Turin , Italy

Porta Palazzo and the Balon Flea Market

Città di Torino

November 10, 2009

Participatory planning leads to market success and integrated neighbourhoods

On a typical Saturday in the city of Turin, 100,000 visitors descend on Porta Palazzo, Europe’s largest open-air market. For over 150 years, this sprawling market has offered a cornucopia of footwear, clothes, house wares, toys and food from across Italy and around the world.

With over one thousand merchants and 700 street vendors, Porta Palazzo is a commercial hub whose opportunities have always attracted newcomers to the city. This regular influx of new cultural communities also makes the market an urban lab for cultural integration. In 2000 nearly 20% of those living and working in the market were foreign born, compared to the city average of 4%. Today, over 45 nationalities live in this densely populated inner-city neighborhood.

Unique to Porta Palazzo is the Balon flea market and its mix of registered, formal and informal vendors. Since 1935 irregular migrants have had the right to ‘exchange’ goods on the market by a special city statute. However, in 2001, that right was temporarily withdrawn, and the relative stability and security of the area rapidly declined and threatened the commercial vitality of the market and the whole neighbourhood.

Hostilities between groups who were legally licensed as market vendors versus those who were not started to escalate, fueling tensions between diverse groups. Surrounding environmental and physical space issues were also exacerbating the tensions (each day the market was generating 15 tons of trash).  City officials recognized that an intervention was required.

Living, Not Leaving

The City of Turin recognized that a multi-faceted approach was needed to successfully address the variety of factors threatening the social and commercial viability of the Porta Palazzo market. Fortunately they were well-prepared to move forward quickly.

Since 1998 the Porta Palazzo had been the focus of Turin’s major economic development strategy, called “The Gate.” Its overall message was to convince residents to stay in the neighborhood and invest in its future while investing in their own futures – hence the project’s motto, “Living, Not Leaving.”

Initially financed by the European Union, the Porta Palazzo project identified the quality of urban space as an incentive to economic development, as well as the means to resolve high levels of local unemployment and crime. Unemployment in the neighborhood stood at 12.8%, compared to about 6% in the city as a whole, and barriers to formal entry into the labor force pushed many immigrants into illegal or informal work, often in the neighborhood’s daily market.

In 2002, the project evolved into a Local Development Agency project and involved both public institutions and private partners, and broad community representation.

Using a participatory community model, the project included the participation and empowerment of the “irregular” or unlicensed merchants”. This decision was the result of an assessment which showed that while tensions between the licensed and unlicensed vendors were at the root of many of the other social, security and space issues, this group of 300 vendors was a vital part of the local economy.

Through a deliberate process and the engagement of informal and formal leaders (including the Deputy Mayor on Economic Development and the Municipal Police), the Porta Palazzo, Living Not Leaving project succeeded in having “irregular” vendors recognised in the new legal category of “non professionals.” This resulted in these vendors being assigned their own specific space in the market.

Formal legal status -and protection- led to an immediate decrease in the chaos and problems within the market as vendors assumed greater responsibility for their assigned areas.

This in turn resulted in the merchants taking on a greater leadership role, including increased cooperation with the municipal police. Each Saturday a rotating group of merchants took on the role of “Service Operators” to help control the inside of the market by overseeing vendor placement, transit in the areas and payment of public ground and street cleaning tasks.

With the creation of the VIVIBALON association (a collective body created to engage informal leaders from target groups), a formal forum was established to keep vendors and traders (over 200 of them joined the association) up to date on municipal decisions. It also created a common space to share concerns and discuss issues before they escalated. Operated as a nonprofit private-public partnership, the model was innovative by Italian standards; it was the first time that this flexible structure had been used to manage and implement a regeneration project.

Dr. Luisa  Avedano, Turin City Council,  concluded that the project “demonstrated the need to take time developing a new process step-by-step and the importance of a strong shared interest among stakeholders and commitment from the public institutions to developing participatory approaches.”

The overall result of this initiative was an integrated culture of respect and equity among market vendors and a revitalized quartier one again attracting tourists and visitors from other parts of the city, generating business for merchants, shaping a positive identity for the market, and reconnecting the neighborhood with the urban fabric of Turin.

Making it Work for You:

  • Ensure social inclusion and integration are factored into all aspects of effective enterprise development and project planning.
  • In collaborative partnerships, investigate all possible institutions which might contribute to your success --and don't overlook the unusual actor.
  • Guarantee equal access to services: one of the main political policies guiding the success of the City of Turin's Porta Palazzo regeneration strategy.
  • A participatory approach often has a domino effect -- success in one area will carry over into other areas of concern.

For this Good Idea contact:

Luisa Avedano
Turin City Council
Integration Policies and Urban Regeneration Department
Turin, Italy,

Recent Good Ideas

Leamington, Canada
From Survival Jobs to Rich Harvest
Highline Mushrooms  

Brandon, Canada
Industry Leaders Connect to Recruit Newcomers
Maple Leaf Foods  

Halifax, Canada
Welcomed in Halifax
Halifax Regional Municipality  

Toronto, Canada
Eliminating Barriers for Displaced Individuals
WES Gateway Program  

Kuopio, Finland
Encouraging Cities to Bring Locals and Immigrants Together
City of Kuopio  

View all