The future of Aurora’s city planning got an international boost this week, thanks to a visit from a delegation from the Italian cities of Bergamo and Rimini.
The group came to Aurora as part of the European Union’s International Urban and Regional Cooperation Program, which is designed as a city-to-city effort stressing urban innovation and sustainable development, Aurora officials said.
The delegation arrived in the city Sunday night and took part in a number of activities in Aurora including a walking tour downtown Tuesday afternoon that featured various stops including the Hobbs Building at 2 N. River St., a historic structure that is currently being redeveloped. It will feature 31 apartments on the upper floors, with three first-floor spaces reserved for restaurants.
Alex Minnella, who is a senior planner for the city of Aurora, led the entourage along Galena Boulevard toward the Hobbs Building and said the purpose of the Italian group’s visit was for the guests to gain some exposure to local urban development practices and possibly use some of what they learn to enhance cities back in Italy.
“This was an effort to build on sustainability which entails 360 degrees of a community – the social aspect, the economic aspect as well as the urban fabric,” Minnella said. “We are trying to learn from each other in order to replicate best practices and, at the same time, take advantage of this relationship to build momentum and build partnerships for the future.”
Minnella said the city of Aurora applied to be part of the cooperation program in September and got approved shortly thereafter.
“For months now, we have been building up this relationship among … Bergamo, Rimini and Aurora,” Minnella said of the cooperation program. ”We have shared some knowledge, some experiences, some best practices and we agreed upon three different topics. Those topics are culture and tourism, sustainability and transportation.”
Minnella said through the program, Aurora was matched with Bergamo and Rimini which, together, have about the same population as Aurora.
The visiting group, which numbered more than a half dozen, included people of various backgrounds from political science to urban planners who were willing to share their experiences and also learn from officials in Aurora.
Minnella said a delegation from Aurora will be visiting Italy soon and looking “for a way to fill some gaps” concerning development in the city.
“For me, we do have some gaps to be filled here in Aurora and we hope that by going to Bergamo and Rimini we’ll get to see how those gaps that Aurora has felt so far can be filled,” he said. “We’ll learn from their point of view. We do share some gaps – some are different. Transportation-wise, we know the urban fabrics in Aurora are pretty tight but they (Italians) do count on alternative means of transportation. We are just getting our head out and would like to boost alternative means of transportation that needs to be greener and more sustainable.”
New York City resident Susana Arellano, who serves as the sustainable urban development expert for the cooperation program in North America, was among the visitors who joined the Italian delegation in Aurora.
She said she works “to facilitate the cooperation between cities in Europe and North America.”
“There are areas of cooperation between cities that are very important – one is sustainable urban mobility and transport, and the second is nature-based solutions, and the third is a ‘smart’ city,” she said. “We partner with cities after the European Union looked at applications from cities within Europe and then at the applications within the U.S. and decided on these partners based on population but many other aspects such as the challenges and strengths around sustainability.”
Stefano Zenoni from Bergamo said he works for the city council back home with responsibilities that include dealing with issues concerning the environment and transportation.
“I’ve been working in this capacity for seven years and this is my first time in the U.S.A,” he said. “It’s been quite an emotion and I hope that cooperation between cities will leave us some important information about public policies. It’s a totally different situation here and Aurora has a very important project of urban redevelopment and we are interested in this type of project.”
Zenoni said he was impressed “with Aurora’s relationship with the river” and “the city council’s ability to look at the future of the area and look at abandoned areas in the neighborhoods to regenerate them.”
Valentina Ridofi of Rimini said she is the coordinator of the Rimini Strategic Plan Agency and that this was also her first visit to the U.S.
“I feel like I’ve lived here all my life having watched a lot of (TV) series and movies. I am fond of the U.S and it’s nice to be here,” she said. “I will bring back to Rimini your enthusiasm and also the cohesion of this community and the pride of being Auroran and being able to work together for the good of your community. It’s really clear to us and it is a very good take home message.”
The cities will continue cooperating through the program until December 2023.
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.