Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

The Spaces of Social Services as Social Infrastructure: Insights From a Policy-Innovation Project in Milan

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Abstract:  The spatial organisation of social services has long been residual for both urban planning and social welfare policies in Italian cities. This often results in randomly chosen locations and poor design arrangements, which ignore the role that space might play in fostering social life and inclusion. The scarce relevance given to the topic both in research and implementation is connected to the historical evolution of social services in the country and the scant resources devoted to their provision. Basing itself on the debate on welfare spaces and social infrastructures and drawing on a collaborative-research experience within an experimental policy-innovation project developed in Milan, this article tackles the role of space in social services provision following three directions. Firstly, it analyses how, at the urban level, welfare innovations and the interplay between urban planning and welfare policies might contribute to reshaping the traditional physical structures of social services and their map to favour more inclusive patterns of access to local welfare. Secondly, it investigates the role of social services as social infrastructures in increasing accessibility, reducing stigmatisation, and interpreting in a more inclusive way the complex public-private partnerships that allow welfare implementation nowadays. Finally, it discusses how, in the face of contemporary trends in the activation of welfare spaces, traditional urban planning tools are challenged in monitoring their increasingly dynamic distribution in the city. This highlights the need to develop innovative urban planning strategies and tools to effectively support decision-making and design.

Keywords:  local welfare; Milan; services localisation; social infrastructures; social services; spaces for welfare; territorialisation; welfare services; WeMi



© Massimo Bricocoli, Benedetta Marani, Stefania Sabatinelli. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.