Naples, Italy

by Matteo Scaramella


Slum areas of Naples are geographically divided into:

Historic residential periphery: this consists of publichousing workers’ quarters on the then rural areas bordering industrial plants of the early 1900s that have since closed. The older buildings are in a dilapidated state, while recent construction is of poor quality.

Recent public city: this comprises two zones that were planned during the 1960s for dormitory-style public housing, now housing large numbers of residents with low socio-economic status in areas rife with organized crime activities.

Unauthorized city: this is made up of areas of unauthorized construction from the 1970s and 1980s on agricultural lands (no construction permits and violating zoning; illegal but not informal expansion or construction of single-family homes). Quite a few urban areas saw this spontaneous type of development. There may be a scarcity or lack of services; but these areas, nevertheless, constitute a rich urban landscape.

Decaying central pockets: this comprises some areas of the historic centre with high levels of decay, in terms of housing and social indicators, that have, at the same time, a solid and rich urban fabric.

In Naples, the concept of ghetto (a completely decayed and impoverished neighbourhood with a homogeneous social makeup in terms of income and profession) is not an appropriate one to describe the identified slum areas. In each of such areas the relationship between exclusion and poverty and relative wealth varies. Some are being renewed and there are residents who are decidedly not low income. Deep poverty can even be found in areas that are not included among the slums, although such cases do not comprise the majority.

There is no official definition of slums, or of specific decaying areas, even if the debate over this question has been raging for the past century in Naples. However, as in most European cities, the term ‘slum’ can be used in Naples to describe a habitat where housing maintenance is poor, where social city services (health, education, social and cultural facilities) are lacking, where incomes are low and where social indicators are clearly below the city average.

Except for a few gypsy camps on the edge of the city, there are no cases of informal housing built with precarious materials, nor are there areas with significant numbers of dwellings without public services. Most of the illegal structures are actually associated with middle-class neighbourhoods. Perhaps the best candidate for a slum label is the basso, a ground-floor dwelling with a door onto the street that serves as the only source of light and ventilation. Usually it is just one room divided to create a kitchen and bathroom.

There is insufficient data on slum tenure, although there are indications that in the slum areas only one third are owner occupiers.

Population is more or less stable, a result of negative natural growth compensated by a positive migratory balance. Population movements are no longer to the urban periphery but, rather, to towns in the province. The areas of Scampia and Ponticelli (recent public city-type areas) are slowly growing.

There is no data on the income of slum inhabitants, while there are fairly reliable figures for the social, employment and crime situation. The sectoral nature of policies that support the vulnerable social segments, largely implemented by national structures through various ministries, does not allow for data to be compared even for the same zone. The increase in the number of interventions conducted by NGOs has led to greater knowledge of the situation; but there has been no centralization that might help to share data.

The population decline in Naples between 1981 and 1991 was sharp, especially in the historic centre areas (particularly, Pendino, Porto and Vicaria), with the exception of the Scampia, S. Pietro, Pianura, Chiaiano and Ponticelli neighbourhoods. Within the former central areas, the decay of the ancient housing stock has allowed low-income classes to stay in private homes, while those with the means to leave preferred to go elsewhere. In the latter case, the smaller drop in population can be explained by the low income of the residents of these quarters. In fact, the exodus from the city mostly involved young middle-class white-collar families and stably employed blue-collar families, and was most evident in middle-class, central and hilltop residential neighbourhoods.

The main policies for urban slum areas are national programmes that support employment and entrepreneurship. The late 1990s saw the launch of the Urban Renewal and Local Sustainable Development Programme (PRUSST). This funds the planning of projects with the support of local owners and private capital for
p romoting the recovery and improvement of urban aspects of the cities; promoting social services offered in city slum areas; the creation of services and infrastructure; and renovation and renewal, taking advantage of the existing urban landscape and construction patterns.

The Naples City Social Plan is trying to create a shift from government, which is the exclusive province of the state, to local governance. With a long history of highly permissive urban governance forms, Naples had become a haven of illegal (not informal) construction that flaunted construction permit systems, land zoning and building regulations. This is hardly surprising: during the three decades to 1993, the city had 26 different city councils that were characterized by serious governance discontinuity.

Rises in unemployment were particularly sharp during the 1970s, in the wake of the closing down of major industrial plants, and during the mid 1990s, when central government interventions ceased, demonstrating how almost the entire southern Italian economy had become overdependent upon public funds. Insufficient growth of the service sector could not make up for the job losses. Combined with the prolific presence of organized crime, it is little wonder that the city is in a somewhat precarious position.

It is premature to evaluate the results of the Naples City Social Plan. Overall, changes taking place in Naples show how deep social and urban decay remains. Considering that these conditions are the result of countless inter-playing factors, urban renewal can only take place with a comprehensive plan of social, urban and environmental reorganization, matched by measures aimed at increasing and improving the services needed to attract economic activity and to integrate those segments of the population, who currently face increasing marginalization, within the social and economic fabric of the city. Naples needs to develop a city-wide holistic plan that simultaneously places its urban economy within the national economy, while developing an overall urban strategy to help address urban and socio-economic issues alike.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.

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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh