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REFLOW Milan Pilot

Testing diverse approaches to city circularity


In recent years Milan has adopted a strategy for the revitalization of the municipal covered markets, a system comprised of 23 buildings built from the 1940s through the 1960s as centres of commerce and as connectors between rural and urban communities. Many of the stalls and stands in Milan’s municipal covered markets now suffer from high rates of vacancy due to low demand. Some municipal markets have undertaken the hard redevelopment of old spaces, thanks to the activation of public private partnerships and their decision to take advantage of the strategic markets’ locations. For other markets, located in the most peripheral areas of the city, the Municipality of Milan, within the circular-economic approach and the experimental activities of Reflow H2020 project, is developing an urban design-specific governance model. This model focuses on the urban metabolism of these municipal food markets while testing an innovative process of hybridizing actors and the uses of public covered spaces. As such, traditional market traders, fab-labs and space-makers have developed circular economy solutions within the markets, where the solutions’ development process is based on three consequential phases of co-creation, co-design, and prototyping experiments.


Together with 26 other partners across Europe, the Municipality of Milan was the winner of a H2020 call aimed at greening the economy in line with SDGs. The name of the winning project is “REFLOW:” constRuctive mEtabolic processes For materiaL flOWs in urban and peri-urban environment across Europe. Financed by the REFLOW project, the Municipality of Milan had the possibility to launch a pilot with a focus on its urban and peri-urban agri-food systems and the urban renewal of the covered municipal markets’ spaces as its main field of experimentation.


The vision of REFLOW is to develop circular and regenerative cities through the re-localization of production and the re-configuration of material flows at different scales. More specifically, it will use Fab Labs and space-makers as catalysers of systemic change in urban and peri-urban environments in order to reduce material consumption, maximize the multifunctional use of (public) spaces, and to envisage regenerative design practices. Milan’s pilot of REFLOW started in June 2019 and will end on 31st May 2022, while the pilots’ activities first started in autumn 2019. This pilot aims to support the city’s vision on circular food by providing sustainable solutions at the local market level, with the pilot’s goal being to foster and test sustainable food logistics, develop market laboratories to disseminate circular practices, track the origin and quality of agricultural products and to analyse the interrelations between rural-urban communities.


The Milanese REFLOW pilot is strategically part of the urban regeneration governance designed by the city administration and concerns covered municipal markets. The administration has in fact decided to alter the administrative and managerial framework of the 23 markets with the added objective of testing a sustainable business model capable of transferring the costs associated with renovations from the municipality to the new manager. The City of Milan had already implemented various small regeneration projects in the suburban areas of the city, among which is the historical Lorenteggio Covered Municipal Market. In 2013, the traders already present in the market formed a consortium, which was awarded the first “pilot” public tender and enabled the transformation of the market into a hub for the local community, producing significant social impacts and a strong architectural refurbishment project. From the early case of the revitalization of Lorenteggio market, it is expected that the REFLOW project will lead to the devising and generation of new business models for circular food systems, new models of public-private market governance, and new effects on the quality of the urban spaces.



Expert Paper

REFLOW Approach (c) Sally Bourdon, Manuela Reyes Guerrero. IAAC
Main photo caption : Mercato Communale (c) Reflow Project