Greening Milan: Innovating Urban Spaces Through Nature-based Solutions

Copyright by Paola Pignataro)

Greening Milan and creating an innovative and sustainable urban environment by implementing Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in the city's neighborhoods, buildings and infrastructure, together with the citizens, was the main objective of the CLEVER Cities project in which Milan participated. Examining the CLEVER Cities Milan case study provides an in-depth understanding of the specific interventions implemented, the challenges faced and the overall strategies adopted by the city. Overall, it provides valuable insights into how NbS have been used to address urban regeneration, climate change and community engagement.

About Milan

Milan is located in northern Italy, nestled between the River Po to the south and the majestic Alps and vast lakes to the north. It serves as the administrative and commercial center of Italy's largest metropolitan area and is the main city in Lombardy, which is not only Italy's wealthiest region but also its most densely populated, with a population of about 10 million (source: Istat).

Vision and Mission

The CLEVER Cities Milan vision is one where the city harnesses innovative natural solutions to revitalize itself, confront climate change, and co-create its future alongside its residents. Through the implementation of innovative, nature-driven interventions in Milan's neighborhoods, structures, and infrastructure, our mission is to showcase the viability and efficacy of Nature-based Solutions (NbS). Their aim is to be the leading advocate for their widespread adoption across the city.

  • Plans: The initiative started by experimenting with green infrastructure and innovative NbS in the southern part of Milan and intends to spread them throughout the city. Plans for three CLEVER Action Labs (CAL) are currently being developed in Milan.

  • Development of Public Green Areas: Through collaboration with residents and the exploration of innovative co-creation methods, the team is in the process of establishing a fresh public park in the Giambellino neighborhood of Milan. The G129 design places a high priority on naturalistic solutions to optimize environmental benefits, encourage citizen interaction, and ensure efficient maintenance. Within this design, there is a naturalistic space for birdwatching (bird gardening), a wild lawn area featuring a butterfly oasis, a community vegetable garden and orchard, and a green wall co-managed with citizens, serving as a prototype for terraces and balconies. Additionally, the inclusion of plants effective in pollutant absorption enhances the park's environmental impact. Throughout the design, educational elements are seamlessly integrated, creating a space for discovery, experimentation, and learning. G129 is envisioned as a place where citizens can explore and replicate green elements in diverse urban spaces.

  • A New Green Hub for Tibaldi Station: CLEVER Cities Milan intends to transform the railway station by incorporating environmentally conscious and innovative features. These enhancements aim to not only enhance the station's functionality in terms of mobility but also seamlessly integrate it within the urban landscape. The innovative elements will encompass green walls, natural components on the embankments, green noise-canceling barriers within the station's structures, and controlled irrigation systems to manage temperature and humidity. Additionally, external green spaces, including inviting waiting areas, will be introduced.


In Milan, the CLEVER Cities project is all about opening up local urban development to a wide range of stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, foundations, civil society, research institutions, and local citizens and businesses. The goal is to ensure that all these groups collaboratively design, implement, monitor, and ultimately take ownership of the project.

But why is it necessary to involve local residents? CLEVER Cities utilizes nature-based interventions to make cities more inclusive, and the local citizens are the ultimate experts of their neighborhoods. Their integration is essential to ensure that real transformative action takes place in the cities. This is achieved through the collaborative development of solutions that respond to the specific needs and preferences of the citizens. By creating a network of local non-governmental organizations, research institutions, local city governments, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), residents, neighborhood associations, and emerging local entrepreneurs are empowered to make nature-based interventions their own. Whether it's community gardens, green roofs, or improved stormwater drainage, involving citizens in the development process is more likely to lead to a sense of ownership and a willingness to use the renewed urban spaces.

The CLEVER Cities project has established three primary CALs in the southwest quadrant of Milan. CAL1 is dedicated to Green Roofs and Walls, CAL2 focuses on Giambellino Park, and CAL3 is centered around the Green Train Station. Despite facing various challenges, including bureaucratic and political obstacles, pandemic-related restrictions, and unforeseen constraints in the construction market, all three laboratories have effectively executed their activities. Each CAL followed the co-creation pathway of CLEVER Cities, which involves co-creation, co-design, co-implementation, and monitoring: CAL1, known as 'REGREENING MILAN,' focuses on green roofs and walls, while CAL2, 'Giambellino New Park,' concentrates on creating a new park in the Giambellino neighborhood. CAL3, 'TIBALDI - green train stop,' aims to introduce environmentally conscious features at the train station.

Location of the CALs

Implementations in Milan

CAL 1: Promoting Innovative Green Roofs and Walls

The primary focus of CAL 1 centers around the design and promotion of innovative solutions for multifunctional green roofs and walls. These solutions offer a multitude of benefits, encompassing environmental, social, and economic aspects, and positively impact the lives of individuals living, working, or utilizing these buildings.

One of CAL 1's key initiatives is an awareness campaign aimed at increasing knowledge about the significance of integrating greenery into our urban landscapes. Beyond the evident environmental benefits, the presence of green facades and roofs holds the potential to yield social and economic advantages. These combined benefits contribute to enhancing the overall quality of life for both building occupants and the surrounding community.

Effectively translating this awareness into actionable steps requires several crucial elements. It involves revising regulatory tools and incentive mechanisms to create a conducive environment for green roof and wall adoption. Additionally, it demands a boost in design capabilities and the strengthening of the local supply chain, involving producers, installers, and maintainers. Their collaboration is instrumental in ensuring the widespread adoption of green roofs and walls within the building sector.

Key Actions within CAL 1:

  1. Engagement and Dissemination Activities: CAL 1 emphasizes the development of a participatory promotion campaign dedicated to spreading awareness about Green Roofs and Walls. This campaign serves as a catalyst for encouraging adoption.

  2. Translation of Awareness into Action: CAL 1 aims to harness and enhance existing expertise and initiatives. They actively seek proposals and information on planned initiatives from interested parties, fostering collaboration and collective progress.

Tools and Promotion Activities within CAL 1:

  1. Incentive and Financing Lines: These include financial support from the Municipality of Milan within the BE2 Call for Energy Efficiency, facilitation in accessing credit lines, information dissemination about tax deductions and national incentives, and the refinement of incentives and rules outlined in the Territorial Government Plan. The program also offers premiums and visibility for existing best practices while engaging private individuals in co-financing and sponsorships.

  2. Support for Companies and Designers: CAL 1 provides support and guidance to companies, designers, condominiums, and building owners interested in developing green roofs in Milan. This includes mapping potential areas for intervention in Milan and its metropolitan region, as well as a directory of companies and organizations offering relevant services and products.

  3. Awareness-Raising Actions and Training: CAL 1 conducts targeted awareness-raising campaigns, training programs, and knowledge sharing initiatives aimed at specific audiences. This includes economic operators, professionals, condominiums, and citizens, with the goal of promoting green coverage and sharing insights and experiences related to the benefits, costs, and analysis of solutions.

In summary, CLEVER Action Lab 1 in Milan is dedicated to the promotion of innovative green roof and wall solutions with a strong emphasis on awareness, collaboration, and the creation of a conducive environment for their adoption. This multifaceted approach underscores the potential for enhancing the urban landscape and the quality of life for its residents.

CAL 2: Giambellino New Park

The Giambellino Laboratory 129 (G129) is an integral part of a broader Sustainable Urban Development project for the Lorenteggio District, known as AdP Lorenteggio. This comprehensive initiative encompasses a variety of interventions aimed at enhancing public housing, mobility, green spaces, and public services within the district. One of the notable projects within AdP Lorenteggio is the co-design and construction of the green area at Via Giambellino 129, spanning an impressive 27,000 square meters. This area, long abandoned, has undergone reclamation efforts and is now being transformed into a fully equipped park. Positioned at the heart of the Giambellino district, G129 holds a strategic ecological connection point within Milan. Situated between the San Cristoforo and P.ta Romana airports, this location offers a unique opportunity to integrate nature into the urban fabric.

The Clever Cities project underscores the pivotal role that nature can play in enhancing environmental quality, biodiversity, and the overall well-being of urban residents during the process of urban regeneration. It raises important questions:

  • Can this area be designed to enhance its ecological role without sacrificing its daily use by citizens?

  • Can we genuinely improve the quality of life through nature?

  • Is it possible to involve citizens in the co-management of green infrastructure that requires experienced and continuous maintenance?

The project seeks answers to these questions through a co-creation process that encompasses co-design, co-realization, and co-management. The journey begins with the co-design of the area in collaboration with citizens and local associations, extending to the co-realization and co-management of spaces and green elements, following the principles of shared gardens.

The Co-Design Phase

Between July and November 2019, the Social Accompaniment Service (P.A.S.) and the management of Laboratorio Sociale Lorenteggio – MILO.Lab, in collaboration with Clever Cities, led a participatory path. They engaged citizens and local associations in co-designing the G129 area, listening to their requests, needs, and gathering their interests and willingness to collaborate with the Municipality of Milan. This phase included three co-design workshops open to the public. Starting in November 2019, a technical group composed of contacts from the Municipality of Milan, MILO.Lab, and Clever Cities delved deeper into design aspects, including the co-design of NbS for the green area. The proposed NbS were selected based on feasibility pre-verification and inputs from local actors. The vision for G129 is to create a green area open to the entire city, serving as a cultural garden that explores the relationship between people and nature in the urban environment. This relationship encompasses biodiversity observation, sustainable food production, art, innovation, sports, and leisure activities in open spaces.

Nature-based Solutions at G129

The design of G129 prioritizes naturalistic solutions that maximize environmental benefits, facilitate citizen interaction, and ensure efficient maintenance. The park will feature:

  • A naturalistic area for birdwatching (bird gardening).

  • A wild lawn area with a butterfly oasis.

  • A community vegetable garden and orchard.

  • A green wall co-managed with citizens, serving as a prototype for terraces and balconies.

  • Plants effective in pollutant absorption.

Educational elements are woven throughout the design to make G129 a place for discovery, experimentation, and learning, where citizens can explore how to replicate green elements in various urban spaces.

Co-Realization and Co-Management

G129 welcomes all associations and individuals interested in experiencing a slice of nature outside their homes. The park offers opportunities for urban agriculture in community gardens, bird and butterfly observation through monitoring groups, caring for bird garden feeders, and organizing social activities and outdoor events. Whether you're a green novice or expert, G129 is a place where people learn to nurture plants and green spaces together.

The NbS established as part of the project will be overseen and managed by a consortium of local associations operating under the framework of the Collaborative Agreement. This Agreement is voluntarily entered into by participating entities, solidifying their commitment to jointly manage and implement the NbS initiatives. Through this collaborative approach, the local associations aim to pool their expertise, resources, and efforts to ensure the effective and sustainable management of the Nature-Based Solutions within the project.

In summary, the Giambellino Laboratory 129 represents a vibrant green oasis in the urban landscape of Milan, brought to life through collaborative efforts, NbS, and a commitment to enhancing the well-being of the community.

CAL 3: TIBALDI - green train stop

The Tibaldi Railway Stop in Milan stands as a symbol of transformation and innovation, thanks to a collaborative effort led by Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI) in partnership with the Municipality of Milan and support from project partners within CLEVER Cities. This project has boldly embraced the challenge of integrating green infrastructure into railway facilities, aligning with the principles of the European strategy for Green Infrastructure.

The infusion of green within the new stop serves multiple functions, contributing to:

  • Balanced and Sustainable Development: By influencing the surrounding territory, the project strives to foster a balanced and sustainable city development.

  • Local Context Connection: Creating a harmonious link between the railway stop and the local context is a key objective.

  • Enhanced Environmental Quality: Planting native species of trees, shrubs, and flowering herbaceous plants brings improved environmental quality, vegetative growth, and wildlife biodiversity to the neighborhood.

  • Rainwater Recovery: The project integrates rainwater recovery to synergistically enhance the local ecosystem's value and attractiveness.

  • Redeveloped Public Space: A renewed identity is bestowed upon the public space in front of the Tibaldi Stop along Via Bazzi. This revitalization project aims to make this space enjoyable not only for public transport users but also for the local residents.

The New Tibaldi Stop: A Place for All to Live

The public space in front of the new Tibaldi stop is envisioned as the main access route to the railway station, designed to serve as a place for relaxation and social interaction. The concept revolves around creating an "open-air waiting room," catering to not only travelers but also the neighborhood. While the area covers 600 square meters, the project, in the true spirit of CLEVER Cities, leverages green solutions to maximize its potential as a pleasant and nature-enhanced public space.

Green for Cooling and Shade

To enhance climate comfort in urban spaces, the project taps into NbS to provide shade and cooling. A prominent feature is the incorporation of a substantial green wall on the front of the building, not only for aesthetics but also to leverage the cooling potential of green walls during summer. The strategic placement of tall trees in the area guarantees ample shade in relaxation and recreational zones.

Green to Enhance Aesthetics

The current access area of the Tibaldi stop, previously underutilized, is slated for a transformation that emphasizes diversity and beauty. The project aims to redevelop the space by building an identity, starting with a diverse array of green elements. Greenery will be a core component within the railway infrastructure as well as the public space in front of the stop.

The project includes the construction of a renaturalization plant with rustic native species that restore a sense of naturalness. Additionally, an experimental noise barrier will be adorned with a green cover to aesthetically blend with the railway context. The public access space will feature a rich variety of blooming plants and shrubs, offering an aesthetically pleasing experience for users.

Green to Bring Nature Closer to Home

Surprisingly, in urbanized areas such as a railway stop, there exists an opportunity to make design choices that favor the presence of plant and animal species. The green area surrounding the Tibaldi stop can potentially host various bird species, enhancing biodiversity. Native trees and shrubs have been selected to provide food and shelter for local birdlife.

Lawn areas, complemented by tree-lined and shrub spaces, play a vital role as these areas support insects that birds feed on. Herbaceous species have been carefully chosen to attract pollinators, such as butterflies, and contribute to the overall biodiversity of the area.

Green for Social Spaces

The area in front of the Tibaldi stop offers fresh opportunities for social interaction and relaxation, not just for travelers but also for the neighborhood. By utilizing simple furnishings, the project envisions creating play and leisure spaces, such as ping-pong tables, chessboards, and areas for book crossings and reading. Moreover, the presence of greenery serves as an engaging activity for many people. Citizens will have the chance to grow aromatic plants, try their hand at gardening, or get involved in other green-related activities.

In conclusion, the Tibaldi Railway Stop project showcases how green integration within urban infrastructure can bring numerous benefits, including enhanced environmental quality, improved aesthetics, and opportunities for social interaction. This transformative initiative represents the essence of CLEVER Cities, embracing the harmonious coexistence of urban and natural elements for the well-being of the community.

The CLEVER Cities project, with its innovative approach, has succeeded in testing a new inclusive and collaborative procedure, resulting in the greening of over 30,000 square meters of the city's surface. To combat heatwaves and bring nature into the daily lives of residents, the CLEVER Cities Milan team is advancing its plan to spread green roofs and walls throughout the city. Innovative business, finance, and governance models are applied to engage private actors in their design and implementation. Milan places strong emphasis on a collaborative approach involving residents, the private sector, and professional associations. This approach has enabled the project team to target both public and private buildings for the installation of new green roofs and walls.

Stakeholder Participation

In a bustling metropolis like Milan, traditional urban regeneration processes have often followed standardized procedures that lack active citizen involvement. While these procedures may expedite implementation timelines, they do not guarantee the care and sustained utilization of the rejuvenated spaces. The CLEVER Cities project has introduced an innovative and inclusive process that challenges this conventional approach.

  • Public Procedures: The CLEVER Cities project has brought innovation to the urban development landscape of Milan, particularly in the implementation of NbS. This initiative has also left its mark on Milan's Urban Zoning Plan by incorporating the 'RIC-Reduction of Climatic Impact' factor, which incentivizes the adoption of green roofs and walls, thus fostering a more sustainable urban environment.

  • Co-design & Co-implementation: The project has actively fostered collaboration with over 540 individuals who have played a central role in both the design and implementation of NbS. This collaborative approach not only showcases the project's resilience but also underscores its commitment to advancing sustainable urban development in Milan. Through this engagement, the project has overcome potential barriers that might have otherwise hindered progress.

Milans Co-Design Path

  • Co-management: Co-design meetings have been instrumental in nurturing an emotional connection between citizens, local associations, and the future public spaces they aim to create. An exemplary outcome of this approach is the G129 Park, where co-design has led to the formation of an active group that willingly joined a Collaborative Public Pact. This pact is geared towards the shared management of the enclosed area within the park, which features vegetable gardens, orchards, and various green solutions. Moreover, a special agreement has been established with Bocconi University to ensure the care and maintenance of the green areas at Tibaldi Station.

In sum, the CLEVER Cities project's unique approach in Milan not only introduces innovative public procedures but also encourages active citizen involvement, fostering a sense of ownership and collaboration that transcends the typical challenges faced in urban regeneration projects.


Milan is exploring additional funding opportunities for new NbS initiatives. The possibilities are diverse, ranging from integrating NbS into the practices of the City of Milan Green Department therefore regular funding, to actively seeking private sponsors for the implementation of NbS projects benefiting the local population.

Potential for New Economic Opportunities and Green Jobs in the EU and in Global Markets

The CLEVER Cities experience in Milan concluded with a training course designed for citizens on the planning and maintenance of NbS. The project years revealed a gap in skills and financial resources for the upkeep of technological green spaces, highlighting the need for training opportunities for those responsible for maintaining these installations. Furthermore, as the adoption of NbS continues to grow, there will be an increasing demand for expertise and skilled workers in the future to design and maintain these sustainable solutions.

Limiting Factors

The constraints associated with the implementation of NbS are predominantly tied to bureaucratic issues and the maintenance of these solutions.

Elaborating further, challenges in navigating bureaucratic processes, such as obtaining permits and approvals, can pose significant obstacles to the timely execution of NbS projects. Additionally, the ongoing maintenance of these solutions requires careful consideration and resources. Ensuring that the green infrastructure remains effective over time necessitates proper planning, funding, and a coordinated effort to address any bureaucratic hurdles that may arise. As cities and communities increasingly embrace NbS for sustainable development, addressing and mitigating these bureaucratic and maintenance-related challenges becomes crucial for the successful integration and longevity of such solutions.

Challenges & Lessons learned

In Milan, the implementation of the CLEVER Cities project was marked by its fair share of challenges and an abundance of valuable lessons learned.

First, maintaining the NbS posed a complex challenge, as ensuring their continued care and upkeep required dedicated efforts and resources. Monitoring the performance of these NbS also proved to be a complex and intricate task, making it essential to simplify this aspect for effective communication with the public. Utilizing less technical jargon and adopting an approachable language became a necessity to engage the community more effectively. The involvement of scientists in the project, while valuable, raised questions about the sustainability of the monitoring process, underscoring the importance of simplifying it to encourage direct citizen participation. The project also saw significant changes, including a shift towards a multidisciplinary approach and an evolution in organizational dynamics. While these changes successfully broke down silos and empowered citizens to seek improvements from city authorities, navigating the complexities of politics and conflicting interests introduced additional challenges.

On the positive side, the co-creation process emerged as a beacon of innovation, revolutionizing administrative procedures in Milan. Co-creation played a pivotal role in developing NbS and fostering a sense of shared ownership among citizens. Furthermore, the positive emotions evoked during co-planting events were evident in the "wheel of emotions," contributing to community engagement and satisfaction. Perhaps most significantly, co-creation proved to be a powerful tool in overcoming territorial and social marginality, uniting diverse groups and creating a more inclusive and connected community.

In conclusion, the CLEVER Cities project in Milan, while not without its challenges, has introduced innovative approaches to urban development and laid the foundation for ongoing growth, community engagement, and meaningful lessons learned from the encountered obstacles.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The outcomes of the monitoring activities will serve to highlight both the advantages and the community's perception of these implemented solutions. Through the assessment, Milan aims at elucidating the positive impacts and overall effectiveness of the solutions, gauging the extent to which they resonate with and benefit the citizens. This comprehensive analysis will provide valuable insights into the success of the implemented measures, helping refine and tailor them to better align with the needs, the public/private funding and expectations of the local population.


Emilia Barone, Project Manager, Municipality of Milan