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Lombardia - Population and Economy

The population distribution has been affected both by the morphology of the area and the strong pull of the industrial zones.

The most heavily urbanized area is the Province of Milan, at the centre of the plain, with a population density of 1,442 inhabitants per sq km.

The capital of Lombardy, second only to Rome for population and the country's major economic centre, is constantly expanding and is likely to form a conurbation with the principal neighbouring towns (Monza, Legnano, Saronno, Rho etc.) in the near future, having practically incorporated important towns such as Sesto San Giovanni, Cinisello Balsamo, Cologno Monzese, Paderno Dugnano, etc.

Elsewhere, the population is concentrated in the upper plains, eg. in the wealthy Provinces of Varese, Como, Brescia and Bergamo, and around the lakes.

The Provinces of Pavia, Cremona and Mantua on the lower plains are suffering progressive depopulation caused by the decreasing number of agricultural workers and the demand for labour in industry and the service sectors around Milan.

The mountain areas (Province of Sondrio, part of the Provinces of Brescia and Bergamo) are thinly populated, here also the result of internal migration to the more highly industrialized areas, only partly checked by the recent expansion of tourism.

The regional dialects belong to the large family of Lombardy dialects, which extend their influence to parts of other regions (Province of Novara) and abroad (Canton Ticino, Switzerland), giving way in some areas (parts of Pavia and Mantua Provinces) to the Emilian-type dialects.

The much higher than national average consumption indexes reveal an averagely high standard of living, with great differences within the region itself; high-income areas contrast with those which are economically depressed (Province of Sondrio, mountain areas, lower plains).

Where economical growth is at its greatest, industrialization has brought both general prosperity and serious drawbacks. One example is immigration from the poorer regions of Italy.

This started after the Second World War and has brought social inequality, segregation, precarious activities bordering on the illegal and increased crime which are now Milan's major problems.

Degradation of the environment from atmospheric and water pollution linked to the high concentration of industrial plants cannot be underestimated.

A certain ecological awareness has emerged, in recent years, also among industrialists, and the greater sensitivity of local administration to these problems makes prospects for the future of urban Lombardy less pessimistic.

As regards the economy, agriculture has declined in importance in recent decades, after giving rise to the accumulation of capital later invested in industry.

Job rationalization and mechanization have, however, kept agriculture alive, guaranteeing large high quality production. Rice growing (Province of Pavia), fodder (`lower' Milanese area) and sugar beet (Province of Cremona) are particularly important on the lower plain.

In the hills and on the upper plain, corn, wheat, potatoes, other vegetables and fruit trees are cultivated. In some areas (Valtellina, Oltrep Pavese) vines and wine production are important.

The livestock sector is well-developed and technologically advanced (especially on the lower plain): Lombardy has the highest number of cattle and pigs in Italy.

One million, six hundred and forty-five thousand people are employed by industry, a much higher number than in any other Italian region.

The development of the industrial sector (even before the unification of Italy) has always been linked to the flourishing agriculture which provided the capital required for investment and to the ideal geographical position, at the junction of the main lines of communication between the Mediterranean and Central Europe.

The availability of water resources also favoured industry, and all sectors are well represented in Lombardy. Mechanical and electromechanical engineering (Milan, Provinces of Varese and Brescia), chemicals (Milan) and textiles (cotton mills, silk spinning and weaving around Varese, Brianza and Como) are especially important.

Other major industries are food (sausages and salami, cakes, dairy products) concentrated round Milan and Cremona; footwear (Varese, Vigevano), steel (Dalmine, Lovere), furniture (Brianza) and publishing (Milan).

Mineral deposits are small and mining (Prealps near Bergamo and Brescia) is of little importance. Natural gas is extracted in the Provinces of Milan, Pavia and Cremona.

The growth of industry has greatly influenced the development of the service sector over the last few decades.

This is mainly concentrated in Milan, one of the liveliest business centres in Europe, with a busy stock exchange, head offices of the most important banks, insurance and finance companies and the head-quarters of the major Italian firms. One third of Italy's trade with foreign countries passes through Milan.

The communications network is one of the best in Italy with roads, motorways and national and international railway lines all radiating from Milan; this expansion has also been facilitated by the relative proximity of the main Alpine passes and tunnels (others, such as the Spluga tunnel, are planned).

Major exploitation of waterways has been under consideration for some time. At present these are little used and a navigable canal running into the Po River may be built from Milan to Cremona.

Lombardy is served by Malpensa and Linate international airports and Orio al Serio domestic airport.

There are vast numbers of commuters in the metropolitan area: most of the office staff, factory workers and students living in the vast suburbs, travel daily to work or study in Milan, by public transport.

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