IN FAVOR OF A FRUGAL CITY
JEAN HAËNTJENS, ECONOMIST AND URBAN STRATEGIST
“In 2010, the sustainable city concept was becoming lost in vague confusion and red tape. What was needed was to put forward a concept that would reconcile ecological ambition with pleasurable urban life and cost control.” by Jean Haëntjens, economist, urban strategist and author of La ville frugale (FYP, 2011) and Eco-urbanisme (Ecosociété, 2015).
The epicurean concept of frugality (from the Latin fructus for fruit) was a good fit with this essential requirement. Applied to the field of urban strategy, it led to the emergence of three unambiguous questions: How can we reconcile the desire for space with the need for density? The desire for mobility with energy efficiency? Appeal and the optimum use of resources?
The urban model that best answers these questions is a medium-density city, because it can accommodate a range of housing solutions, from small apartment blocks to townhouses. It is structured into neighborhoods from which the main urban services can be accessed on foot. These neighborhoods are connected to each other by public transit networks that intersect at various points (spider’s web network) rather than only at a single central point (star network). This structure allows passenger flows and central points to be distributed across the network. To be simultaneously vibrant and free to breathe, the frugal city is less interested in the surface area of green open spaces than in their uses and layout. Central gardens for each city block, neighborhood squares, urban parks and peri-urban forests are linked by green corridors that criss-cross the city.
Clearly, the transformational changes needed to bring our cities closer to this benchmark scheme depend on the individual context of each. In low-density cities or urban developments, it will be important to add new constructions in empty spaces. On the other hand, excessively dense urban fabrics will need to be opened up by green traffic routes that will replace certain roads or military or industrial brownfield sites. Throughout the city, the ‘star network’ of transit routes radiating from the center will have to be complemented with ‘urban ring’ lines - like the Grand Paris Express (public transport network project) - and new polarities will have to be developed at intersections between these lines. Throughout the city, the ‘star network’ of transit routes radiating from the center will have to be complemented with ‘urban ring’ lines - like the Grand Paris Express - and new polarities will have to be developed at intersections between these lines.
But this frugal city is unthinkable without its residents, who control the way it is used. Taking their preferences and practices into account is essential, but that does not mean they cannot be changed. Participation and sharing are essential parts of resident affinity, but are not enough in themselves. For real-life practices to change, the community must offer a credible lifestyle. Scandinavian cities have shown that it is possible, over time, to create close affinities between the frugal options offered by city administrations and the frugal practices adopted by residents.
As geographical territories in their own right, cities can therefore also be perceived as a set of interactions that combine to give them their distinct identities. Participation then translates as increased interaction between ecosystem stakeholders. With their high level of local involvement, companies also have an important role to play in accelerating social initiatives.
“AS A MAJOR CORPORATE GROUP, WE HAVE A HIGHER LEVEL OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR SHARING OUR SKILLS AND PASSING ON OUR KNOWLEDGE IN ALL OUR OPERATING LOCATIONS.”
Jean-Philippe LACHARME : "Our mission is to facilitate relationships between Saint-Gobain sites and their regional ecosystem. So our organization is structured into 3 regional offices. Since 1982, we’ve been working with those who lose their jobs as a result of restructuring plans, and helping them to find new employment elsewhere. We also sign economic regeneration agreements under the terms of which we commit to creating new jobs, largely through the granting of loans at subsidized rates to job-creating SMEs in affected employment catchment areas. We also provide support in the form of expertise and skills to help these SMEs acquire the resources or tools they need. This has resulted in us developing a skills base we can call upon in contexts other than restructuring, and which enables us to contribute to energizing the local employment areas around this sites. More specifically, we do a lot of work in close collaboration with non-profit organizations.”
Louisa MARECHAL-FABRE : “New issues of social concern have recently emerged. The demand for commitment from our employees is increasing, even though local non-profit organizations need to be supported. Our role is to bring them together and initiate interaction between them, because meeting is the way to share knowledge. The many sites operated by Saint-Gobain in France have already developed this type of initiative. It’s our job to put them in touch with the organizations if their initiatives align with the values of our Group. The C'Génial Foundation introduces secondary school students to the world of manufacturing industry and the career opportunities it offers. Saint-Gobain employees regularly make classroom presentations in partner schools, and teachers visit our manufacturing sites. The central idea here is to bring down barriers and allow people to meet each other. There is also the non-profit Capital Filles, which sponsors girls from priority neighborhoods. We’ve been working with them to develop initiatives within the framework of WIN, the Women in Network community of Saint-Gobain employees, whose role is to promote gender equality.”