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CoPED Part 1 – Becoming a Community by Learning Together

David Mascali, Participatory Presidium of the Simeto River Agreement

Medea Ferrigno, Participatory Presidium of the Simeto River Agreement

CoPED research group with the Presidium visiting the historical hill in Paternò

Since 2013, CoPED (Community Planning and Ecological Design) summer schools have been held in the Simeto Valley at the foot of Mt. Etna in Sicily, Italy. It is based here as a result of a participatory process carried out by the local community over the last fifteen years. This mobilization of citizens and activists of the Valley began in 2002 when they united in protest against the Regional Government of Sicily, which planned a waste-to-energy plant on the Simeto riverbank that would have greatly impacted the local environment.

Since then we have moved to a “from-protest-to-proposal” (as we like to say) approach involving academic researchers and local administrators. This process represents a turning point for our community. It meant abandoning widespread individualism to embrace a participatory and collective responsibility approach to local development. In addition to the outcomes of the school (new ideas and projects), CoPED has been a source of pure enthusiasm, providing valuable energy and confidence to community leaders to continue to work on a really challenging project.

CoPED has played a fundamental role in supporting the participatory process from the beginning: many of the official documents that are included in the community-based sustainable development plan came from the school’s activities. They contribute to the institutional architecture of the “Simeto River Agreement,” a sustainable development plan for the Simeto Valley including advanced forms of governance with the direct involvement of the community and local administrators from ten municipalities.

A participatory co-design workshop during summer school

During these ten days, the typical duration of CoPED, the Simeto Valley becomes an intercultural scenario and an open space laboratory. The program is a deep cultural exchange among people coming from different parts of the world. They come to the Simeto River to both learn and teach something. The interdisciplinary approach (and its fundamental mentality) is arguably the most valuable CoPED outcome. Each student, instructor, and community member is a fundamental piece of a wider knowledge-community that is learning how to analyze and deal with complexity, rigorously collect data, and collectively figure out solutions and actions. All come together and synergistically act to build a better local world.

Every year, CoPED provides an immeasurable opportunity for mutual exchange, which is its most important result. Within this perspective, anthropology makes it possible to tackle the different themes from a holistic rather than a technical point of view. It especially allows us to study the context, history, and identity features of our community.

This kind of research has supported a rebuilding of “Simetine” cultural identity, which for a long time has been forgotten by the local people. Today, many people of the Simeto River Valley recognize themselves as members of a larger community with a shared historical, cultural, and environmental background. Thanks to this strong feeling, they warmly desire to join as volunteers to take up the challenge of making the Simeto Valley an open laboratory of circular economy and sustainability.

A mutual exchange and learning activity during CoPED

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