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Activism and education against enviromental devastation: the example of Bormida Valley

The importance of activism and education as
countervailing forces to environmental devastation:
The example of the Bormida Valley

“Have you ever seen the Bormida (river)? Its water is the color of clotted blood, because it
carries away the waste from the factories around Cengio and not even a blade of grass
grows on its banks. A most filthy and poisoned water that puts a chill in your marrow,
especially seeing it at night under the moon.”

This is a short excerpt from Beppe Fenoglio’s short story “Un Giorno di fuoco” (A Day of
fire). It clearly reminds the ecological disaster caused by ACNA (National Dye Company):
a varnish and coloring factory that used to pour its waste into the Bormida river across the
border between Piedmont and Liguria.

All along the ‘900 a fierce protest against the company arose from the valley inhabitants
who were experiencing the devastation of an entire ecosystem. Indeed in 1987 “The Clean
Bormida Valley Association” was founded.

Soon after the company closed in 1999 the valley had suffered a double loss: from one
side it experienced depopulation due to the lack of employment opportunities while from
the other side it was highly polluted to the point the river has been declared “biologically

This story is representative of a trade-off so common in today’s debate on climate change:
that between the commitment to economic growth in terms of employment and the threat
that polluting industries like ACNA poses to the environment itself.

“Attraverso la Bormida”: a project to educate and teach
youth environment care

Davide Vero, architect and co-founder of the CSO “Un Territorio”, have drawn upon this tragic past to imagine “Attraverso la Bormida”, a Mindchangers funded project led by
Gorzegno municipality in  partnership with other eight municipalities from the valley.

The project aims at training youth awareness on environment and land safeguard bridging
the gap between theory and practice.

Indeed, during the first months the project involved different classes of the Piera Cillario high school in Cortemilia through a series of seminar called “Storie di Fiume”: a collection of memories, tales and anecdotes related to the past of the river, the Bormida, and its
Valley in order to identify significant places and moments to individual and/or collective history.

These seminars have been enriched with the participation of landscape architects and activists who delivered speeches to the class and accompanied them to walks into the stunning nature of the valley.

In July, the project launched an open call addressing Turin Polytechnic architecture students and makers to participate in a weeklong workshop in the valley. The workshop aimed at fabricating hand-made wood structures to be placed throughout different panoramic spot across the valley in an attempt to make it attractive and well-suited for touristic route and hike.

The workshop has been enriched with public talks delivered by architects and illustrators.
Among them the talk by Mario Frigerio, a well-known architect, have let the participants familiarize with the concept of “Slow architecture”: an approach derived from the slow food movement that combines in it ecological and environmentally sustainable elements.

In September the project launched a design competition around the topic of “Belvedere”, willing to trigger a reflection on its different functions and the different ways it is used. The Belvedere is thought as a moment of sharing or meditation, it could be a landmark or something perfectly integrated with the landscape. The participants have to design an architectural device that is able to dialogue harmonically with the river landscape and its
ecosystem, proposing innovative functions.

For more information about the project check the project page on the project page.