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The long century of modern housing in Italy

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The long century

Modern housing policies span well over the short boundaries of the second half of the 20th century, while first experimentation date back to the Enlightenment and interesting achievements were recorded even during the first Machine Age. As for comparative purposes, however, it is a common habit to look to some fifty years, approximately since World War II onwards, when the modernist turn in housing was unmatched and most countries adopted the same influential framework of policies. As for Italy, we can observe that the whole history of the unified country (some 140 years since 1861) presents several phases of growth and at least three main models. The first paragraph discusses the twin ideas of the “housing field” and of “housing regimes”. The concept of a recursively changing housing field allows the long historical perspective and helps to understand the re-framing of housing policies. On the other hand, the idea of a housing regime -being a regime a combination of distinctive policy style, market organisation and trends in urbanisation- marks the main factors affecting different periods of economic development and social change. The following paragraphs describe three different housing “regimes” recognized in the Italian housing system, and outline the main structural features of each period paying reference to of a few housing indicators and to a brief summary of housing policies. In conclusion, this paper tries than to develop some arguments for a wider approach, connecting the idea of an evolving trend, which justify a comparative approach of the housing field; and the idea of significant nuances in regimes, not necessarily dependent upon economic cycles, yet differentiating policies, actions, and market development nationally and locally. That is to acknowledge that housing policies change less for strictly functional reasons than for the cultural re-framing of policies. Such approach eventually underlines the role played by households and social practices along and through the elaboration of the “universal” modern housing project.

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