« The Earth is not a present from our parents. We only borrowed if from our children»
It is perhaps the first time in history that our society develops global awareness and calls for the necessity of collective action to face the challenge of the future: global warming, depletion of fossil fuels and other natural resources, economic recession, population growth, housing and employment crisis, consequential increase of social divide and geo-political conflicts, etc.
The Earth’s population currently consumes two and a half planets. This consumption is mainly located in the urban and suburban areas of the developed countries. There is an urgent need for efficient new models of ecological living and urban retrofitting. While governments and organisations seem to take too long to agree and act, many initiatives started at a local scale.
These initiatives are nevertheless confronted with the difficulty of changing the current economic and social model of society based on increased global consumption. How to construct a socially oriented economy, which does not depend on the global market? How to initiate progressive practices and sustain ecological lifestyles while acting locally? How to reactivate cultures of collaboration and sharing in a world that promotes individualism and competition?
The R-Urban strategy proposed by atelier d’architecture autogérée
explores alternatives to the current models of living, producing and
consuming in cities, suburbs and the countryside. It draws on the
active involvement of the citizen in creating solidarity networks,
closing local cycles between production and consumption, operating
changes in lifestyles, acting ecologically at the level of everyday
R-Urban proposes a retrofitting of the city through principles following the ecological Rs: Recycle, Reuse, Repair, Re-think, etc.
R-Urban also aims to explicitly reconnect the Urban with the Rural through new kinds of relations, more complementary and less hierarchical.
As other emerging strategies, it aims to increase the social, urban and cultural Resilience.
In contrast to ecological resilience, social, urban and cultural resilience could be adaptive and transformative, inducing change that offers huge potential to rethink assumptions and build new systems. It is this transformative quality that interests us within the R-Urban approach, which is not only about sustainability but also about change and re-invention.
In the case of European cities, the resilience capacity should also allow for the preservation of specific democratic and cultural values, local histories and traditions, while adapting to more economic and ecological lifestyles. A city can only become resilient with the active involvement of its inhabitants. To stimulate this commitment, we need tools, knowledge and places to test new practices and citizen initiatives, and to showcase the results and benefits of a resilient transformation of the city.
The R-Urban strategy is built upon coordinated actions at different local scales (domestic, neighbourhood, city, region) and complementarities between five fields of activity:
residential (co-operative ecological housing)
economy (social and local economy)
agriculture (organic urban agriculture)
culture (local cultural production and trans-local dissemination)
mobility (no fossil fuel dependent transport)
These fields cover the essential aspects that define the
contemporary urban condition. Flows, networks and cycles of production
- consumption are formed across these fields, closing chains of need
and supply as locally as possible, but also in as many and as
diversified ways as possible. To overcome the current crisis, we must
try, as French philosopher A. Gorz states ‘to produce what we consume and consume what we produce’.
R-Urban interprets this chain of production - consumption broadly, well
beyond the material aspect, including the cultural, cognitive and
The R-Urban strategy could be applied in suburban contexts to deal with the collapse of the modern urban ideals (monotonous urban fabric, obsolete tower blocks, real estate bankruptcy, segregation, social and economic exclusion, land pollution…) and their transformations. Between the urban and the rural, the suburban condition could valorise the potential of both.
R-URBAN strategy could also operate within dense urban contexts, in which the rural is internalised and disseminated through specific practices, economies and lifestyles (i.e. urban agriculture, exchange systems, self-build, waste-recycling, etc.).
We have started by identifying micro-local practices and
interstitial spaces that could immediately be connected and activated
(i.e. local skills and ecological practices, active individuals and
organisations, underused spaces and urban leftovers, opportunities or
gaps in rules and regulations, etc.). Local residents are involved in
the setting up and management of the strategy, contributing to its
social, environmental and economic sustainability. The project fosters
local exchanges and (rural and urban) networks and tests methods of
self-management, self-build and self-production.
In order to begin, we have constructed and tested a number of prototypes for urban agriculture (in Paris and Colombes, a suburb in the North West of Paris) and related practices: recycling and cultivating roofs (ECOroof), vertical green walls (aaa office), windows (aaa office), compost toilets (Passage 56), recycling of urban matters and their integration into agricultural soil (Passage 56) etc.
We have also set up social, economic and cultural networks based on existing and emerging local initiatives (AMAP St. Blaise, Jardins d’Audra).
We have conceived and experimented with ecological devices and locally closed cycles: water, energy, waste (Passage 56, Jardins d’Audra).
We have identified and encouraged local skills necessary to support such initiatives, some of them marginalised or overseen and have invited specialists to contribute to learning and re-skilling processes (workshops Passage 56).
We have elaborated forms of knowledge production and skill exchange (Participative Urban Laboratory-LUP).
These prototypes allowed us to experiment with simple methods of
implementation of an ecological approach at the level of everyday life
and to generate self-managed collective use and environmental
Cultural resilience; cultures of resilience
In contrast to other initiatives that deal exclusively with issues of sustainability as technological, environmental or social, R-Urban states the importance of culture. The future is culturally formed as much as the past is, says Arjun Appadurai, and this is because culture deals with ‘the capacity to aspire’.
Within a resilient condition we need to reach an ‘ecosophic’ stage
of culture, which considers mental, environmental and social aspects
alike. In this respect, R-Urban operates with an extended notion of
culture that includes material and immaterial production, skills,
mentalities, habits, patterns of inhabitations, etc…
But how exactly does this relate to the idea of local? Can a resilient culture be localised? These were the questions that R-Urban brought to the agenda of the Rhyzom network.
Localisation is a term usually discussed in relation to resilience. Rob Hopkins, the founder of Transition Town network, defines it like this: ‘The concept of localisation suggests that the move away from globalised distribution systems is not a choice but an inevitable change in direction for humanity. The rebuilding of local economies offers a response to the challenges presented by peak oil, as well as a tremendous opportunity to rethink and reinvent local economies’. However, within the contemporary condition, culture can’t be assigned anymore to a geographic location. If we can localise economy we will never be able to fully localise culture. Cultural resilience negotiates between the necessity of rebuilding local economies and keeping us globally connected.
But how can we still be connected in a resilient way? How to
associate and empower resilient practices, skills, mentalities, habits,
economies at a bigger scale? Maybe ‘from local to local’, through
relational institutions which federate heterogeneous components, both
cultural and environmental, amateur and professional, civic and
educational… In such way, resilient practices could go beyond the
sphere of the local and become trans-local, could operate a re-weaving
of scales and issues through the construction of a trans-local mode of functioning.
Living practices, deep locals, cultural and social biodiversity
As many other projects within the Rhyzom network, R-Urban addressed also the idea of a deep local, a multilayered local made out of multiple and heterogenous micro-locals. Such micro-locals are also expressed at the level of everyday life practices, proximity dynamics, domestic habits, neighbourhood relations. They represent specific cultures of living.
In addition to existing local cultures of living, R-Urban proposes new collective forms of these cultures through reinventing and revitalising proximity relations based on solidarities (i.e. ways of being involved and deciding collectively, sharing spaces and group facilities, rules and principles of co-habitation etc.). Urban life styles in neo-liberal societies have abandoned progressively the different forms of solidarity that were perceived as inadequate and outdated. Though, it is exactly these relations of reciprocity which constitute the fundament of social progress. In his analysis of the connections between the economic and the political (inspired by Tarde’s sociology), Lazzarato describes the civilisation of ‘progress’ as ‘a constantly renewed effort to replace the reciprocal possession by the unilateral possession’. Or, it is exactly these relations of reciprocity and solidarity that are missing in the urban environment today.
In contrast, the dwelling and the living models proposed by R-Urban are based on solidarity relations and implicitly produce sociability and common values and affective relations. They can allow for further emergence of conditions for the production of locality through authentic cultural phenomena, which are fed by their territorial anchoring and their transversal co-operation
The ‘locality’ is formed as such through a multiplicity of micro-social and cultural phenomena which are embedded in their territories. Guattari underlined the role of micro-practices in what he called a heterogenesis process: ‘it is essential that micro-political and micro-social practices, new solidarities organise themselves (…) It is not only that these different levels of practicing haven’t been homogenised (…) , but that they operate in a heterogenesis process’. It is this kind of heterogenesis process that can produce and preserve local cultural and social biodiversity which is based on sustainable solidarity.
Transformations have to take place at micro-scale with each
individual, with each subjectivity and this is what constructs a
culture of resilience and at the same time a resilient culture. As
Hopkins puts it: ‘Resilience is not just an outer process: it is also an inner one, of becoming more flexible, robust and skilled’ .
The culture of resilience includes processes of reskilling,
skills-sharing, building social networks, learning from others,
learning from other experiences. These micro-social and micro-cultural
practices are most of the time related to lifestyles and individual
gestures, they prompt attention to details, to singularities, to the
capacity of creativity and innovation that operates at the level of
everyday life. R-Urban offers a platform for such practices to gain
visibility and feel empowered in their singularity while being
connected to others through relations of reciprocity. This is a form of
Currently, R-Urban strategy is tested for a first implementation in Colombes, a city of 30 000 inhabitants in the North West suburbs of Paris. The local council and a number of local organisations ( …) have formed the first R-Urban Agency. Available plots have been identified and connections have started to be established between some of them.
An urban agriculture pole has been initiated at the foot of a high-rise building on a plot negotiated for reversible use with the Poste company which owns the land. A social economy cluster and organic food market will be initiated in connection with the cultivation of plots. A Recycling Unit which will process construction materials and a co-operative housing built from these materials will start next year. Seminaries, debates and workshops disseminate knowledge and skills necessary to the process. A trans-local research centre will disseminate cultures of resilience in the region. The future is R-Urban!