People’s Republic of Bolzano: Visual journalism bridging community divides


High-up in Italy's alpine province of South Tyrol sits Bolzano, a town of 105,713 people. Although it is the largest city in South Tyrol, the population is predominantly European and migrants from China have faced ostracizing public perceptions that they are "invading" the city. To bridge divides, and provide a more inclusive presentation of Bolzano's Chinese community, data researcher Matteo Moretti developed the 'People’s Republic of Bolzano' - a long-form web based visualization of qualitative and quantitative data on Bolzano's Chinese residents.

The project leverages official government data, as well as qualitative interview data, to grasp the full story of Chinese migration to Bolzano. In the first section, historical migration data and current demographic data are visualized through a combination of statistical infographics and text. Not only does combat the notion of an 'invasion' by the small percentage of Bolzano's residents that are Chinese - standing at 0.6% - but it also dispels any sense that China-Italy migration is new.


Copyright: People’s Republic of Bolzano

The second section of the project draws upon qualitative interviews with a selection of Bolzano's Chinese residents. Cutting across age and gender, the residents talk about China and their experience in Italy. This section is aptly entitled "Things you have never dared to ask"; each resident answers questions that people unfamiliar with the community may have and, notably, many similarities with the Italian way of life are apparent. Moreover, the interviews are also conducted in Italian - an editorial choice that further diminishes any sense of 'us' verses 'them'.

Finally, the project compiles a several animated visualizations that draw from the city's demographic data to illustrate the small percentage of Chinese owned businesses and dispel any notion of a divisive 'Chinese Neighborhood'. These businesses are then plotted on an interactive map, that allows the viewer to see where different types of businesses and their locations have changed over time. Regardless of the year chosen, the map indicates no movement towards any one segregated area.


According to Moretti, the project provided an effective mechanism for dispelling commonly held misconceptions:

"Contrary to the common belief – also spread by media – that Chinese people are “invading” the city, the project helped reveal that, while we are witnessing a small-scale migration of Chinese people to Bolzano, they are not at all creating a ghetto in the city, rather, they are integrating within it."

Although the project highlights various ways the Chinese community has integrated, it is important to note that its unique identity is still maintained throughout the piece. Whilst similarities between Bolzano's communities are drawn, the piece also illustrates challenges faced by the residents and their own personal reflections on China and Italy. In doing so, the project provides an avenue to celebrate the unique contributions that the community adds to life in Bolzano.

Tools used

The project utilized the following tools:

  • D3.js code to create the interactive data visualizations
  • Premiere and After Effects software to compile the video stories
  • After Effects software to create the animated visualizations
  • Illustrator to create the visual storytelling elements
  • Html+css code to form the long-form website

Furthermore, in an interview with Storybench, Moretti elaborated on his choice of tools:

"I use Nodebox for generative design and RAW for Sankey diagrams. For most of my designs, I make the sketch in Adobe Illustrator and then we develop everything in D3. Then, with CSS classes on the SVGs [scalable vector graphics] we play to make it look as close as possible to the initial idea."

Check it out for yourself at http://www.peoplesrepublicofbolzano.com/.