Cities and sustainable development : Ile-de-France experiences to be shared

Ina Ranson, Nathalie HOLEC, 1999

This sheet presents four experiments in the Ile-de-France region in favor of sustainable territorial development implemented in the years 1990-2000. The heterogeneous experiences explained are interested in :

  • The reconversion of former industrial bastions in Seine-Saint-Denis : Montreuil : recovering heritage and ecological and social solidarity

  • The urban rehabilitation of neglected districts : The urban project of Plaine Saint-Denis

  • Cooperation between communities through inter-municipal cooperation and the transfer of competencies : Creation of an inter-municipal union in Arcueil, Cachan, Fresnes, L’Hay-les-Roses

  • The problem of youth: The Observatory of the city of Ivry-sur-Seine. Education for the city and citizenship

Montreuil : rediscovering heritage and ecological and social solidarity

Montreuil, the 3rd largest city in the Ile de France (95,000 inhabitants) has a long history of integrating ethnic minorities, Italians, Poles, Spaniards, Malians… 24% of the current population are immigrants (INSEE figures in 1990).

The urbanization of this ancient village on the border of Paris is the result of the meeting of a working class population and a very specific horticultural tradition: the cultivation of peaches in espaliers, along whitewashed walls to absorb the sun’s rays. There are still vestiges of this original heritage whose value is now being rediscovered. The housing was built in rectangular plots lined with these walls, especially in the city center and Upper Montreuil, which has promoted social mixing. In the downtown districts, this is accompanied by an exceptional mix of uses: activities/housing/shops. In a context of economic crisis, this mix is an asset that must be preserved. The municipality is committed to rehabilitating the buildings, while preserving the evidence of industrial architecture and the vestiges of the horticultural tradition. It is striving to reconvert old industries, in particular by attracting cutting-edge activities in the image and IT sectors. But it has set itself an objective that goes much further: to improve the urban environment through economical, ecological and mutually supportive management of the territory.

The tools: a city contract and an environmental charter

In 1994, the first environmental charter was drawn up, in line with a city contract signed shortly before. Stressing that it is a question of finding ways out of a «  triple crisis of relations and exchange between societies, between people within each society, and finally between people and their living environment ", the charter is fully in line with the perspective of sustainable development. The municipality is committed to a project for the city that is both social and ecological and insists on a participatory approach that will involve all citizens who wish to participate in the development of their living environment and in the fight against waste and pollution.

The preservation and improvement of the living environment requires measures to be applied in the short, medium and long term. It is important to guide all decisions by taking into account future projects.

Concrete achievements and longer term projects

Initially, the municipality worked to create significant new green spaces, to rehabilitate micro-spaces, and to rehabilitate wasteland. It has created allotment gardens in an area where many fishing walls still remain; studies for a more important revalorization are underway. In the long term, the city plans to link the green spaces together by axes that will constitute a « green belt ». Other studies have been done for better stormwater management.

The improvement of the living environment requires measures that discourage the use of individual cars. The municipality is proposing, together with the neighboring municipalities, a coherent public transportation plan: extension of two Parisian subway lines ; detour of through traffic from the city center by the development of landscaped bypass avenues ; multiplication of «  zones trente  » where pedestrian and vehicle pavements are no longer differentiated ; use of electric cars ; development of bicycle paths and bicycle garages near public transportation ; transformation of a former section of highway into a landscaped avenue, hosting the extension of a tramway link with neighboring cities.

In the field of waste management, the municipality has built a waste disposal center and introduced selective collection for the entire city. In the medium term, in cooperation with neighboring municipalities, it plans to recycle putrescible materials and to recycle toxic and industrial waste (project for an « ecopole »: a controlled grouping of classified companies).

In accordance with the charter, which emphasizes that « it is necessary to develop the civic sense of each person, as well as the sense of solidarity », a very important effort is made for communication, in particular in the direction of young people and children, in educational institutions. It is also planned to set up an environment house equipped with a library and computers, where all the environmental services will be gathered.

The structures of «  co-elaboration  »

As early as 1992, the municipality had set up an environmental department and an environmental mission whose function is to take into account the concern for the environment in all municipal projects, to develop transversality in local action and to conduct awareness-raising action among the population and municipal staff.

The steering committee of the environment charter is chaired by the deputy mayor and is composed of representatives of the Ministry of the Environment, the DIREN, the Prefecture, elected officials and technicians of the city and representatives of Montreuil associations. The commitments made are the fruit of the steering committee’s reflection. The actions selected are subsidized by the State at 50% for studies and 30% for investments.

The Local Environment Council (CLE) was created to perpetuate the work of the steering committee. It has made it possible to bring together a greater number of associations and various actors to participate in the «  co-construction  » (according to the city’s own terminology).

Working groups on specific subjects (e.g. waste and selective sorting, energy and pollution, fishing walls, transportation) are open to the associations of the CLE but also to neighborhood associations. Residents, elected officials and technicians concerned by the subject work closely together.

Current priorities

The evaluation in 1997 allowed to define new priorities for the extension of the charter in 1998 :

The urban project of the Plaine Saint-Denis

The cities of Saint-Denis and Aubervilliers have decided to work together to reclaim a 780-hectare former industrial site, the Plaine Saint-Denis, which has been degraded and fragmented by the presence of numerous wastelands and transport infrastructures, and which has lost its value in terms of housing and outdated facilities. A vast program of redevelopment of the area was therefore decided upon with the objective of promoting a mix of urban functions, integrating this territory into the city and offering a pleasant place to work and live for the inhabitants.

A degraded territory marked by its industrial past

The Plaine Saint-Denis is an inter-municipal territory of 780 hectares that was urbanized in the 19th century. Textile, chemical, metallurgical, electrical and gas production industries were established in this territory bordering Paris, due to its access to the rail network and the presence of the Saint-Denis Canal and the Seine. The site is crossed by the Avenue du Président Wilson, the A86 freeway and bordered by the Paris ring road to the south.

The area is partly made up of large wastelands and dilapidated buildings, and is a degraded landscape with strong potential. Alongside a stable but small core of large companies, small and medium-sized businesses are setting up, closing or moving at a higher rate than elsewhere. The housing is pre-1948 and is essentially made up of apartment buildings along the few main roads and scattered pockets in the interstices of the industrial fabric. The presence of the A1 freeway has degraded the quality of life and led to a devaluation of this housing. The facilities, rather old, are subject to a growing demand from the population.

The urban project as conceived by the two cities has the ambition to recompose the territory but from the existing. The objective is to defend, in this re-conquest, the mix of urban functions. The aim is to offer current and future residents of the area jobs, housing and facilities and to make Plaine Saint-Denis a coherent living area where the quality of public spaces and landscapes is paramount. In the long term, the two municipalities have set themselves the goal of accommodating 100,000 occupants on the site, 2/3 of whom will be employees and 1/3 residents, compared to less than 60,000 at present. From an economic point of view, the objective is to develop a new generation of industrial companies, to attract cutting-edge activities and to establish a real partnership with these companies in order to encourage them to respect the principles of sustainable development in their installation and operation. The territory’s development project is a long-term one and relies on the participation of residents and associations. Neighborhood meetings, the Plaine Saint-Denis conference (presentation of the site’s restructuring projects) and a meeting on sustainable development bringing together residents, elected officials and associations have been organized in this sense.

The first step of the project consisted in creating in 1985 a Mixed Syndicate, the Plaine Renaissance, gathering the two municipalities, the one of Saint-Ouen, associated to the project at the beginning, and the General Council. This partnership work led in 1990 to the joint approval of an Intercommunal Charter for the Development and Planning of the Plaine Saint-Denis, defining the objectives and means necessary for the economic and urban revitalization of the site. On this basis, Saint-Denis and Aubervilliers have decided to draw up an Urban Project defining the principles of urban organization that will enable the area to become a real hub of activities, housing and facilities. A semi-public company, SEM Plaine Développement, and an economic interest grouping, Hippodamos 93, composed of a landscape architect, architects and urban planners, were then created to design the project and ensure its management.

A redevelopment based on the mix of urban functions and the quality of public spaces

The urban recomposition and development of the area is based on a large number of operations: the covering of the A1 freeway and the reorganization of the surface of the Avenue du Président Wilson (operations completed), the reclaiming of the Saint-Denis Canal, the creation of a multi-site urban park linked to the canal, the creation of a space at the heart of the Plaine, called « Plaine de la Plaine », based on the development of major public spaces with the passage of the new tramway line in an exclusive right-of-way, the redevelopment of public spaces starting from the Pleyel site, and the implementation of a new road interchange integrated into the urban planning on the Pleyel site. Other projects are being studied or have already begun. One is aimed at developing the Porte de Paris, i.e., revising the road network so that this space becomes a space for relationships and continuity is ensured between the Plaine and the center of Saint-Denis. The other concerns an old self-built housing area; this is the subject of a detailed restructuring operation in consultation with the inhabitants.

The existence of an urban project approach and land opportunities led to the decision to locate the Stade de France on the Cornillon site, located to the north of the Plain. It was conceived as a relay between the center of Saint-Denis and the Plain ("urbanism of relation"). The Stade zone should eventually host a true mixed-use district with offices, housing, activities, facilities and strong public spaces. At present, the establishment of a certain number of shops and activities related to leisure and sports has already been decided and social housing operations are being commercialized. In fact, the arrival of the Grand Stade has served as a powerful lever for the realization of numerous infrastructures, planned in the urban project.

In terms of public transport, line 13 of the metro has been extended to serve the area and two RER stations have been built. The extension of line 12 is also planned, as well as the creation of a tramway line irrigating the center of the area in the North/South direction. The idea is to make this line the backbone of the Saint-Denis/Villetaneuse university center and thus confirm the area’s vocation as an educational center. A great deal of work has also been done on the systematic integration of soft traffic lanes (bicycle paths) in the various projects.

The Plaine-Saint-Denis Urban Project is therefore an ambitious project which, despite the rapid progress of the work, will only be completed in the years 2010-2020.

Creation of an inter-municipal union in Arcueil, Cachan, Fresnes, L’Hay-les-Roses

The four cities of Arcueil, Cachan, Fresnes and L’Hay-les-Roses (located in the Ile de France region) have chosen to work together and in partnership with the State to draw up an intermunicipal charter for the environment. They therefore began by carrying out a diagnosis and then defined a strategy that led to the development of an action program. This program provides, as a priority, to provide the four cities with a common tool, essential to the implementation of the charter, which is the creation of an inter-municipal syndicate. The cities therefore proposed this project in the context of the call for projects « Tools and approaches for the implementation of local Agenda 21 ». It was selected by the Ministry of Land Management and the Environment.

Definition of a strategy and an action program

The four cities undertook an environmental diagnosis which enabled them to draw up an inventory of the environmental situation of the territory, to identify the main issues and the prospects for development by addressing both the traditional areas of the environment, the interaction of other local policies with the environmental policy and the means implemented, and to construct the environmental equation of the territory. The diagnosis was elaborated from an analysis of the technical and organizational data of the main technical fields (data, interviews, work of the working groups) and an analysis of the perceptions and expectations of the population.

This prospective diagnosis led to the determination of objectives. For each environmental domain (water, air, waste, energy, noise…), the issues for the four municipalities were examined, the existing level of inter-municipality was specified and the transversality of the objectives was put forward. To implement these objectives, it was deemed essential to strengthen existing resources (financial, in terms of partnerships with city actors, the State, other local authorities, etc.).

The following objectives have been retained

This strategy has been broken down into concrete actions that constitute the action program.

The missions of the inter-municipal association

The main purpose of the inter-municipal association is to take over from the association agreement of the four cities and to provide them with a single project manager capable of monitoring the implementation of the action program and assisting the municipalities in environmental matters. Its missions will be

By June 1998, the syndicate’s mode of operation should be defined and it should move into the premises of the Maison de la Bièvre. At this time, it will begin to publicize the issues and the action program of the charter to its partners and to the population. Finally, at the beginning of 1999, the specifications for the studies will be drawn up and the consultations launched.

The greatest difficulty consists in defining the statutes and missions of the inter-communal syndicate while the system is evolving, i.e., while the action program is under construction.

This application file is a response to the call for projects from the Ministry of Land Use Planning and the Environment (June 1997): « Tools and approaches for the implementation of local Agenda 21 ».

The Observatory of the city of Ivry-sur-Seine. Education for the city and citizenship

Made up of photographers, graphic designers, visual artists, social workers and architects, the association Ne Pas Plier is committed to helping young people in Ivry-sur-Seine, a city of 55,000 inhabitants located on the outskirts of Paris, discover the meaning of the city. The association’s mission is to address current social emergencies, such as exclusion, drugs, AIDS, and happiness through visual expression. The project became obvious when the city of Ivry made available to the association the premises located on the top floor of a social housing tower, one of the highest in the city center. The perspectives offered by this point of view convinced the association’s leaders to share them with the children of Ivry’s elementary school to allow them to discover their city from another angle.

Read and understand the city thanks to the observatory

Every week, from March to September, children discover their city and neighboring towns from the four « viewpoints » of a terrace, punctuated with panels and artworks. The visits are supervised by the children’s teachers and parents and led by ordinary citizens, postal or road workers, elected officials, architects, shopkeepers, craftsmen, building janitors or community leaders who become specialists for the occasion. Each one gives his or her image of the city, his or her experience of the city, which allows the child to apprehend the city under different facets and to find his or her marks and his or her place within the community. The sessions are not conceived as urban planning courses but as a place for meetings and exchanges between children and adults.

These visits allow little city dwellers of the age of fundamental learning to situate themselves in their living space, to get to know their environment better, to be introduced to the landscape, to urban ecology, but also to understand that the city is not simply a territory but also a common living space and a civic space in which they have their place. Children learn to look at their city, to question it, to read it, to decipher its articulations and its physical and social history.

The Observatory also offers teachers a good pedagogical support to undertake or extend in class work on orientation or citizenship. Visits to the Observatory can combine the discovery of the city with the reading of a map or the organization of a walk in the city. Since 1996, the Observatory’s managers have multiplied the number of subsequent interventions in classes in order to learn about the work done afterwards or to answer additional questions in the presence of those who led the visit.

Organizing different paths to conceive the city differently

In parallel with the Observatory, the association has organized Urban Walking Routes (UWR) in order to create a link between a general and panoramic vision of the city and a vision in direct contact with the city. A first experience was realized with a class. After a visit to the Observatory, a series of works were carried out throughout the school year, in particular on the daily journey of the children from home to school. As part of this work, they were asked to focus their attention on this route every day, to « see » it and to express their feelings through painting, drawing, photography and the collection of objects. At the end of the year, this work led to the organization of a CRU by the children themselves. This path allowed the children to abandon the star-shaped route from their homes to the school, in favor of a linear route linking the homes of each child to each other.

The CRU also concerns the whole population. Based on the work of urban planners in Ivry (maps, surveys, etc.), the inhabitants are invited to imagine new routes in their city or to find old pedestrian paths that have been modified by construction and development. In 1998, four collective walks were organized to allow residents to rediscover their city. This action received the support of the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations in its prefiguration phase.

Collaboration and exchange between local actors

The Observatoire de la ville was born and exists essentially thanks to a close collaboration with the Office HLM d’Ivry, owner of the premises, convinced of the citizen and educational usefulness of the actions undertaken. This original partnership is a way for the public organization to come into direct contact with children whose parents are very often tenants of low-income housing. In addition, this initiative makes it possible to discuss with the children, in a neutral context, the problems of incivility in the housing estates. It is for all these reasons that the HLM Office has delegated a representative to the Observatory. The Inspection académique facilitates relations with the schools. Finally, the municipality of Ivry-sur-Seine is an indispensable relay for contacting partners, including certain elected officials who participate in the visits.

Since its creation in 1993, the Observatory has received some 4,500 children aged 6 to 11. Its effects on the public concerned are still difficult to measure; however, the regular speakers are already making their mark in the neighborhoods and the local and national press has begun to report on this experience.

The Observatory is part of a desire to share and exchange information among all those who make and live in the city and seeks, through its activities, to fight against the isolation of people and the weakening of solidarity and to encourage the rebuilding of social ties. The Observatory therefore has an essential role to play and must take root over time while knowing how to evolve. Other projects and experiences are already being studied: the creation of orientation tables by artists, the creation of a welcome booklet, the creation of documents for teachers, the creation of a weather station, etc. The Observatory is also working on the construction of projects aiming at widening its public. It could thus be a tool for the analysis and study of urbanity for students, inviting them to be vigilant towards a network of directive and repetitive signs only dedicated to commerce and fast traffic. The Observatory also wishes to open up to teacher-trainees, municipal employees and employees of the HLM office.


French cities and sustainable development, Summary report proposed by 4D, March 1996

DUHAMEL Bernard, EMELIANOFF Cyria, HELAND, Laure et al, 4D-DOSSIERS ET DEBATS POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT DURABLE, Les villes françaises et le développement durable, 1996/03 (France)