The city of Florence is destined to imitate the virtual projection Airbnb makes of it, eventually creating an almost hybrid space of the so-called “onlife” society, neither “on” nor “off” line. This picture emerges from research published in the journal “Rivista Geografica Italiana” and is a case study into Florence’s new town planning regulations for short-term rentals in 2023. The authors, Antonello Romano of the University of Pisa and Cristina Capineri and Tiziano Bonini of the University of Siena, analysed 12,126 georeferenced advertisements and 651,515 reviews left by Airbnb users from 2010 to 2019 on Florence.
"Digital platforms, such as Airbnb, can be considered as ‘network orchestrators’ that manage the flows of data and information produced by users,” explains Romano. “In this context, reviews act as an echo chamber and shape the city, creating an increasingly marked division between areas that are well connected to global flows where all the value is concentrated, and other disconnected areas which results in an increasing polarisation and fragmentation between the centre and the suburbs.
The result is that the 5 square kilometre wide area of Florence’s historic centre, a “Unesco World Heritage site” since 1982, concentrates 62% of the offer of flats available for short-term rentals, and 70.3% of the reviews on Airbnb in 2019. This web platform placed a value on this city area, largely based on its algorithm favouring the visibility of some advertisements over others, thus according to a logic that is not entirely transparent to users.
“The platform’s algorithm,” Romano concludes, “creates a cumulative and centralising process that reiterates itself and further increases the inequalities in the urban area by confirming the value of some areas and at the same time the disvalue of others. This tension is also amplified by Airbnb’s promise to make people ‘live like locals’. While the reality is that the local urban areas have been effectively emptied of residents and the historic centres have become increasingly inhabited by ‘non-resident people’.
Antonello Romano, researcher of Economic-Political Geography at the Department of Civilisations and Forms of Knowledge of the University of Pisa, has been studying platforms and their relationship with space for ten years and is currently involved in FAIR (Future Artificial Intelligence Research), the partnership financed by PNRR funds that brings together 25 institutional and private partners led by the CNR. Besides Florence, his research focuses on different Italian cities, among them Rome, Venice, Naples, and Bologna. The research published in the journal “Rivista Geografica Italiana” is part of the 2017 Research Project of National Interest ‘Short term city: Digital platforms and Spatial justice’.