1 Introduction

Historically, the distribution of services, facilities, amenities, and open public spaces in the city has been a social construction, unequal and responsive to capital accumulation needs. As a result of ‘governance’ rescaling, policies’ reorientation towards competition, and the reduction of states, this has worsened since the 1980s (Purcell 2002). Hence, ‘mobility’ in its broader meaning becomes increasingly important: it determines who gets what in the urban milieu, how often, and at what cost, in a scenario marked by accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2004).

City fluxes are at the basis of how citadins perceive, conceive, and live the environment and how they ontologically relate to the city and the Other. Through momentary or lasting appropriations of public spaces, city dwellers entail a social dialectic that is not only established in space, but also undertaken with space (Santos 1996).Footnote 1 Underlying this process is Santos’ phenomenological notion of space as a whole, as a social instance as well as economic, cultural, ideological, and political instances. The society–space dialectic is based on motility, accessibility, and porosity as much as on concrete urban spaces and structures; these together will shape the daily social relations, cognitions, and expectations of all city inhabitants.

Uncovering mobility influences in social relations is one of the first steps towards the recognition and valorisation of citadins’ experiences and their demands for a city of rights and of ‘the right to produce urban space that meets the needs of inhabitants’ (Purcell 2002, p. 103). A city in which all citadins can come and go safely, are recognized, and can feel welcome to imagine, pursue, and nurture their projects, wishes, and desires in the whole territory: a more mobile, accessible, and porous city for all, socially constructed by all of its dwellers.

The research results herein discussed stem from the eight-year-long action research project ‘Mapping San Siro’, one of the most important academic community efforts to translate what segregated and multi-ethnic neighbourhoods have to tell us in contemporary Europe. This authentic ‘living lab’ praxis concerning housing, public spaces, education, and women has welcomed individual and collective projects such as my ‘Mobility as key towards sustainable and just cities in the twenty-first century’ through an international research position at the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies, Politecnico di Milano.

2 The Distribution of Services, Facilities, Amenities, and Open Public Spaces Among Different Agents of the City

As the growth and distribution of the world population and of economic benefits expand unequally, all large metropolises in which diverse populations live will, in a few years, be affected by the same socio-economic and environmental problems to varying degrees, according to their social, cultural, economic, and institutional morphologies; these morphologies define the different levels of rights to the city and, therefore, of social inequality (Secchi 2011). The opportunities offered to individuals according to their ability to aggregate/explore the various places in the city, i.e., their space capital (Soja 2010), become an autonomous, central, and independent variable in understanding Secchi’s ‘new urban issue’. In other words, since urban mobility, accessibility, and porosity regulate the access of the rich to the city and/or the incarceration of the poor in it (Secchi 2011), they become some of the main determinants of social inequity.

Bourdieu (1993), concerned with the unequal distribution of symbolic and cultural capital arranged in social space, uses the idea of a force field in which agents, disposed by their quantity of capital, move in a certain way according to the movements of the antagonistic agents. The distribution of capital and the organization of agents in social space can constitute identification processes that establish the collective possibility of conflicts and ruptures, deconstructing and recreating the disposition of social space (Bourdieu 1996). In this case, conflicts would constitute a porous process, activating relationality rather than separation, as Stavrides (2018) expects and will be further discussed below. On the contrary, similar situations allow, under Bourdieu’s logic, for a spatial analogy between the dominated and the dominant and can produce an effect of position homology in the dominated agents—creating subserviency and mimicking.

Davis (1993), Barbosa and Dias (2013), Fernández-Álvarez (2017), and Tângari (2018), among others, have shown the historically unequal distribution of facilities, cultural equipment, and green and public spaces around the world. While Tângari (2018) specifically sees the political-administrative dimension as a dominant force in the production of unequal public spaces to the detriment of sociability and encounters, Sheller (2018b) calls our attention to public spaces as social instances with the potential to house and support commonalities, where marginalized groups may articulate the under-commons (i.e. migrants, artists, street-vendors, and all of those who usually share difficulties and resources in public spaces) in spite of the harassments to which they are subjected.

3 Motility, Accessibility, and Porosity: Forms and Fluxes Shaping Social Relations

The way people live spaces as a dialectical result of their perceptions and cognitions is based both on the ‘brute facts’ (Cresswell 2006) of our socially constructed urban forms and on people’s access (through mobility and porosity) to these forms, as argued in the previous section. What we seek to research, comprehend, document, and showcase is how the society–space dialectic based on motility, accessibility, and porosity shapes daily social relations, cognitions, and expectations. In Bourdieu’s habitus—a system based on ‘visions and division constitutive of a social order’ (Bourdieu 2000, p. 143)—objective possibilities conform imaginaries and subjective expectations; expectations are conditioned by the subjects’ perceptions of their own social position. Personal identity and social position identification would come from each individual’s complex and multiple representations/imaginaries of reality, given each one’s position in the urban habitus (Bourdieu 2000). Bourdieu also understands habitus as a result of class trajectories, as he makes a clear distinction between middle classes’ habitus—based on freedom of consumption—and working classes’ habitus, based on consumption needs. When Bourdieu establishes a contrast between middle classes’ and working classes’ habitus, he also shows that capital forges a system of perceived differences dependent on the habitus and on objective material conditions (Bourdieu 1979 apud Serpa 2013).

Mobility, as a form of communication and/or movement with social meaning (Cresswell 2006), is both a determinant and a consequence of Lefebvre’s social practices that take place in the built environment. Moreover, mobility shapes the representations of space to a good extent: transportation axes structure not only the city’s morphology but also people’s fluxes, accesses, and actual possibilities (porosity), therefore, shaping signifiers and mental images. Finally, the spaces of representation relate to mobility to the extent that the imaginary about the city revolves strongly around its axes, the open spaces connected to them, and movement itself (Cullen 1961), as we can picture in and recall from Benjamin’s flaneur, Cartier-Bresson’s city photographs, The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Penny Lane, and the hectic streets of Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, to cite a few.

Thus, mobility and its absence are important parts of people’s imagination and become more than cognitive coordinates; they become signifiers of action in the real world, informing common citadins as well as decision-makers. Mobility and immobility ‘escape the bonds of individual dreams and aspirations and become social. They become political’ (Cresswell 2006, p. 21).

4 Mobility, Porosity, and the Right to the City

In Lefebvre, ‘the right to the city is designed to further the interests “of the whole society and firstly of all those who inhabit”’ (Lefebvre et al. 1996, p. 158 apud Purcell 2002, p. 102). It sustains the very struggle of all territorially oppressed groups to free themselves and build another territory of possibilities through participation, starting from a new logic in the distribution of investment in housing, services, and mobility. Drawing primarily on Lefebvre’s works, Purcell (2002, p. 103) argues that

the right to participation rejects the Westphalian notion that all political loyalties must be hierarchically subordinate to one’s nation-state membership […] It proposes a political identity (inhabitance) that is both independent of and prior to nationality with respect to the decisions that produce urban space.

In other words, immigrants and ‘marginal’ populations share with elites the right to privileged city centres, ‘instead of being dispersed and stuck into ghettos’ (translated from Lefebvre et al. 1996 apud Purcell 2002, p. 102).

While in Lefebvre’s geography of socially structured spaces, the first aspect of the right to the city concerns direct participation in planning decisions that accrue on city space, the second is the right to appropriation, including the right to physically access, occupy, and use urban spaces, i.e., porosity. In this sense, appropriation demands that collective and public policies consider the inequality of risks and opportunities that are historically, institutionally, and continually established in the urban landscape (Kobayashi and Ray 2000, apud Cresswell 2006, p. 165) and are positively engaged in a radical change that brings the disenfranchised into the decision-making spheres. Here, as Fraser (2001) reminds us, there must be a distribution of material resources that guarantees participants’ independence, and institutionalized standards of cultural value that express equal respect for all participants and guarantee equal opportunities to achieve social consideration.

5 Towards a More Mobile, Accessible, and Porous City for All: Operationalizing Complementary and Somewhat Overlapping Concepts

Kaufmann (2014) emphatically proposes the use of ‘concepts, methods and methodologies that allow us to equate [society’s] outlines and problems’ based on mobility as ‘a whole social phenomenon’ (p. 57); he then takes mobility to be the encounter of motility, connectivity, and reversibility, where motility would be ‘the set of characteristics specific to an actor that renders him or her mobile [and] therefore refers to the social conditions of access, […] to knowledge and skills, […] and to mobility projects’. More specifically, it is ‘the manner in which a person or group appropriates the field of the possible in terms of trips and makes use of it; it highlights therefore intentionality and self-determined projects’ (pp. 61–62). Connectivity ‘is spatially constituted in the near and the distant, or more precisely by the place of residence of those who use technologies and information and by the places that are brought closer through the speed of transportation. It differs according to one’s relationships with space [and technology]’ (p. 82), while reversibility, ‘equally concerns travel times themselves, which are more and more used as whole social times in which multiple activities of leisure and work are undertaken. It also differs according to one’s relationships with space [and technology]’ (p. 84). While connectivity and reversibility are important variables, they are partly determined by technological, de-territorialized devices, as groups are more or less fond of them, and will not be the focus of this study.

Numerous definitions of accessibility depart from Hansen’s (1959) classical definition, based on the ‘potential […] for interaction’ (p. ii), while many others see it as a basic condition to reach ‘opportunities available to each and every person’ (Pucci and Vecchio 2018, p. 108). It has, however, been mostly used to measure the impacts of land-use and transport systems upon city inhabitants (Geurs and Wee 2004), underestimating the society–space dialectical interaction as a determinant of actual participation in and fruition of opportunities. Accessibility to territories may not be enough, as opportunities are not equally available to all those who physically reach them (Piazzoni 2020). In order to understand the difference between potential participation and actual fruition of opportunities, we need to understand the porosity of places that renders them more or less welcoming to different groups.

Secchi conceptualizes porosity first according to the proportion and distribution of open spaces environmentally qualified, available, and accessible in the city (including by public transportation) to varied flows of people, activities, and events of different origins. Second, he sees porosity as urban territories’ potential for welcoming actors’ projects (Secchi 2013), i.e., the hospitality they encounter in space, signalling that the number and physical accessibility to open spaces are not enough. The concept also amasses a phenomenological aspect that can only be understood when we take the citadin to be the actor, instead of the subject. In Stavrides (2018, p. 32), urban porosity is

the sociotemporal form that an emancipating urban culture may take in the process of inhabitants reclaiming the city; [it] is activated by urban struggles and can become a form of experience that activates relationality rather than separation.

Summarizing, while motility—one of our specific concerns in this study—is a quality of the actor and/or of the dialectical relation between the self and the field of the possible, accessibility regards the concrete conditions given to people to potentially participate in activities depending on their motility, and porosity is a quality of the territory and/or of the dialectical relation between space and society that brings the citadin to actual fruition of activities. The three of them together and inseparably carry city dwellers’ concrete and realizable possibilities concerning their projects in the territory.

One way to start picturing how the society–space dialectic based on motility, accessibility, and porosity shapes daily social relations, cognitions, and expectations is to listen to inhabitants, particularly the disenfranchised, in places where spatial justice is an issue.

6 San Siro (Milan) Citadins: How They See and Live the City

Most European metropolises have experienced for many years difficulties in dealing with high proportions of migrants in marginal, unequal neighbourhoods and with their movements across town (see Bourdieu 1993): they represent the threats that come with the foreign (Cresswell 2006), cultural clashes, and competition on the job market. These migrants usually dwell in places characterized by low social, symbolic, cultural, and spatial capital, where other outcasts have been living; together, they can be seen as the dominated in Bourdieu’s force field. San Siro and its inhabitants seem to truthfully represent this dynamic.

Having been in the neighbourhood since 2013, ‘Mapping San Siro’ well summarizes its main features:

One of the largest public housing districts in the city of Milan, [San Siro] is made up of 6135 dwellings and a population of approximately 12,000 inhabitants. [While it] is part of the consolidated city and is located in a rather central, comfortable and accessible context, [it can] be considered an ‘internal periphery’, by virtue of its exclusion from the development dynamics of the surrounding city [and] by the presence of numerous inhabitants of foreign origin (in total about 50% of its inhabitants) [and] of fragile populations, such as the elderly, often alone, and people with serious psychiatric pathologies [amid] numerous active and diversified local subjects, […] many empty spaces and numerous public spaces [that] represent an important heritage not only for the neighbourhood, but for the entire city(Mapping San Siro. Il quartiere. Retrieved Feb 18 2021 from (http://www.mappingsansiro. quartiere).

The neighbourhood population is 51.3% Italian and 48.7% foreign. Crossing four data sources (Cognetti and Padovani 2018; Blangiardo 2009; Mapping San Siro 2019; Tuttitalia 2016), we can state that among Italians, the male population is 47.8% and women account for 52.2%, whereas among foreigners, these rates vary considerably: while among Egyptians and Moroccans, 68% are men, among Peruvians 66% are women. The working age population (here considered to be those between 25 and 64 years of age) is also fairly different across origins, pointing to the fact that while most migrants come to Milan in order to work (due to their age cohorts), a number of Italians who come to live in San Siro are off the job market (mostly the elderly). This can be translated into people having low-paid jobs and living on pensions, and means that little income comes into the neighbourhood.

Based on the available data and on gender, origin, and age cohorts, we designed a stratified sample of 100 inhabitants aged 15 or over (Table 10.1) in order to survey their mobility needs and conditions as well as their feelings towards Milan’s porosity vis-à-vis their projects and personal profiles. The survey instrument was available in Italian, English, Arabic, and Spanish. The confidence-based and co-dependable social relations constructed through Mapping San Siro enabled the recruitment of two local and six foreign inhabitants that were trained to collaborate in interviewing the different nationalities according to their backgrounds. Their involvement was not only instrumental in approaching their peers, but also in translating meanings and cultural subjectivities back and forth, enhancing an already open dialogue. I, as the main researcher, interviewed forty-five people belonging to different cohorts. Interviews were conducted between October 2019 and January 2020.

Table 10.1 Survey sample of San Siro inhabitants by age, gender, and origin

The survey questions ranged from reasons for frequency and destination of usual trips outside San Siro, usual choice of and opinions on public transportation, the importance of moving and personal abilities to move around town, personal agency and projects, to perceptions of being welcome and able to participate in activities in the city (porosity proxies), as well as questions related to interviewees’ profiles. The main results concerning how motility, accessibility, and porosity shape daily social relations, cognitions, and expectations show that 62% of interviewees travel outside the neighbourhood seven days a week and 65% have work/study as their first motive for this, while only 10% declared that they travelled for culture/leisure/sports and nature purposes. Of those travelling, 82% percent use public transportation and 13% find social relations to be the worst problem during their trips (e.g., religious intolerance, xenophobia). Moving around town is totally important or important for 81% due to factors such as daily necessity, psychological and physical well-being, and meeting people, as Table 10.2 shows. The data seem to indicate a habitus forged by necessity, typical of the working classes, including few interests/opportunities to participate in cultural and leisure activities. While 31% are native to Milan, 42% did not decide to live in Milan on their own and had somebody else deciding it, showing little agency or empowerment in the face of hardship.

Table 10.2 Why moving around town is important

The neighbourhood, only five kilometres away from the Piazza del Duomo, is well served by public transportation, with two metro, one tram, and numerous bus lines within walking distance; 82% of its inhabitants use these services on a regular basis, 56% take up to 30 min to reach their most regular destination, and 58% walk less than ten minutes in these trajectories. Accessibility, thus, does not seem to be a problem.

Only 16% have moving restrictions, and 15% due to physical difficulties. Other difficulties are: 17% admit they do not speak Italian well, 10% have a hard time understanding maps, and 66% do not regularly use apps for moving purposes, revealing motility issues due to personal characteristics. Only 51% have or had one or more personal professional projects or dreams when young or when they moved to Milan, out of which 85% think that obstacles to moving around town may have hindered their projects or dreams ‘in very few or no opportunities’. When asked if moving difficulties hindered other aspects of their lives, 84% of all interviewees answered ‘in very few or no opportunities’. While this may indicate a highly accessible city, where the elderly and migrants can reach and potentially participate in activities, it actually seems to reveal a habitus based on very low expectations as a result of few embedded opportunities. When asked about the concerning obstacles, a few disturbing answers came out: language (2 respondents), fear (1), presence of ‘Arabs’ (1), and feeling like an outsider (1). While 79% feel welcome enough outside their neighbourhood, 21% feel little/very little/not welcome at all; among them, only six out of 100 interviewees declared that it hampers their lives to a sizeable extent or totally. Thus, if porosity is a problem, respondents did not voice it.

A selected predominant profile of users, which pictures the mode (most common answers), is shown in Table 10.3.

Table 10.3 Predominant profile

The variables and predominant profile that emerge from this quantitative effort also need to be contextualized by the qualitative effort, given researchers’ participant observations and the literature. The San Siro public housing area is fairly deprived of good urban structures such as qualified open spaces and public or private cultural, sports, leisure, and commercial/service facilities, configuring a different social space in Central Milan. It is characterized by low spatial capital and treated like a ghetto in the local press, as Purcell (2002) would note. Its inhabitants may not be very proud of it, as many say moving there was not a personal choice, youngsters want to spend leisure time outside its limits, caring for public spaces has been a hard-to-build attitude, and most would not let themselves be photographed in them. Participants in neighbourhood meetings say they feel ignored as far as their rights as taxpayers go, while they feel under surveillance as outcasts, in a true system of differences.

A quali-quantitative understanding points to respondents who are working people in low qualification jobs, whose habitus is based on surviving strategies, rather than on professional dreams and consumption freedom. When asked who decided to move to Milan, a respondent answered: ‘poverty’. Their habitus is also a result of low expectations: another interviewee stated that ‘poor people don’t have professional dreams, they just want a job’. They enjoy a very good level of accessibility, but not motility, in face of the little room there is to want/wish for anything within their habitus and their intrinsic social and cultural difficulties, especially for those with little formal education and for Arab women. I interviewed an Eastern European woman in her forties who could not read or write and I could not reach an Arab woman to conduct the interview because she could not go out or have contact with strangers, said her teenage daughter.

Not enjoying full citizenship (Purcell 2002), foreigners are experiencing prejudice due to origin and/or looks—a darker skin, a veil, a different dress code, a diverse eating habit, as put by a 65+ Italian lady: ‘I want nothing to do with foreigners; they are the ones who want integration, not me’—or due to simple or disarranged clothing caused by poverty and/or mental illness. Two consequences from not being recognized (in Fraser’s 2001 sense) seem reasonable: (1) the city’s porosity is low to them, as they are not cherished as valuable citizens in high-profile public spaces and in most consumption-geared places, as shown by Piazzoni (2020). ‘I am not very welcome, but I travel in order to see my friends; so, it doesn’t hurt’, says one Sri Lankan young man; and (2) foreigners develop position homology (Bourdieu 1996) or blatant denial, either following Italian styles and behaviour and/or talking about themselves as if they were ethnically Italian: ‘I used to face a lot of rejection, people stared at me… What changed? I changed my looks. It never happened again’, says a successful Eastern European woman in her fifties.

Perhaps, maybe as a strategy, declaring to feel welcome and not being hurt by prejudice helps them endure difficulties and envision a different future. That, however, weakens their sub-dominant cultural bonds (Serpa 2013) and the articulation of under-commons spaces and ties (Sheller 2018a)—like the Bangladeshi do in Rome (Piazzoni 2020)—and hinders constituent processes of commonality (Hardt and Negri 2014) that could lead to a city of rights for all. On the other hand, a number of interviewees voice their uneasiness with the city: an established Syrian, with whom I became better acquainted, answered all questions herein discussed very positively; when the questionnaire was over, he started telling me how unwelcome he feels in Milan, a city that is very inaccessible to foreigners—very different from Naples, where his family has Italian friends and goes for vacation. Likewise, an Italian middle-aged man with a light mental illness, who, when asked how he liked working at the Duomo Plaza, said: ‘Humpf… They pay me’. Others feel uneasy talking about their hardships, as reported by an Arab interviewer: ‘They don’t want to talk. It is as if they were paying you [to get the interview over with]’.

Regarding the 65+ population, the survey sample indicated a total of fourteen Italians, of which eight women. Eleven declared to use public transportation and six travelled on a daily basis; nine think it is important or very important to move around town, mostly to meet other people or to seek public services they can reach within 30 min. However, six (43%) face health restrictions to mobility. Only seven (50%) used to have reasonably paid jobs. Although 65% did not decide to move to Milan on their own, they all feel welcome across town, and only two elderly thought mobility had hindered “somewhat or a lot” their juvenile professional projects. In other words, this is a low-paid, low-expectations, sort of satisfied group. Or this is what they voice, feeling too old to face failures or wish otherwise, as indicated by a once well-recognized artist who loves to be invited out but felt ‘trashed’ by society as he grew poor.

With the pandemic under control, the research was resumed in 2021 and its results are expected soon. In any case, a number of issues seem to have been continuously confronted through the Mapping San Siro Lab and its partners since 2014, with works towards diagnosing and designing public policies for housing, jobs, and culture valorisation—which enhance inhabitants’ pride and self-esteem—and efforts to empower foreign women in order to engage them in community life, among many other things. As a bottom-up, underfinanced effort, its actions are very important but still limited to a few, and require time to be recognized by the majority of inhabitants.

The picture presented here is a snapshot, a working scenario which helps local initiatives—particularly neighbourhood-based projects in marginal areas—understand and focus on the most problematic, sometimes underlying aspects of marginality. Understanding motility as the main determinant of urban mobility together with accessibility and porosity leads us to question whether the marginalized can, beyond moving with comfort, safety, and efficiency, enjoy destinations in their fullness and according to their potential for sociability, education, and cultural recognition and insertion ‘in their own terms’ (Miraftab 2009). In a context of little space capital (Soja 2010), low self-esteem, and ethnic stigmatization, low expectations and self-containment can be expected, all concurring to a low motility/low porosity picture, in which social injustice hits harder. While our quantitative results seem to indicate satisfactory results concerning San Siro inhabitants’ mobility, a number of qualitative remarks show that problems can be deeper, not yet surfaced or voiced.

If Sheller (2018b) is correct in indicating that the marginalized are key to the process of establishing mobility (and thus social) justice, as ‘strangers [who] invent new ways of communicating with others, new ways of acting together, new places of meeting and being together’ (p. 161), and if Stavrides (2018) is also correct in saying that urban struggles are at the basis of a porosity that will emancipate the marginalized, we need to act on the socio-geographical inequities and with the stigmatized immediately. Hail the bottom-up initiatives!