Collective action in European urban areas is increasingly advocated in order to confront common challenges: global warming; the depletion of fossil fuels and other natural resources; economic recession; population changes; and housing and employment crises. The active involvement of citizens is crucial for creating alternative models of production and consumption based on closed local cycles and sustainability. To foster a commitment to greener lifestyles, we need tools, knowledge and places to test new practices and bottom-up initiatives. The results and benefits of transforming cities need to be highlighted.
The R-URBAN project aimed to demonstrate that networks of active citizens and associations can create alternative models of production and consumption through accelerated introduction of sustainable collective environmental practices that respond to the needs of modern cities in all of their social, cultural, economic and environmental dimensions. It planned to implement a participative strategy to increase the ecological resilience of the town of Colombes (population: 83 000) in the north-western suburb of Paris.
R-URBAN proposed to retrofit the city following the principles of recycle, re-use, repair and re-think. It aimed to identify existing micro-local good practices by individuals or associations in sustainable activity. It planned also to map available or underused spaces in the urban environment. Through the promotion of bottom-up initiatives, the project would seek to immediately connect and realise these potentials. It would identify and encourage local skills and the transfer of these skills, as well as experimenting with locally closed cycles for energy, water and waste.
The aim was also to establish networks to facilitate coordinated actions on a household, neighbourhood, city, and regional scale to close chains of supply and consumption as locally as possible in five fields of activity: residential, economic, agriculture, culture and mobility. The project wanted to encourage initiatives around the development of co-operative ecological housing, organic urban agriculture, local cultural production and fossil fuel-free transport alternatives. The project aimed to deliver social, environmental and economic benefits in sustainable ways that respect local cultures and traditions. It would ensure that all land use changes are reversible, while developing actions that make more positive use of available spaces.
R-Urban units were created in Colombes in the outskirts of Paris: Agrocité and AnimaLab are an urban agriculture hub promoting agricultural experimentation in a social housing estate. On a site of 1 400 m2 resulting from demolition of a residential estate in the centre of Colombes, an experimental micro farm, community gardens and a large compost device were developed alongside the construction of a building made from second-hand material that includes a greenhouse, a teaching space, a kitchen and an open space for holding a market or cafés, etc. Around 40 families cultivate the small gardens producing annually around 3 tonnes of vegetables, 125Kg of honey, more than 2000 eggs and 2 tonnes of compost. A rainfall water recuperation and filtration system supply most of irrigation needs. The building is resource neutral, consisting of solar panels, a system for recuperating compost heat and a wood stove.
The economic model of the Agrocité is based on a range of activities, including horticulture, egg and honey production, teaching activities and visits. For some of these activities a financial counterpart is dedicated to cover the fixed costs of the Agrocité. For the time being it is managed by its users, and no employee is in charge. It is therefore a financially independent daily business (repairs and investments are not covered).
A few streets away, the project also created RecycLab, a re-use and recycling facility for eco-design and eco-building. Installed on the pavement and integrating the already existing trees in its design, the RecycLab was constructed out of second-hand containers, and as many other re-used materials as possible (e.g. doors and windows). It offers facilities for storing and re-using locally salvaged materials, recycling and transforming them into eco-construction elements for building and retrofitting. This aspect of the project also offers co-working workshops for professional and a participative workshop open to residents for repairing and DIY.
A fourth unit, Wick on Wheels, a mobile recycling production unit was developed by Public Works in London to encourage in situ collective production using local materials, resources and knowledge. The unit is a modified electrical milk truck that travels around Hackney Wick offering workshops on re-use, recycling and re-making techniques.
To publicise its aims and achievements, the project established a R-Urban network of business partners and project stakeholders structured around the creation of a resilient city. Its activities and communication campaign, along with the drawing up of a R-Urban charter, extended the network on a local, regional and European level, with the aim of reproducing the project results in different contexts.
The results of the project and its future sustainability, however, were weakened by the obligation to dismantle the units at the end of the project. The project thus highlights the importance of establishing a strong contractual relationship between the project initiator and the public authorities.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).