Tired Milan plans a green, young future
Optimists might call it Milan's Eiffel Tower moment.
The Universal Expo, which gave Paris its landmark in 1889, is due in Milan in 2015, bringing investment to pep up a sluggish economy as it turns Silvio Berlusconi's buttoned-down hometown into one of Europe's largest building sites, the Reuters reported.
For many Milanese, it's long overdue: Italy's fashion and business capital is aging and has long suffered from an image as a gritty city of smog, traffic and grey asphalt pavements.
Hosting the five-yearly Expo is a high-stakes game that can make or damage a city's reputation, and coffers.
Besides Paris, whose skyline earned a global profile with the straddle-footed monument erected for its Exposition Universelle, Seville got an economic boost with Expo in 1992 and Lisbon transformed a derelict industrial site for the 1998 Expo.
However in 2000 Hanover's Expo, billed as the biggest and best world fair ever, drew media ridicule and outraged German taxpayers after running up losses of more than $1 billion.
"I'm truly hoping that this Expo 2015 will give Milan a little bit of an electric shock," said city native Paola Antonelli, a curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art and co-author of a book about the architecture of world fairs.
With cost pressures bound to escalate at a time of economic slowdown -- growth is nearly stagnant and inflation hit a record 3.7 percent in May -- some warn the shock may be financial.
"It is not really clear how much the Expo will cost and what will be Milan's share of the total costs. The experience of other cities shows that almost certainly there will be overruns," said Raffaele Carnevale, an analyst at Fitch Ratings.
Carnevale said Milan's debt was already double its income, but government plans to give local governments greater flexibility in using tax revenues could help by keeping a larger share of Milan's significant wealth in the city.
For Milan, the plan is for a polluted financial centre -- home to the La Scala opera house, a 19th-century shopping arcade and Europe's first seven-star hotel -- to get an urban makeover into something greener and edgier.
Around 20 billion euros ($31 billion) in public and private spending is in prospect to reshape Milan's modest skyline, build parks, improve infrastructure and provide first-rate offices and cheaper housing for young families.
Italy's government will give Milan 575 million euros between 2009 and 2011 to fund investments for the Expo, Milan's mayor Letizia Moratti said last week.
The city, which is home to 1.3 million people, aims to slow its urban sprawl by creating secondary hubs of transport and commerce. It is asking the government for special status to speed Expo projects through the notoriously slow bureaucracy.