Emanuela Guano publishes Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization
In 2017, Urban Studies affiliate Emanuela Guano (Anthropology) published an ethnographic book based on her research in Genoa, Italy. Titled Creative Urbanity: An Italian Middle Class in the Shade of Revitalization (University of Pennsylvania Press), the book sheds new light on a largely neglected aspect of neoliberal urbanism—namely, its role in fostering an economy of hope even as it keeps reproducing precariousness. While much scholarly literature represents the neoliberal valorization of aesthetics as an exclusively corporate modality of intervention on urban physical and social environments, Creative Urbanity draws on over 10 years of ethnographic research to explore how members of Genoa’s educated though largely under- and unemployed middle classes carved niches of meaningful (if precarious) self-employment at the margins of urban revitalization.
Formerly hailed as one of Italy’s industrial hubs, by the mid-1970s Genoa was suffering the economic decline and the despondency common to industrial centers of the Western world. High unemployment rates and the spread of crime and political violence led to a massive population loss as residents fled to find jobs and a safer life elsewhere. However, in the early 1990s the onset of revitalization brought about by injections of EU as well as national funds seemed to herald Genoa’s renaissance as a cultural tourism destination, thus kindling residents’ hope that the city would soon be back on its track to what they envisioned as a more prosperous future. As the built environment began to change, many Genoese rediscovered the pleasures of the urban everyday. Most importantly, seeking to cope with an intellectual unemployment that had affected Genoa more than other north Italian cities, middle-class Genoese began to explore creative ways to transform their urbanity into a source of income. By finding ways to make do with whatever they had, many of them became purveyors of symbolic goods and cultural services as walking tour guides, street antiques dealers, artisans, and festival organizers, thus making a considerable—if often unrecognized–contribution to Genoa’s newly found image as a city of culture and an increasingly popular tourist destination.
Through its analysis of the agency of the Genoese middle classes in re-making the city, Creative Urbanity provides a model for the exploration of revitalization that foregrounds alternative forms of participation. It also argues for a nuanced understanding of urban cultures that challenges the prevailing scholarly condemnation of city-based lifestyles informed by critiques of North Atlantic urbanism.