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Understanding the movement of people through phone use analysis in Florence (Italy)

In order to understand the flow of people in the Historic Centre of Florence, the local government analysed mobile usage data from major telephone operators. The results provide useful information for infrastructure design and tourism management.

About the city of Florence

The Historic Centre of Florence was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982 under criteria (i), (ii), (iii), (iv) and (vi). Built on the site of an Etruscan settlement, the symbol of the Renaissance rose to economic and cultural pre-eminence under the Medici in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its 600 years of extraordinary artistic activity can be seen above all in the 13th-century cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), the Church of Santa Croce, the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, the work of great masters such as Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and Michelangelo.

No State of Conservation Reports on the site were presented to the World Heritage Committee between 1999 and 2021. The 1999 State of Conservation Report refers to the construction of a high-tension power line through the landscape surrounding Florence.

On the other hand, although not included in the 1999 State of Conservation Report, the city is one of the most visited cities in Italy and struggles with massive tourism. In 2019, Florence registered over 15 million tourist overnight stays, over 20 times its population of 708,000, according to Statista.

Understanding the movement of people through phone use analysis

The project consists of the acquisition of data deriving from the telephone traffic of two of the main telephone operators in Italy, in order to integrate the information already available on tourism and on the utilization of the city by the city users. 

The Municipality of Florence contacted Vodafone and Telecom to purchase the telephone traffic. At the end of 2016, the data was delivered by the operators to the Municipality of Florence. The Statistics Office of the Municipality of Florence verified the quality of the data and processed it to elaborate the output. In November 2017, the data were officially presented.

The goal of the project is to understand the origins of the flow of people in Florence and to quantify the actual number of residents, commuters, tourists and excursionists. The project arises from the need of the Municipality of Florence to monitor dynamics unknown by official statistics. The project aims to develop a greater knowledge of the “dynamic” movement phenomena that affect the territory in order to make a more effective management of city mobility, tourist flows, and the intervention of civil protection.

The project allowed the Municipality to reach to data not included in the official statistics, which was an innovative way to study urban dynamics in Florence.

Source: Thematic Study on common challenges. HeRe Lab – Heritage Research Lab, University of Florence and UNESCO Office of the Municipality of Florence. Atlas World Heritage - Heritage in the Atlantic Area, June 2019

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

The research project forms part of a preliminary study that aims to contribute to better management of the historic centre, especially regarding transportation needs and sustainable tourism. It fits within the first of the Six Critical steps described in the HUL Guidebook “To undertake comprehensive surveys and mapping of the city’s natural, cultural and human resources”.

Historic Urban Landscape Tools

Knowledge and Planning tools

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

  • Target 11.2: the initiative aims to contribute to the provision of access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, by providing accurate data regarding visitors and residents’ flows through the historic city.
  • Target 11.4: the initiative aims to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural heritage by enhancing the understanding of the challenges of tourism and visitor management in the historic city of Florence.

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

  • Target 17.17: the initiative aims to promote effective public-private partnerships, by joining the data provided by telephonic companies with public administration data.

Contribution to the New Urban Agenda

At the same time, the initiative could be also in line with the principles and lines of actions set out in the New Urban Agenda, by aiming to:

  • Work towards improved access to quality services in areas such as mobility and transportation
  • Work towards the sustainable management of tourism
To learn more

Firenze Patrimonio Mondiale: municipal office for the World Heritage site


© UNESCO, 2021. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez.
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.