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The city plans to create its own Silicon Valley called “MIND” – Milano Innovation District

Six years after Milan’s World Expo closed its doors to visitors, the sprawling fairgrounds are finally set for a makeover, according to Bloomberg News.

Italy’s financial center is apparently taking cues from Silicon Valley to transform an area more than twice the size of the Vatican into a sustainable, post-pandemic technology center. The 4.5 billion-euro ($5.1 billion) redevelopment of one of Europe’s biggest vacant lots includes research labs, a startup accelerator and a science campus.  

The site will boast housing and working space for 60,000 people, including accommodation for 3,000 students. One of the longest linear parks in Europe will connect everything along the main “decumano”. The name is a pointed reference to the East-West corridor in the city planning of ancient Rome. 

Where green urban planning meets high tech

The goal of MIND is also to become a landmark for green urban planning. The district will be completely rely on renewable energy and will be car-free, with access provided by high-speed rail and Milan’s public transport system. A second metro station will be operational by 2025.  To limit waste, MIND will refurbish some of the old pavilions. In demolishing others, the project will recycle 98% of the material. Timber will be the main structural material for the office buildings.

Already, more than 100 scientific staff are at work at the Human Technopole, a research institute for the life sciences, while employees of drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc just moved to their new Italian headquarters on the site. A facility for U.S. genome-sequencing company Illumina Inc. is opening in the spring. Also, a 16-story hospital will start operating in September.

There is a real need for the type of investment embodied by MIND. Italy ranks only 12th for venture capital investments in Europe with 3.6 billion euros raised in the last five years, according to Dealroom data released in September. The combined enterprise value of Italian startups is 21 billion euros, behind smaller economies such as Poland, Finland and Belgium.

Milan’s new innovation district — located about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the city’s famed Duomo — may be its best chance to close the gap.