Meanwhile uses and biodiversity: MIND’s initiatives for students and workers

At MIND, as part of the European project T-factor, there are various initiatives to promote biodiversity through meanwhile uses. Not only students are involved, but also workers from the innovation district in collaboration with local entities.

Urban regeneration through accessible, resilient, and biodiverse gardens involving schools and young people from the area, as well as working adults, but also initiatives to overcome barriers by synergizing local realities. All this is possible at the Mind – Milano Innovation District, among the pilot areas selected by T-Factor, a research project funded by the European Commission that examines the theme of meanwhile uses in large regeneration projects. Professor Francesca Foglieni from the Department of Design of Politecnico di Milano talks about this, together with Plusvalue, Lendlease, LAND Italia and the University of Milan.

Designers developing sustainability and biodiversity projects

We are a team of various types of designers,” says the expert, “and we all belong to the Design Department, and more specifically to the research group that resides at Polifactory, the makerspace of Politecnico di Milano. We mainly deal with product design, especially regarding the use of methods and tools of digital manufacturing, but also with service design and design for policy. In light of these skills, in T-Factor we covered a double role. We defined the methodology to be followed by all pilots for the prototyping phase of temporary uses“. Started in 2020, they are now reaching the final phase.

Then, to carry out these experiments and temporary uses in Milan, , we were part of the Local Coalition” dedicated to the development of spaces and temporary uses for the district, to experiment with new ways of designing, planning, financing, and governing regeneration processes, with various missions:

1- Open, vibrant, and collaborative R&I ecosystem, to create a research community for the exchange and dissemination of scientific knowledge.

2- Active, healthy, and sustainable lifestyles, to promote conscious and sustainable lifestyles through the knowledge and protection of urban biodiversity.

3- Accessibility & identity, to build a shared identity for the district and promote accessibility through contamination between internal and territorial realities.

Foglieni explains that the focus, particularly of the projects she and her team have dealt with, concerned missions 2 and 3. Initially, they conducted research and listened to what the needs “of that part of the territory to which MIND could respond both within the district and externally” were. They met and interviewed MIND companies, as well as organizations and associations of the surrounding area to define such needs and topics to focus on. Two projects born from these conversations were Herbula Wild Garden and the Community House.

Herbula Wild Garden, a temporary and experimental garden for daily use

We first decided to create a temporary space within MIND, a space that would remain available to the community for a while. We identified an outdoor area, a lawn that at that time was not occupied by any construction site and would not be for the time we needed.” That green area was the place to build a temporary garden aimed at conscious and sustainable lifestyles.

Both internal and external actors to Mind were involved in the set-up of the garden. For example, there was “an initial co-planting event involving those who were working at MIND at that time to literally plant a selection of plants and herbs. Then we identified a series of schools in the area that could participate in the project.”

The garden was divided into two areas: an experimental area and an area destined to become a flower meadow. For the former, two high school second-year classes from the Agrarian Institute Pareto of Milan were involved. Together with us and their teacher, the students decided to create a “resilient garden, therefore self-sufficient, of wild plants already present obviously in the territory and that were also edible. So they could be used by those who visit the garden for daily, culinary, or cosmetic use. We accompanied the students throughout the selection phase of the plants and also from a landscape design perspective.”

In particular, “we provided the seeds of the species, while at school, they sprouted and then planted them according to the project.” The students then created botanical cards and recipes on how to use plants and flowers in everyday life.

Finally, a bioprocessing workshop was organized with foraging experts who showed, through various extraction and distillation processes, how to transform plants into herbal teas or general products for daily use.

A flower meadow thanks to seed bombs and bug hotels

The other area of the garden was designated to become a flower meadow. “Together with LAND Italia, the other partner of the Local Coalition,” Foglieni continues, “we defined a mix of seeds that could create the meadow but also be self-sufficient, requiring minimal maintenance, and especially that the various species present would alternate throughout the seasons.” In this case, seven classes from two elementary and middle schools in Rho and Baranzate (MI) were involved in sowing. With them, the activity “BiodiverCity@Mind for Schools” was carried out, which is an environmental education program with the support of an association of experts (Progetto Natura Onlus) in a path of biodiversity knowledge.

“In class, the experts explained what biodiversity in the city is, and the children began to familiarize themselves with the topic, then we took them all to MIND. They took a tour through the various wild areas of the district, learning to recognize plants and animals present. Then in the temporary garden, two field workshops were organized: one for creating seed bombs and seeds that they scattered in the meadow, and another for building bug hotels, small shelters for insects to encourage the presence of pollinators. The bug hotels were designed by the team of Polifactory so that they could be easily assembled by children. Information panels were finally put in the garden to create a sort of experiential path to learn about the plants and animals that live there and to “understand that even when an urban area is apparently wild, it is actually an extremely important resource that needs to be cared for, preserved, and ideally replicated.”

Biodiversity Ambassador Program, the call to action aimed at working adults

To also involve the working adults who frequent the district area, an initiative called  “Biodiversity Ambassador Program” was organized, targeting the four companies at MIND that at that time had the highest number of employees on-site: Valore Italia, AstraZeneca, Human Technopole, and Bio4Dreams.

The project consisted of an internal corporate call to action to gather at least 5 volunteers per company to participate in the program. They were required to perform some simple tasks, namely to photograph all the animal species they saw around them inside MIND when they went to the office or during their free time, and upload them to iNaturalist, a renowned citizen science platform.

This,” explains the expert, “was intended as a first attempt to let them know what has been done and to convey the message directly to the companies. So that initiatives related to the biodiversity of the district could begin to be included in their corporate welfare programs to raise awareness about these green areas that are present.”

It was not a simple project because “there is not yet a community vision that allows following particular directions. However, there are companies that are very sensitive not only to these specific biodiversity issues but more generally to the intention to collaborate to build a community.” The attempt within Mission 2 is to “turn all this work into a good practice that can be replicated by others, by actors of MIND in the future, but also in other areas of the city. Together with LAND Italia, we are now drafting guidelines specifically to map biodiversity in urban regeneration contexts.”

Even though the initial project was for a temporary garden, Foglieni reveals that they are working to extend the initiative.

Futurabili, the initiative within the Community House of MIND

Regarding Mission 3, “related to accessibility, identity, and aimed at breaking down perceived barriers” of MIND “as a closed and exclusive place rather than a place that belongs to the city and citizens“, the initiative began with the creation of a symbolic Community House. The idea originated with the aim of creating a space for MIND entities and non-profit organizations in the area to collaborate and build initiatives synergistically in an exchange and cross-pollination spirit towards a gradual overcoming of perceived barriers. There are, in fact, points of contact so that together, “it is possible to create very interesting and powerful initiatives that bring benefits to both internal and external actors.”

A company of MIND,” Foglieni continues, “that has shown particular receptiveness from this point of view has been Rold. With the Triulza Foundation acting as a liaison with third sector organizations in the area, we accompanied them in designing a joint initiative: Futurabili.

The first edition of Futurabili consisted of a training and orientation program on future professions for young people in the area on four themes. Each theme involved the organization of a training session. The participants were able to explore new skills, useful then in an ideal future career path. So, not just frontal lessons but practical activities.” The format was so appreciated that a second edition of the initiative, called Futurabili for Baranzate, was organized by ROLD, Triulza Foundation and another third sector organization.

As part of the temporary initiatives to activate the area and to extend knowledge of what is already happening at MIND to the outside, T-Factor, in collaboration with Edra and ITTBiomed, asked partners and companies at MIND to share their scientific discoveries, studies, and innovative actions, spreading science and knowledge.