocked. In the years that followed, this area was inhabited by a camp that included several ethnic groups. The eviction of the camp, which took place a few years later, did not remove the remains of this encampment that still lie under the bushes.

22The whole area, including the lake and the surrounding unbuilt land, was expropriated in 2003; however, the area housing the ancient buildings of the industrial plant remained on private property.

23On June 2020, under pressure from the local community, the ecosystem of Bullicante Lake was declared a Natural Monument by a law-decree signed by the President of the Lazio Region. Since then, the management of the area is under the responsibility of Roma Natura (a regional agency for the management of green areas in the municipality of Rome).

24Following these events, some new issues burst onto the scene. How to classify the waters of this lake, which have risen to the surface as a result of ecological damage perpetrated by human action, and which cover the ruins of a shopping centre never completed? How should we classify the wild vegetation that thrives among the industrial ruins and the remains of what was once an illegal human camp? Are they human? Human because they are our work. Are they natural? Natural because they are not our doing. Both.

25Hybrid nature, hybrid habitats and ecosystems are radically contingent: they are the ephemeral results of historical processes, material cultures and natural contexts in their mutual interaction; in the Bullicante Lake area the interactions of humans with other species are mediated by various human-created artefacts. Different parts of the industrial ruins, disseminated in Bullicante Lake, are utilised with a different affordance by living beings (from animals and vegetal worlds): a Pinus halepensis thrives on the roof of the abandoned factory; a community of Sedum album and Cerastium semidecandrum grows on the derelict building just behind the lake; the ruins’ walls, so similar to calcareous rocks, are used as a nesting location by the Falco Pellegrino with the assignment of a new unexpected affordance. A community of Rubus ulmifolius is prospering on the remains of a human-made abusive settlement.

3.2 Hybrid from the ground

26In this paragraph, we will describe the meanings that our informants attribute to the hybrid, what qualities it retains, how to practice its management and the emerging controversies.

27S. (resident and activist) welcomes us with a question: «Do you want me to tell you about the human or natural project? We have two projects».

28This distinction was just a heuristic ploy to unravel the complexity of the hybrid. S. herself will then tell us that it is a place where human and natural elements are indistinguishable: «There is important waste over which new vegetation has grown. Industrial ruins, waste sedimentation and other types of artefacts constitute the territory that feeds this autopoietic nature» (S.).

29Since the factory closed, the absence of further interventions favoured the re-naturalisation of the space. Among the material collected, the accurate description of the area An emerging ecosystem: The Bullicante Lake in Rome (Battisti et al., 2021) detailed on the different environments and its extraordinary richness. The area has at least four ecosystem units of general interest. The flora is composed by 300 species of plants and numerous cultivated species. As far as fauna is concerned, the lake is used as a resting and feeding area by numerous birds and mammals, the grassland frequented by species typical of open environments such as pollinating insects and birds with populations in decline throughout Europe.

30Coming back to our interviewees, we owe A. (resident, urban planner and activist) the clarity of the distinction between natural area and naturalised area. In the latter, she explains that you do not expect what could happen in a mountain or a forest: «If you dig, you will find waste from old camps; there is no earth, there are old bricks; it is not a natural area, but one that is becoming natural. It is a different kind of process» (A.).

31According to A., recolonization allows the recognition of something impossible to ignore, which must be certified and of which the services it can offer are fundamental. Within the city, renaturation provides ecosystem services such as oxygen production, water uptake that would otherwise enlarge the area, heat island mitigation, climate-altering oxygen emissions reduction and temperatures.

32The area in question is characterised by being an area for the ‘quality of processes and dynamics’. Further on, another interlocutor will talk about ‘becoming natural’. The peculiarity of the Roman green of the Agro constitutes excellence as it holds together in an extraordinary syncretism between archaeology, forms of agricultural governance and plant infrastructures. This process is placed in a precise urban paradigm in which the response to land consumption that seriously impacts the lack of environmental functions is that of greenery as a ‘structuring limit’ in the city. The greenery and, therefore, the countryside constitute entire infrastructures that must constitute themselves as ‘invariants of the territory’. The countryside is full of morphological structures and historical landscape elements, constituting the ecological network that innervates (Valentinelli, 2021).

33Within this paradigm, the ecological network is the tool that allows us to manage the urban territory in a way that corresponds to the risks of the climate.

3.3 Treat the hybrid

34Expert knowledge plays a central role in what we could define as revealing the qualities of the hybrid.

35From this point of view, the Permanent Forum Parco delle Energie, as a form of self-management of the area, has played a central role in welcoming, sharing, interacting and transforming disciplinary knowledge from various sources into a shared collective resource for the local community and also for the decision makers at the municipal level. Starting precisely from expert knowledge and the knowledge of the area’s inhabitants, a fundamental process was started to recognise the area, which provided activists with a crucial lever to attribute the status of a Natural Monument.

36A. describes the process:

It began with a series of seminars where everyone invited those who knew they might have something to say, tell or explain. First of all, we wanted to understand and share this knowledge. This made it possible to compare knowledge that we call ‘expert’ because they know people who have the role of experts and believe that this role makes sense if it serves as a collective resource.

37The multidisciplinary study group consisted of botanists, naturalists, geologists, geochemists, engineers, architects, foresters, ethologists and ecologists. Each of them, says our interviewee, added their skills to the understanding of the re-colonisation of the area. «Re-colonisation it is a keyword of this story because of the recolonisation processes that the Natural Monument was established» (A.).

38In addition to having a mobilising power, knowledge has been an interesting means of claiming.

39A. continues:

When it comes to negotiating with the administration in terms, so to speak, of space claims, of usability rights over spaces, the thing I think is important is one step ahead of the selling point of the proposal […] having proposals to question that is a step forward from a disciplinary point of view and more innovative than what they offer. Because this is a key element in the confrontation with the administration, you bring us your requests, and this was possible because those who had begun to study the outcome of the renaturation processes had a high value, so this aspect was investigated, yes the baggage of knowledge is strengthened.

40The excerpt we have extrapolated is intriguing since it is possible to deduce the significant role played by knowledge. This showed how a community remained active and the possibility of accessing and directing the decision-making process on land management. Therefore, by deepening the knowledge of the place as a collective resource, the building enlists allies, even among those who had previously expressed strong perplexities. The protection of the species that persist in this area is legally affirmed but, underlines S., the importance of the ecological successions present in urban areas is finally recognised.

3.4 Experiencing the hybrid

41What quality emerges from the presence and attendance of the hybrid, what do we learn, and what do we unlearn? How does the hybrid reverse binary categories such as positive/negative, overmanaged/undermanaged, and the qualities that are associated with them? A. clearly explains that those who come from naturalistic experiences have other ideas. It is not a question of cleaning, making usable, purifying and making social use possible (parties, concerts for the neighbourhood) but of being able to experience the hybrid.

42L. (architect and activist) will talk to us about experiencing the hybrid in terms of the: «Unexpected as a space of the possible […] shortly before the virus, we had this obsession with control, unbeatable tools for evaluating and projecting what things become: a construction site, environmental damage generates a world. Abandonment cradles it».

43L. suggests that experiencing the hybrid is experiencing abandonment. From this point of view, it is precisely the lake as the result of an aggressive and rapacious action that becomes, according to L., the actual ‘planner’ of the place, which means that we have to rely on it. In this case, the experience of the hybrid is an experience of ‘indeterminacy’ inherent in what is precisely artificial and natural.

44L. states: «The moment the peregrine falcon chooses to nest on concrete because it confuses it with limestone, it is natural, it is necessary this way».

45The area of Bullicante Lake is a space that pushes us to assume a different posture. According to S., the area marks the transition from space from consumption to learning from it. It is a place that becomes an exchange of knowledge and learning because observation and research prevail over fruition. «Those who started with very active projects discovered that watching, discovering that the reeds grow, observing their progress, was much more interesting» (S.)

46The hybrid provides a quality we are not used to. It is a different quality not necessarily associated with beauty, functionality or cleanliness: it is an entropic quality that decentralises humans.

47For L., we should unlearn environmental functionality and let ecosystem services provide quality. However, it is a quality in a new key, the environmental one, where the phenomena are observed in their connectedness.

48L. exemplifies: «We need to understand from the environments and contexts in which we live. An ecosystem is a place of relationships. Learning is to understand that mutualistic relationships are the ones that make the difference».

49L. states that if an ecosystem works, it releases a relational aesthetic/ethic that must be left to act without intervention.

50S. enhances the hybrid experience as an experience which helps us give value to the ‘fragility, vulnerability and preciousness’ of an ecosystem and to do so right in the middle of a big city. She explains: «Very schematically: water absorption to reduce the risk of flooding; the heat absorption function for the amount of vegetation; the receptive capacity of the grass is enormous […] we try to preserve all the different qualities of the vegetation; mitigating effect, to combat climate change».

51In summary, the lake mitigates, repairs, and offers ecosystem services in a metropolitan area where greenery is insufficient and far below the threshold established by law.

52A particular way of using space also emerges; our informants speak of silence, meditation and detoxification from pollution. In general, says S., «we do different things than we do in a park». Furthermore, they underline the place’s ability to activate communities: «place of aggregation, association, knowledge and training for adults and children» (S.).

53The hybrid makes an unseen quality recognisable, an invisible quality to those who wear binarism glasses. From such quality, a new map of the city emerges that does not include areas that are already green but areas, A. explains that could become green from the perspective of the hybrid.

4. The controversial future of the lake

54There is a strong convergence, among our informants, on the idea that the protection of the hybrid, of the syncretism between human elements and the natural one, re-actualises the old social struggles on working conditions and emancipation. But what practices and space management to implement? Everything that used to be taken for granted becomes salient, debatable, and discussed. The extracts from the interviews exemplify the different positions in the developments of the hybrid present in the local community, the considerations of which were collected during the participation in the public meetings, which were given an account in the methodological part. It is interesting in this part to highlight the knowledge mobilized to give legitimacy to the positions highlighted in the controversy. We noted two main positions.

55L. states:

Often it is better to do nothing. Doing nothing can be one of the greatst forms of taking-care. What the lake has done in recent years, what is developing is much better than what humans could have planned and thought up… We must defend it, rather than interfere or condition it. The lake is a designer. Its project is advancing: vegetation grows, as do animal species.

56From this perspective, the issue should be redefined in terms of abdication of human being’s self-designated powers to influence, to intervene, to determine.

57L. recalls: «This appears absurd for many people […] The problem is getting people to accept a negative way of reasoning, it is very difficult […] the domination over nature, how to learn to lose this approach».

58Within this position, the consolidation of a community to the experience of learning from the wilderness crossing undomesticated spaces where barriers are not visible and guaranteed is introduced.

59L. states:

You must re-establish a relationship with something that is not guaranteed for you, that is not secured, where you have to draw a line, a limit, introjecting the limits […]. You have to understand that some areas are inaccessible, but accessible if one wants to do research, in different formats to define not so much the space, but the way one can approach it. One has to introject the limits rather than marking them in the territory.

60In this first position, we detect the affirmation of a radical, post-human paradigm in which the recognition of an emergent and creative quality, starting from the human damage inflicted on the environment. Sticking to our informant’s position, what comes out is an epistemological strategy that revolves around the idea that the regeneration of Rome passes through a non-linear path consisting of three elements of otherness: «The wild, the stranger, the past. […] The perspective, the master plans, nourish and have an impact on the city only as ruins taken over by nature, giving hospitality to new inhabitants with which life is regenerated. This narrative relies on the mythology of the city» (L.).

61In a way, the aesthetic pleasure evoked by Simmel is interpreted by our interlocutors in terms of ethics centred, again, in curbing the ‘exuberance’ of humans. It is an aesthetics of the limit and, more precisely, of the introjection of the limit.

62The second position, expressed by P. (resident and activist), consists of reclaiming green spaces within the neighbourhood to improve the quality of life as a result of social struggles against the private owner of the area who would like to exploit it for profits through what our interlocutor defines as a real corruptive process. This struggle is intertwined with the issue of preserving the historical memory of social struggles and the achievement of civil rights.

63The aim of the position of P. is exemplified by a project which envisages two areas: one inaccessible to the public, and the other with facilities dedicated both to the preservation of historical memory and to research and educational activities in partnership with schools, universities and enterprises where the culture of sustainability can be disseminated. A public document shared by P. to us, questioning the contribution that ‘humans could make to invaluable struggle that Bullicante Lake is fighting’, proposes to «join in a bioactive synergy the microorganisms of the lake environment with those of the Amazon Forest to dream of an Internationale of Microorganisms that could finally be able to overcome the desertification and climatic devastation produced by the ignorance of Homo sapiens!».

64From P.’s perspective, the care of the place is an active process; first, removing the poisonous substances in the area adjacent to the lake to accelerate the renaturation process. On this initiative, says P., the internal conflict within the local community arose. «This theorisation of the wilderness, that they say, should be left as it is, is absurd» (P.).

65The ‘cradle of abandonment’ is represented by P. as a «polluted lake, an area overrun by rats»; he expresses strong doubts about the capacity and timing to neutralise the poisons deposited by humans in previous years.

66Doubting the long timescales of nature’s action, he is convinced that certain processes must be facilitated, ‘accelerated’.

67In the same text, one reads:

In the dilemma of whether to stand by, to laze about, or instead to contribute, to lend a hand to the whole community, to the lake that is fighting, we have decidedly chosen the second solution… to focus solely on the spontaneity of nature, on making the ecosystem wild, does not convince us… seems to stand by while the lake is working and shouting: help!.

68We have found the difficult, if not impossible, compromise between these two visions: on the one hand, the preservation of auto-rewilding which does not require any direct human intervention and/or ongoing management, and on the other, the co-use of land by non-humans and humans capable of generating social, ecological, and economic development in the neighbourhood.

69Both positions underline an epistemological change to overcome the idea of a human being only able to dominate, to control the tools with which he acts and the objects, the creatures on which he acts. Both views emphasise the need to unfashion human hybris over this environment as has been for the last hundred years.

70On the one hand, rethinking of the role of humans means a distancing, a detachment that relies on the academic knowledge of botanists, geologists, geographers, urban planners… to raise ecological awareness; on the other hand, the same rethinking of human action means a sustainable intervention that mobilises indigenous wisdom, an example of alter-ontological knowledge of alter-modernity.

5. Conclusions

71In the previous paragraphs, we have described the controversy surrounding the hybrid. Such controversy highlights the different positions on the quality of the hybrid and on how it should be protected and institutionalised. The hybrid animates controversies which, by generating debate, conflict and sharing, discloses the instability of knowledge and, at the same time, the need for its continuous monitoring. The hybrid, as emerged from the interviews, is still a little-known and recognised object. A series of considerations emerge from the empirical case, very closely concerning quality, which generates questions, learning and suggestions for unlearning.

72The first and most important consideration is linked to the quality-knowledge connection. To be understood, the hybrid requires the mobilisation of knowledge and transdisciplinary convergences. The different disciplinary perspectives, especially the convergence of the social, cultural and natural ones and their continuous involvement. To understand and protect the hybrid, it is necessary to experience it and assume in-depth observation as an experimental practice to capture the connections as intrinsic quality.

73Another concern involves the redistribution of agency between the human and the non-human. Mutual influences between human being and nature call for a redistribution of power. It is not a question of attributing intentionality to objects but of accepting that agency as the capacity or power to have effects is not an exclusively human prerogative. Quality is a combination of sedimented effects that produce others emerging from a hybrid multitude.

74When we look at the quality of the hybrid, as the case suggests, we should misunderstand the reductionism implied in the great taxonomies, i.e. the great classifications that proceed by similarities.

75Appreciating the hybrid means, above all, appreciating its uniqueness and irreducibility. In this perspective, it makes no sense to isolate the elements since the qualities emerge from the connections within which they are placed.

76Ultimately, the quality we learn from the hybrid is variable; it is not intentional since it emerges from the ability of human and non-human actors to produce effects; it is, above all, a singularised quality. It emerges from a plurality of ‘actants’ that combine and stabilise only for a limited time. The qualities of nature cultures, infrastructure assemblages, and other newly contested territories, constantly changing, come closer to an idea of a generative quality that lies in the ability to produce quality.

77A further consideration concerns the future of the area outside the dispute. In our case, although the quality of the hybrid is not disputed by the participants in the controversy, it is not at all acquired. The entrepreneur who owns part of the area has not given up on turning it into a profit. These days, as we are writing, a new building project is putting the area at risk: a few metres from the lake, bulldozers are ready to transform 40,000 square metres of ruins of the former Snia Viscosa factory into a logistics hub with warehouses, sorting areas and offices and consequently to destroy those natural successions that have produced the rich biodiversity of the place.

78In this case study, the controversy represents a real stake in defence of the freedom and responsibility of each individual or community against the impersonal logic of profit when this threatens cultural rights. The fruition of the hybrid is, in the experience described above, a right to ‘resonance’ (Rosa, 2019) with what surrounds us. In this case, resonance is an affective concept that summarises what our informants said concerning enjoying the place, its silence and the rare opportunity to observe the ‘wild’.

79We could state that the hybrid case intercepts the possibility of a new dynamism that underlies social movements and is based on an action that manages to recompose what modernization has separated to overcome any polarisation.

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1 In the literature relate to quality of public spaces, Carmona (2010) notes two areas that can be summarised in the terms of ‘overmanaged public space’ (Sorkin, 1992; Boyer, 1994; Zukin, 1995; Loukaitou-Sideris, Banerjee, 1998) and ‘undermanaged public space’ (Jacobs, 1961; Newman, 1973; Coleman, 1985).

2 Every first Wednesday of the month from September 2021 to March 2022.

3 In particular, the “forest on the move” city-march on 22 May 2022; presidio at the lake on 22 January 2022; the day of local mobilization on 25 April 2021.

4 In this debate, Jason W. Moore and Andreas Malms suggested that the word Capitalocene would instead be more pertinent to describe the current ‘capitalist world-ecology’ (Moore, 2016). According to Moore, climate change is not the result of human action in the abstract – the Anthropos – but the consequence of several centuries of capitalism which operates as a world-ecology to organize and to appropriate nature for the wealth accumulation, thus exploiting not only wage labour, but also the nature endangering life in the broadest sense of the term.

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Notizia bibliografica

Paolo Do e Letteria G. Fassari, «The Quality of Public Space Among Hybrid Nature-Ruins»Quaderni di Sociologia, 91 - LXVII | 2023, 29-45.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Paolo Do e Letteria G. Fassari, «The Quality of Public Space Among Hybrid Nature-Ruins»Quaderni di Sociologia [Online], 91 - LXVII | 2023, online dal 01 avril 2024, consultato il 19 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Paolo Do

Dipartimento di Scienze Sociali ed Economiche - Sapienza Università di Roma

Letteria G. Fassari

Dipartimento di Scienze Sociali ed Economiche - Sapienza Università di Roma

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