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Developing a new methodology for urban regeneration: the ROCK project in Bologna (Italy)

Between 2017 and 2020, the historic city of Bologna took part in an EU-funded project to promote urban regeneration and sustainable development in historic cities by developing strategies for heritage-led urban futures. The Bologna case study explores the enhancement of public spaces in the historic area using participatory processes, identifying key lessons which can be later applied to other areas and cities. 

About the city of Bologna

Bologna is a medium-sized city in Northern Italy and capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. The city is known for its historic buildings and its university, one of the oldest in the world. The Porticoes of Bologna were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2021 under criterion (iv).  

The serial property comprises twelve component parts consisting of ensembles of porticoes and their surrounding built areas, located within the Municipality of Bologna from the 12th century to the present. These portico ensembles are considered to be the most representative among city’s porticoes, which cover a total stretch of 62 km. Some of the porticoes are built of wood, others of stone or brick, as well as reinforced concrete, covering roads, squares, paths and walkways, either on one or both sides of a street. The property includes porticoed buildings that do not form a structural continuum with other buildings and therefore are not part of a comprehensive covered walkway or passage. The porticoes are appreciated as sheltered walkways and prime locations for merchant activities. In the 20th century, the use of concrete allowed the replacement of the traditional vaulted arcades with new building possibilities and a new architectural language for the porticoes emerged, as exemplified in the Barca district. Together, the selected porticoes reflect different typologies, urban and social functions and chronological phases. Defined as private property for public use, the porticoes have become an expression and element of Bologna’s urban identity.

Portico del Pavaglione. Author: Silvia Summa © LINKS Foundation
Piazza Santo Stefano. Palazzo Bolognini. Author: Silvia Summa © LINKS Foundation

Developing a new methodology for urban regeneration: the ROCK project in Bologna (Italy)

Between 2017 and 2020, the historic city of Bologna has coordinated and taken part in an EU-funded project to promote urban regeneration and sustainable development in historic cities by developing strategies for heritage-led urban futures. The project aims to develop an integrated methodology for urban regeneration and adaptive reuse in historic city centres, building on the strengths of cultural heritage to develop new visions for the future. Taking place in ten different cities around the European region, the methodology is tested through pilot projects whose learnings are later applied to the wider city.

About the ROCK project

“ROCK - Cultural Heritage leading urban futures” is a peer-to-peer learning and networking initiative amongst heritage cities in the European region. The programme brings together ten historic cities working together to promote urban regeneration through cultural heritage. The project aims to develop an innovative, collaborative and circular systemic approach for urban regeneration and adaptive reuse in historic city centres to ensure their future and enhance their liveability, accessibility and environmental sustainability. This approach is based on the concept of heritage-led urban futures and the integrated vision of urban regeneration, as well as the conception of cultural heritage as a shared element which brings communities together to imagine a shared future. The central elements of the approach are the empowerment of local actors and the possibility for cities to learn from each other.

ROCK focuses on historic city centres as extraordinary laboratories to demonstrate how cultural heritage can be a unique and powerful engine of regeneration, sustainable development and economic growth for the whole city.

— ROCK Project presentation

The Project for the Regeneration and Optimisation of Cultural Heritage in Creative and Knowledge Cities (ROCK Project) is funded by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 funding programme, within the context of the European Year of Cultural Heritage. It counts with the support of 33 partners, including local and regional governments, educational institutions, private companies, and institutional organisations.

Following the experiences developed in 7 “Role Model” cities (Athens, Cluj-Napoca, Eindhoven, Liverpool, Lyon, Turin and Vilnius), three European cities have been involved in the project as “Replicators”:

  • Lisbon, Portugal, working on the urban regeneration in the historical area of Marvila, a former industrial area with multicultural communities and at risk of gentrification;
  • Bologna, Italy, working on more inclusive and accessible public spaces in the city centre and the university area;
  • Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia, working on the regeneration of the Jewish Neighbourhood and Old Bazaar, through community workshops, competitions and educational events thanks to the development of the Skopje Urban Living Lab, with a focus on community participation in the ideas competition, and the establishment of the Skopje Development Institute.

Case study: improving the accessibility of public spaces in Bologna, Italy

In the city of Bologna, the learnings and methodology of the ROCK Project were applied to different initiatives, such as strategies for urban regeneration with heritage as a vector of progress and circular, integrated and holistic approaches to regeneration.

Between 2018 and 2020 the city of Bologna carried out a participatory programme to enhance the accessibility of public spaces. Firstly, a pilot project was carried out in the public spaces around the university. Finally, the learnings of this project were extended to the wider city centre. The development and implementation of the project involved 57 different local actors, including 5 groups of disability experts.

The programme consisted of three stages:

1. Development of laboratories and community workshops (2018)

In 2018, practical workshops (Living Labs, called U-Lab) were developed on-site in different public spaces within the university area. Additionally, three thematic labs were carried out on the topics of sustainability, accessibility and collaboration. As a result of the workshops, the requirements for a more accessible university area were identified. Additionally, the participative workshops were instrumental to create a context that guaranteed the conditions to implement the project, accompanying the shift from ideas to actions.

2. Co-design process with expert team (2019)

Through a co-creative process which included participatory mapping and tests, the expert team developed inclusive guidelines and paths in the university area, as well as inclusive guided tours.

3. Upscaling the experimentation area (2020)

Based on the previous experiences, the model was extended to the city centre of Bologna. Following a participatory co-creation process, the inclusive app BOforAll was developed.


For the Municipality of Bologna, the participation in the ROCK project has been beneficial in a number of ways. Firstly, the project methodology contributed to develop an integrated, interdisciplinary approach. Secondly, the participatory processes brought together a large number of key stakeholders, including universities and non-institutional urban actors. Finally, the distance between urban actors has reduced, leading to a mutual exchange of skills.

To sum up, the experience of urban regeneration in Bologna has highlighted three key points which are key to the success of future actions: accessibility, sustainability, and collaboration.

Source: Ms Silvia Bartoloni, Municipality of Bologna, 2021.

Participatory mapping with GPS tracker © Margherita Caprilli for Fondazione Innovazione Urbana
Tactile maps © Margherita Caprilli for Fondazione Innovazione Urbana
Testing the BOforAll application © Margherita Caprilli for Fondazione Innovazione Urbana
Testing the BOforAll application © Margherita Caprilli for Fondazione Innovazione Urbana

Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape

The project aims to contribute to the implementation of the Historic Urban Landscape approach by:

  • establishing a methodology for the urban regeneration of historic centres;
  • recognising culture and creativity as a key resources in enhancing the liveability of urban areas and fostering sustainable social and economic development;
  • seeking to establish a methodology based on research, peer-to-peer learning and experimentation, as well as extensive community engagement and mapping;
  • aiming to develop a comprehensive and integrated approach for the management of historic urban centres.

Civic engagement tools Knowledge and Planning tools Regulatory systems

Contribution towards Sustainable Development

If fully implemented in accordance with the described plans, the initiative could contribute towards Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

  • Target 8.3: the initiative aims to promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, considering culture and creativity as key resources for social and economic development.

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

  • Target 11.3: the initiative aims to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable urban management, by improving the methodologies for urban regeneration in historical contexts.
  • Target 11.4: the initiative aims to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage, by promoting a heritage-led future with culture at its centre. 

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

  • Target 17.17: the project aims to promote public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships..

Note: the described potential impacts of the projects are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. UNESCO does not endorse the specific initiatives nor ratifies their positive impact.

To learn more


Silvia Bartoloni, Comune di Bologna.

© UNESCO, 2021. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez.
Cover image by Margherita Caprilli for Fondazione Innovazione Urbana

Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased in this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and site managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on heritage conservation with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.

Knowledge & Skills
Objectifs stratégiques
Développement des capacités
Biens du patrimoine mondial 1
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Zone géographique
Europe et Amérique du Nord