Zona Espansione Nord, also known as ZEN or San Filippo Neri, is an economically deprived quarter on the northern outskirts of Palermo, Sicily. It is located in the VII municipality and has a population of around 16,000 people. A social housing district ZEN is divided in two well-defined areas, ZEN 1 and ZEN 2. It was constructed in 1969, under the design by Vittorio Gregotti, and it consists of bleak, multi-storied housing projects, most of which are in a state of dilapidation. As a result of rampant unemployment, poverty, high school drop-out rate and marginalization of the residents, ZEN has become notorious for its crime, juvenile delinquency, and social degradation. The architect Massimiliano Fuksas proposed its demolition, together with other similar structures in Italy, such as the Corviale in Rome.
The entire architectural complex of the ZEN was born following a design contest promoted by the IACP of Palermo to address urban expansion. The project was inspired by the idea of the walled city, and is organised in blocks of insulae within an orthogonal grid aligned along the north-south axis. By adopting the megastructure typology and the concept of the insula unit, Gregotti aimed to bring block-type housing and urban services to the landscape of the Palermo countryside. The political situation between 1975 and 1980 disrupted the overall transformation of the neighbourhood and left ZEN 2 without services and various infrastructure. Furthermore, due to an extreme housing shortage, squatting in these buildings became common. These factors created a difficult social environment and resulted in the degradation of the area. Zen’s disconnect from the city centre and isolation due to a ring road built for the 1990 football World Cup and Universiadi further enclosed the insula as a sort of fortress. ZEN 2 is still at the centre of political debate and under intense media stigmatization. Today the district has a growing presence of active associations supporting its habitants; these include ZEN Insieme, Handala, Associazione Lievito, and Bayty Baytik.