National Cooperation Between Cities on Urban Food Policies: the tale of an unexpected dissertation journey

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A guest blog by Bianca Minotti, a Food Policy student from City University

As part of my undergraduate program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (Pollenzo, Italy), I chose to do my dissertation on the new phenomenon of urban food policies in Italy. I chose this topic because I was proud of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP). This Pact, signed by 113 cities (now 163) on 15 October 2015, represents an international collaboration aimed at creating a network of cities and defining a framework for action of urban food policies around the world (for more information:

Milan Pact Awards map, Source: (click on the image to see it more clearly)


With respect to Italy, I was interested in understanding what the best projects active in my country were doing. So, I selected four cities – Bari, Bologna, Milan, and Turin – as the most sensitive and creative among the Italian cities that signed the MUFPP.

First, I mapped the best practices of the cities selected. Based on the text of the Pact, I divided and analyzed the urban projects into six categories of action: Governance, Sustainable Diets, Economic and Social Equity, Production, Trade and Distribution, and Food Waste.


The best urban food policies in Italy, Source: Bianca Minotti 2017

While I was doing my research at the Food Policy office of Milan, I found out that even though these cities were linked by the Pact, they were not communicating with each other. While the cooperation was working internationally, less effort was dedicated to maintaining the network nationally.

So, I identified three criteria that I considered important in establishing cooperation and I catalogued the actions analyzed before, according to their:

  • Adaptability: the possibility of a project to be adapted and reproduced in other citizen contexts;
  • Innovation: the implementation of a new or significantly improved process or model;
  • Transversality: the multi-level, multi-sector or multi-actor nature of an action.

With my project I tried to prove the need of a national network – a national ‘city-to-city’ (C2C) cooperation, and used the four cities I chose for my dissertation to do so. This type of cooperation is usually established internationally and MUFPP is the main example. It is an approach that starts from the local needs of a city and designs solutions that integrate local competences of several cities involved. Each institution uses the skills it already has and benefits from the capacities of the others.

A C2C cooperation is an effective way to strengthen the network already created by the MUFPP as it is based on the use of the strengths of a city to solve the problems of another city through an integrated approach. It could involve more actors, more sectors, more local authorities, more actions, all united by a common system of values already dictated by the Pact. The intent of this cooperation was to demonstrate that sharing skills could help the development of a sustainable and resilient national system.


Urban city-to-city cooperation, Source: Bianca Minotti 2017

I had chosen this dissertation topic because I wanted to understand urban food systems and their Italian context. However, I ended up with a completely different project. Thanks to this research I discovered that cohesion and integration are necessary at all levels if we want a radical shift to a more sustainable system.

According to the vision of the great sociologist Bauman, modernity is characterized by total uncertainty, or “liquidity”. Bauman explains that our society is an aggregation of “I” in continuous search for emancipation in which society do not know what path to follow. Rediscovering human freedom can only happen by recreating the public sphere and public power. With my dissertation, I tried to explain that by giving power to cities through food, we could improve food systems and change the shape of our society.

“The individual is the worst enemy of the citizen” (Bauman citing Toqueville (2011) p. 67, La Modernità Liquida, Edizione Laterza ) because he dedicates himself to the achievement of his particular aims without guessing that, only by realizing the common interest, the individual will satisfy his own interest. Throughout the research process I tried to demonstrate the strategic importance of cities – as a nucleus where economy, society, and environment join – and of food – as a social binding agent. Italy is a very politically and economically divided country but it is united by love and care for food. Even though international cooperation is important, it seems that the time has come to act together nationally to recreate common public interest aimed at achieving the interests of citizens and society.