The talk that I propose is a reflection regarding the pratics of use and appropriation of the urban spaces, which emerges from a study of visual sociology that I recently made in the university district of the Alma Mater Studiorum of Bologna, the oldest university of the western society.

The area is, in fact, characterized by conflicts and sometimes fights among residents and a population of people which I defined as “the others”(Losacco 2012 and 2014)[1]. The others is a population composed by Punkabbestia, junkies, drug dealers, Homeles, drunk people, accused by residents to occupy certain areas of the area in question, and bring degradation because of their territorial consumer behavior. In other words, with their behavior they deprive the area of its feature of public places. To combat this phenomenon, residents adopt practices of deprivation themselves.
The phenomenon is present in different areas of the university district, but the area that causes more conflict is Piazza Verdi.

Piazza Verdi, which it is the central square of the university district, is a sort of “free zone”, where it is normal to witness the consumption and trafficking of drugs at any time of day. Piazza Verdi, with the years, has turned into a containment space. Law enforcement officials are well aware of what happens, but as long as nothing happens really bad, leave to run, because they know that if they have to take someone, the square turns into one of those wonderful artificial lakes filled with trout and used for the sport fishing: just run the hook to catch a nice fish.
And, moreover, if “they are there” they do not go to “disturb” elsewhere, in areas with many residents. The fact is that residents there are also here, and even if their homes are not facing all over the square, there are still in the area around the square, in the network of streets in which a few penetrate, sometimes even the students.

Moreover, the University campus is such precisely because much of the area is occupied by offices, classrooms, libraries and spaces, which are owned by the Alma Mater. But these buildings, these public spaces, are mixed with the private ones. It ‘easy to find, in the same porch, a number which corresponds to a building of the University and next to a private condominium, or buildings which are partly occupied by the Alma Mater facilities and partly occupied by private citizens residences.

This configuration between the public and private means that the area is marked by the fact of having a population density variable depending on the time of day and time of year. This is perhaps one of the main problems in this area: some roads, relatively quiet during the day, because they are characterized by the flow of students and university staff – which acts as a social control element – are desertified during the evening hours, thus becoming ” nobody’s places “.

But places where there is always someone who wants to take possession ..to conduct his illegal activities, particularly activities related to drug dealing. But drugs are not the only problem … noises and screams until late at night, broken bottles, drunks who sleep everywhere, fights among others, acts of vandalism, robberies and thefts … these are the problems of university area.

To combat this phenomenon, residents adopt practices of deprivation themselves. Residents have begun to ask, to the authorities, more controls and ask to install special street furniture to contrast the presence “of the others”. At the same time they are born groups of “vigilantes” formed by residents who act mainly trying to bring decency to the area (especially cleaning up the walls of graffiti)

So, In July of 2011 I began to research in the field of sociology of the territory, photographing Piazza Verdi and the university town of Bologna; I did it for two years, at a particular place for me, since they not only knew the area since childhood, but the same area had become for some years my home area. I took more than two thousand photos, and through these shots I tried to identify and to understand the mechanisms that are behind this urban struggle is not over yet and that perhaps will never end.

My speech will be accompanied by a portion of these images taken in the area in the two-year of field observation.

[1] G. Losacco, Sociologia visuale e studi di territorio, Milano, FrancoAngeli, 2012.
Losacco, Spazio pubblico, spazio privato, spazio deprivato. Piazza Verdi e la cittadella universitaria, in M. Bergamaschi e M. Castrignanò ( a cura di), La Città contesa, Milano, FrancoAngeli, 2014, p147-176.

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