Urban complexity. The case of Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.

Urban complexity. The case of Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.


Bolzano, capital of South Tyrol in northern Italy, has around 106,000 inhabitants. During the gradual decline of the Romans’ influence in the 7th century, Bavarian immigration took place and so the German populations have been present in this region since that time. Until the 1st World War, South Tyrol was part of the Austrian-Hungaric Empire, with around 29,000 German inhabitants and 1,300 Italian.

After the war, this region became Italian, and the fascist regime built new factories promoting the settlement of a lot of Italian families from other regions. Therefore, there is a clear difference between the XIII° century German nucleus and the development of the ’20s-’30s. Today, the language groups are 74% Italian, while 26% German.

Over the decades the centre has maintained its character, with shops, offices, restaurants. In the new districts, born as residential, communities have emerged, with local markets, traditional celebrations and neighbourhood shops.



There is a great cohesion between the historical German town center and the Italian surrounding area and this cohesion may be found within two huge urban projects currently under development: the new technology park, on a former aluminium plant, hosting a network of research centres, institutions and companies; the Kaufhaus project, revitalizing a large part of the centre with new shopping malls, offices, residences, and a green park.


In the 12th century the Bishop of Trento, at the time political and religious authority of Bolzano, erected under the arcades (“Lauben”) of Bolzano a market hall as a center of growing trade between the north and south. The goods were stowed behind the arcades on the ground floor, while the dwellings were located in the clerestory courtyard. This structure has remained intact until today, even if global brands have taken the place of the traditional local shops.



Bolzano clearly reflects the exchange between different cultures. Giotto’s school paintings and Gothic school works coexist, while in architecture you may notice the unique contrast between the historic city and the new one. Bolzano has artistic and cultural treasures: churches, monuments, streets and historic squares, museums and castles. Thus, the city has a strong tourist connotation that leads her to compete with other cities and the natural beauty of the region.


The functions in the old centre and in the new districts are very different: public offices in the centre, while new districts are mainly residential, with neighbourhood shops, schools, and parks. The two parts are narrowly connected; each day a swarm of people commutes by bike in the same direction. Over the years, four different mobility systems have overlaid: pedestrian (the old centre), a massively used cycle network, public transportations, and cars.



The evolution of Bolzano is for me an example of nonlinear development, explaining a radical and sudden change due to historical reasons. It is also possible to recognize in its evolution the four connectors, which rule its internal and external relationships, i.e. cohesion, compatibility, competitiveness, and complementarity (the four concepts of urban complexity developed by prof. dr. Gert de Roo).

Key-concepts: complexity, self-organisation, evolutionary dynamics, non-linearity.

2016_10_28-04-futurelearnThis post is an assignment of the “Decisions Making in a Complex and Uncertain World” course of the University of Groningen, provided on-line by FutureLearn.

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