Manziana: Reinventing the traditional use of rural commons through social and environmental innovation

Rural commons, Manziana

One eye on the future, the other on the past.

The commons managed by the Università Agraria will be permanently conserved for future generations because they generate sustainable socio-economic opportunities today.

The Universitá Agraria has successfully conserved forests and pastures throughout the 20th century. The reconversion of the Solfatara di Manziana provides the opportunity for the Universitá to redefine the relationship between the community and the environment.

What are we dealing with?

A successful conservation model needs to adapt

Manziana has changed from a rural agricultural village into a small town linked to the labour market of Rome. This requires a reinterpretation of the traditional relationships between the community and the environment.

Manziana is connected via the FL3 public transport link to the city of Rome. There are many reasons to take the FL3 heading North-West in the direction of Viterbo. There is the Lago di Bracciano, a magnificent lake of volcanic origin that supplied – and supplies – water to Roman fountains and water taps. The touristic potential of the lands around the Lago is so evident that local chiefs do not tire of rebranding it every year, leading to a profusion of appellations and fuzzy labels: you can visit “Lazio ultre Roma”, “Terre di Papi”, “Terre del Lago”, “Etruria meridionale” or the “Tuscia Romana” and always go to the same place. Manziana has views on the Lago and is one FL3 stop from Bracciano. Besides the Lago there are picturesque hazelnut and olive groves, Roman viaducts, nature parks and the vestiges of rural villages. 

The village of Manziana took root in the 19th century and remained a place marked by arboriculture and forestry until the 1970s. Population increased from 3000 to 4000 in the 1970s, then to 5200 in the 1980s, 5800 in the 1990 and then to 7000 in the 2000s. The fiscal crisis and austerity measures that plummeted real estate prizes and public employment in Lazio took the steam off this development, but also created uneasiness and disorientation as to the future development of the village. If commuting to Rome is not increasing anymore, and jobs in Rome are becoming scarcer, what should become of Manziana? Everywhere in Manziana, Janus is looking into the past, bearing witness of an identity that lingers on in buildings and on old faces, but this identity fails to provide a living to present and future generations. The annual chestnut festival in the centre of the village and a remarkable school initiative reminds the village about its (agri-)cultural roots. 

This is not a university. Think of it as a very peculiar institution that manages access rights to common lands. There are 80 of them in Lazio and they go back to the different usage rights (firewood, gleaning, foraging, grazing) that the Arcispedale di Santo Spirito in Saxia, heritage of the Pontifical State, granted to local inhabitants. The Università Agraria di Manziana looks after around 2000 ha of woods and pastures and has done a remarkable job in preserving this land all through the 20th century. The people from the Università Agraria are mainly driven by conservation. This holds for the local ecosystems, but also for cultural aspects like a traditional breed of work horses and other agricultural practices. Every inhabitant of Manziana has the right to collect dead branches for firewood, and many are those that make use of this renewable and carbon-neutral source of energy. But again, a transition plan for Manziana will need to help the Università Agraria to balance past and future. Mentally urbanised commuters use the commons as an urban park – but is jogging a civic right? Are these urbanised uses compatible with a sustainable ecosystem? How should the commons be used in a time when traditional farming has disappeared and farmers represent only a handful of individuals? Surely the commons have to fulfill not only environmental, but also social and economic functions if they are to survive another century. Even more puzzling is the question of what to do with the site of the former sulphur factory, which also lies in the territory of the Università Agraria. 

The most impressive witness of the capability of the Università Agraria are 600 hectares of Turkey and Hungarian Oaks – a high forest just outside of Manziana. While the trees are undisputed royalty, the place also harbours archaeological sites from Etruscan and Roman times, fountains and a network of paths, diverse wildlife and traditional pastures. A LIFE project has brought EU funds that has done good to the ensemble, as have two special protection areas “Tolfetano Cerite Manzianate District” and “Macchia of Manziana”. Alessio Telloni, the incumbent president of the Università Agraria di Manziana has a background in forestry, and has embarked his institution on a clever reinterpretation of user rights and pasture techniques that have so far saved the forest from becoming an urban park or a nature conservation site without links to its past as cultural landscape. But Mr Telloni will need a new framework to reinvent the social and economic value of the forest and the adjacent commons. The site of the former sulphur factory could provide the leverage to transition towards this new framework. 

This is a factory located at the fringe of the Macchia Grande, from which it initially sourced wood as a cheap source of energy. The Eastern edge of the site is defined by the busy SS493 road that connects Manziana to Bracciano and Rome. Supermarkets (parkings) and peripheral stores and workshops line this road. The site itself harbours dozens of industrial structures that go from small stone sheds to large metal hangars. Most of these buildings are in a ruinous state, with the exception of two masonry buildings that have recently been renovated with LIFE funds and are now save and usable. The rest of the site has been cleaned up, but a substantial investment is necessary to render the buildings functional again. Between the buildings there is a lot of empty space. And then there is a large and rather smelly sulphur basin, partly filled with water. 

The Università Agraria manages the abandoned industrial site of the Solfatara in Manziana and the surrounding forests and pastures that have traditionally been used by local agriculture. But the socio-demographic and economic change in the village of Manziana now requires a reinterpretation of the traditional access rights and use of the commons. The Solfatara is a physical place in which the relationships between the local community, the Università Agraria and the local environment can be reinvented.

  • Why is it necessary to understand the system in your region?
    "In Tuscia Romana the socio-economic context completely changed in the last years. It is time to reinvent our future through a bottom-up strategy." - Luca Polizzano, Bic Lazio Spa..

What is the vision for the region?

Ecological management of the commons will allow to exploit a surplus biomass and possibly even geothermal energy to provide services to the local community. Moreover, the Solfatara will be the gateway between the village and the forest as a logistical hub for the collection and transformation and biomass, but also a social and cultural space in which the community can gather and enjoy the proximity of the forest. This could for instance take the form of a greenhouse, heated with local energy and providing a pleasant and productive indoor/outdoor atmosphere throughout the year. Offering these services to the community will also generate employment opportunities related to the management of the greenhouse and its facilities (small shop, café, public space, breeding of trees and herbs, horticultural and arboricultural experiments).

  • What is the city vision for the region?
    "The Università Agraria needs to reinvent its mission in order to adapt to the new socio-economic reality of the community. But also continue their impressive work of preserving local ecosystems. This is a very interesting challenge for research on governance and social innovation." -Stephan Kampelmann, Universität Stuttgart.

What is the strategy for the region?

Combining top-down resources with bottom-up knowledge

Using EU community-led local development (LEADER+) and the TURAS approach to transversal planning in order to define a bottom-up reconversion concept for the Solfatara.

The legitimacy and quality of the constructive involvement of the local community will help the Università Agraria to reinvent itself. It can then promote the reconversion concept at higher levels of governance and secure funding from the GAL Tuscia Romana, of which it is a partner, the RDP and the CAP. 

The bull is giving Europa a wild ride these days, but she still manages to churn out Directives and Regulations on every aspect of life. There is also a lot of money handed out. Since we are looking at a brownfield in a rural area, we have to look at the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, European Structural Funds, Brownfield Investments Funds of the European Investment Bank and the European Fund for Strategic Investments. And then there is the CAP, with opportunities in forestry, diversification and sub-regional networking like the LEADER programme.

 The latest Regional Development Plan concerning agricultural and rural development in Lazio has been adopted in 2016 and defines the priorities of Local Action Groups, or GAL in Italian. There are at least eight of them in Lazio. For us the most important one is the GAL Tuscia Romana, because Manziana lies in their territory. The GAL has recently elaborated a Local Development Strategy, or PSL that emphasises agro-tourism and diversification. The GAL Tuscia Romana brings together a handful of municipalities and other actors related to regional agricultural development. At the local level, the partners in Manziana are the municipality and the Università Agraria.

  • How was the strategy of holding a community workshop beneficial?
    "The workshop was the first time that somebody asked my opinion about the Solfatara -it is a revolution." - Guido Prola, Community member

How do we implement the transition?

"Now we have a plan for the reconversion of the Solfatara"

Exploratory field research informed a participatory workshop that led to the formulation of two complementary reconversion concepts for the site.

In order understand the complex relationships between different administration and political stakeholders, expert interviews with political leaders, administrations and other socio-economic stakeholders were conducted in March and November 2015. A project brief was drafted by 2 TURAS researchers and a team of 7 international curators was formed. In March 2016, a two-day workshop with a variety of local stakeholders was organised in the Solfatara di Manziana the BIC Lazio Incubator in Bracciano. The event was a participatory workshop in which 46 local stakeholders worked with a team of international experts on the reconversion of the Solfatara in Manziana. Then there will be a stage in which personal interpretations can be articulated, structured and captured. The final stage will involve a public restitution.

The next step will be the co-production of a document presenting and exploring the output of the workshop, including first feasibility tests and reference projects. Under the coordination of BIC Lazio and the University of Stuttgart, this document will be in Italian and approved by the Università Agraria. A public presentation and discussion is foreseen in September 2016. 

In a second step, a project team will formed that will introduce a formal request for funding with the GAL Tuscia Romana. We expect the team to be defined by the end of December 2016. The call for project proposal of the GAL is expected in spring 2017. If funded, further steps of the implementation will be the object of conventional project management. In addition to developing the concept of the reconversion programme of the Solfatara, the TURAS support will also focus on recommendations regarding the role and mission of the Università Agraria itself that will need to evolve with the reinterpretation of the relationship between the community and the environment.

  • What was gained from the implementation process?
    "Thanks to the support from TURAS we could collect all the ideas from different local and regional stakeholders. We now have a plan for the Solfatara." - Alessio Telloni, Università Agraria di Manziana.
  • What stroke of luck helped during the implementation process?
    "The stroke of luck for us: 1) the Solfatara site is now finally decontaminated. 2) there was an active, interested lead person at the Università Agraria and was TURAS. This means having land, institutional dynamic, funding and governance knowledge at the same time." - Luca Polizzano, Bic Lazio Spa.

Key lessons learned

Participatory reconversion workshop
Exploring the vision for a former sulphur mine in the context of common land ownership and management in Manziana region. 

UGI barometer - Rome 
Assessing the sustainability value of different urban green infrastructure elements. 

Transition Planning - Parco Agricolo
Employing the transversal curatorial approach to create a future for the Parco Agricolo.