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5.3 Coming Back to VEGA

The conversion of the Pandora “dream” into a “living-building” was interrupted because of “heavy economic losses”[1] that daily newspapers[2] attributed to expensive real estate politics. This event compromised the construction of the new building, nullifying the overall effort to innovate VEGA. Networking, technological innovation, environmental sustainability, cooperative work and learning processes were not the exclusive ingredients of Pandora: they appear in many of Vianello's online documents oriented by his vision about innovation.

However, due to the unsustainable financial situation of VEGA, the governing body decided to separate the property management of the park from its innovation management, employing new managers coming from the real estate industry. Michele Vianello disagreed with this politic choice and ultimately resigned. Effects of this change will be understandable in the future, but its symbolic relevance is clear. The separation between the property management and the innovation management is paradoxical, given that the innovation is a process requiring a convergent attention both to social and material dimensions. Seeing VEGA as a mere space (i.e., building) nullifies Vianello's efforts to innovate. Pandora would not have solved the pre-existing problems of VEGA. Even though smart technologies would have contributed to make this place attractive, the development of VEGA as an innovative infrastructure would have required a wider convergence of intentions between strategic entities such as politicians, the governing body of VEGA and the Director. Then, Pandora remained a visionary project aimed to transform the existing material structure of VEGA by generating new sophisticated sociotechnical infrastructures.

At the time of my research, the incubator manager and the founder of the University spin-off talked about the radical changes introduced by Vianello when he become Director. VEGA was previously characterised by its scant attention to the park as a relational place. Vianello's perspective was the reason why the spinoff decided to settle in this park, not elsewhere;

Park in itself means nothing, of course. Basically, this park has quite a long history, it is the history of a park that has not been a real system [.. .] but a real-estate transaction so far. We [.. .] [appreciated] the change of management [.. .] What pushed us to settle here was the [Vianello's] new cultural and political model [.. .] strongly anchored to the social dimension [of innovation]. (June, 5 2012, Venice).

One year later, after Vianello's resignation, the same interviewee commented:

[Current situation is] very different from Michele Vianello's project, that is the creation of a network structure [.. .] And this political and cultural model is in crisis because of an absolute and total reorientation towards a real-estate management. We really are in a dramatic situation. (July, 23 2013, Venice).

This research has taken place during a transition period in the history of VEGA, when the identity of the park seemed to go beyond a linear, closed and idiosyncratic system that is common for Italian SPs. From this point of view, I would stress that the VEGA Incubator–devoted to providing technological and business services to new firms–was built in 2012 by Vianello, 10 years after the park's creation. Vianello's idea of an Incubator was inspired by Google style, giving special attention to leisure spaces and aesthetic aspects (e.g., the colours of the walls) in order to favour knowledge and interaction among people. However, the pre-existing “positivist architecture” (Galison, 1997) of VEGA has limited also the sociotechnical improvement.

The delay of Incubator's development can be interpreted as the sign of an inherited managerial disinvestment in supporting the innovation of tenants. We could debate about how effective technology incubators in parks are, but this would lead out of the subject matter. However, I stress that there is scientific evidence that in Italy on-site incubator firms perform better than off-site incubator firms (Colombo & Delmastro, 2002). At the time of my research, VEGA hosted only one academic spin-off. This is a meaningful aspect because it shows the limits of VEGA as a unitary agent and an attractive seedbed for innovation across organisations (i.e., Universities, firms and politics). I do not mean that academic research is better or worse if it is transferred into SPs. I mean that innovation may also follow this trajectory and, if so, it requires a seedbed where it can become entrenched and grow. The late birth of VEGA's incubator and the scant presence of on-site incubator University spin-offs, are two signs of scarce infrastructural generativity.

  • [1] Venice Mayor Giorgio Orsoni's answer about the Michele Vianello's responsibilities ( consiglio.comune.venezia.it/?pag¼risp_1_2437&m¼; accessed 19 November 2013)
  • [2] In general, it is very hard to obtain such information from a park's administration and this is the reason why I have drawn such details from newspapers and other public sources
 
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