Quartiere birreria (brewery neighbourhood), birth of a new community

“The quarter-of-an-hour city”. That’s what they called the planning project to make Paris more livable and accessible to its citizens. The reason for the name? Being able to have access to everything one needs within 15 minutes of home, on foot or by bicycle. The idea taken on by the transalpine municipal administration came from a teacher at the Sorbonne, Carlos Moreno, who based it on this consideration: «We live in fragmented cities, where often we work far from home and don’t even know our neighbours». 


Cities today are composed of specialist areas with a central nucleus. Moreno imagines a sustainable, multi-functional, polycentric city. 

What does this ambitious project from France and similar attempts to transform city life from Portland to Barcelona tell us? The “Ville du quart d’heure”- the quarter-of-an-hour city – demonstrates, as the major metropolises are rediscovering the value of the district dimension, the advantages of living in a community of relationships and vicinity to others, which is able to offer everything to hand, or rather, to foot.

The Helvetic reality, starting from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, has always been based on hamlets, villages and towns with a robust identity. 

Places with a strong sense of belonging and independence, that have tried to offer as many services as possible to those who choose to remain living in their native territory. In the alpine and pre-alpine areas, the concept of urban trends has never been abandoned. 


A model is able to continue being current, if it also supplies infrastructure and services adapted to contemporary demands and needs, as well as offering a renewed sense of community. For example? We shouldn’t bring back the village wash house, but instead think about a communal laundry for the district. The future is rediscovering the values of the past with today’s technology. And therefore we should be thinking about the modern demands of co-working, smart working, services brought to our homes. The home, the district, or rather, the area where you live, the place you hold dear, becomes ever more important. 

The objective is to create a place to spend one’s life where generations can mix. In order to achieve this, there needs to be a sense of belonging, of identity, social relations.

This is the philosophy that led to the conception of the Quartiere Birreria, the transformation of a central area of Grono, which will create new places for people to get together, new properties and new services for citizens and firms alike. We spoke about it with the architect of the project, Michele Arnaboldi.


Architect, how did the idea to develop a new district in the center of Grono come about?

“It stemmed from a general study of the area by the municipal authorities when Grono merged with two other municipalities. This facilitated an analysis of the situation and enabled us to highlight the territorial centrality of the area, which is near to the school and to the old station plot, situated along the main road and adjacent to the primary services. 

Moreover with the new junction to the North of Grono, it is now much easier to access the motorway network. From here a vision was born for a district that was not only residential, but had commercial activity, offices and in future also a hotel. It is a good example of how one should proceed in urban planning”.


What are the advantages of such a district?

“The objective is to create a place to spend one’s life where generations can mix. To achieve this, there needs to be a sense of belonging, of identity, social relations. In order for this to happen, each person in the different stages of their life, needs to find the most suitable living solution”.


With this in mind, does the project of the Quartiere Birreria plan for apartments of different sizes, both for rental and for purchase?

“Yes, we can imagine a single person moving in who may need laundry services or home delivery and an apartment that is not excessively large. Then maybe he or she will get married, have children, and will need more space and different services. At the end of the day, when the children have grown up and will be living independently, it may be that this person will need a smaller apartment and other services still. If the specific needs are able to be satisfied within the district, then he or she will be more motivated to stay, and in this way will continue to forge relationships in the area, thus creating a strong sense of identity and belonging”.


The buildings will be clad in wood and there will be communal green spaces – is the idea to have a type of residential park?

“Yes, we would have liked to construct wooden buildings to leave more of an ecological imprint, however there are budget limitations and also the fact that we would not have been able to follow the process from start to finish, but essentially the concept doesn’t change. We can’t think like seventy or fifty years ago when it was everyone’s dream to have their own house, car and TV. This particular model uses a huge amount of land and resources and is no longer sustainable from an economic and ecological point of view, and moreover does not even contribute to the sense of belonging or solidarity within the community. Is it better to live isolated in a detached house or within a residential park? In general lifestyles have changed and also the way in which priorities are perceived”.


And what does that involve?

“New means of communication have become information networks, and thanks to these, many activities can be relocated or carried out from home. A car becomes ever less necessary. 

With the creation of residential parks and walking routes for gentle mobility, the population is offered the opportunity to move about safely on foot or by bicycle, reaching everything they need for everyday life in a short amount of time”.


What about the famous “ville du quart d’heure” that they would like to create in the metropolises?

“Well, in Ticino we already have this concept of a diffused city. In a few minutes it is possible to be at the lakeside or in the woods or by rivers. We should give incentives to encourage a slow mobility with cycle and pedestrian routes to link to public transport”. 

Has Covid-19 changed the urban typology?

“Of course living in places of natural scenery like Grono allows more freedom and safety when it comes to epidemic scenarios, as experienced with Coronavirus. However you need to have the right home services, available, otherwise you may risk feeling isolated. In the case of Grono however, there is no lack of infrastructure, roads and connections for slow mobility, and in the Quartiere Birreria there are a series of community projects planned ranging from a laundry to a meals on wheels service, that are all in the vision of community living. A community that, thanks to its new district, will also have pleasant green spaces in the open air to meet up and recreate the socialising typical of squares and parks”.


A new community is poised to take shape in Grono. And it will be the example of an urban-planning vision able to offer services, social life and sustainability in a single package.