Paris commits to transient urbanism
Published 30 August 2019 by Arnaud Idelon
On August 26, the City of Paris and public and private actors signed a “charter for the development of temporary occupation as a tool to serve the Paris area”.
The Charter, signed at Les Grands Voisins, marked a new milestone in the history of the transient urbanism movement, initiated by the City of Paris and co-signed by public and private landlords, real estate developers and property owners, including SNCF Immobilier, RATP Group, RIVP, Élogie-Siemp, Sorêqa, Quartus, and others.
Élogie-Siemp s’engage auprès de @Paris pour l’urbanisme transitoire ? signature ce jour aux Grands Voisins @voisins_les de la charte d’occupation temporaire présentée par @carine_petit & @jlmissika pic.twitter.com/nRiYgO2Oin
— Élogie-Siemp (@ElogieSiemp) August 26, 2019
Transient urbanism—the temporary occupation of vacant buildings—has always existed, especially as the squatter movement took off in the 1980s. Paul Citron and Simon Lasney of the Plateau Urbain cooperative discussed this at length in a recent interview for Makery (in French), where they detailed the development, visibility, proliferation and professionalization of its actors, who gradually established a cycle of trust between property owners and occupants.
In spite of the general distrust of potential squatters, transient urbanism integrated associative projects, a public power that sees these occupations as a way to imagine a more inclusive city, while landlords are more than happy to monetize a vacant property. This new atmosphere of trust was made possible by mediators such as Plateau Urbain, as well as Yes We Camp and Soukmachines, and the successful examples of iconic projects such as Les Grands Voisins (also La Halle Papin, Le Pavillon du Dr Pierre, Vive Les Groues, Les Petites Serres, Les Cinq Toits, Le 6b, L’Orfèvrerie and Re-Store, Padaf…). On September 26, all these initiatives will honor the movement by taking a day to reflect on the past five years of occupation and imagine ways to apply the good practices initiated in Paris’s 14th arrondissement to other areas.
Transient urbanism owes its recent success to an alternative way of creating the city—more flexible, open to metamorphosis, attentive to other uses and the co-presence of various communities. Above all, it lies at the convergence of different professional worlds within the city fabric and favors dialogue across a wide spectrum of actors who, through partnerships and divorces, op-eds and manifestos, have tried to find the words to defend a common vision for practices that are destined to develop and spread throughout France (notably through the government program “Nouveaux Lieux, Nouveaux Liens” and 100 million euros assigned to the development of third-spaces).
The charter signed on August 26 defends the systematic allocation of vacant spaces for projects of general interest. “The urbanism of tomorrow is already here, because a dense city cannot afford to freeze several thousand square meters of its buildings for long years,” states the City of Paris website. Paul Citron, Plateau Urbain’s director of development, sums up the issues: “Its signatories include public property owners, private managers and investors, social landlords, real estate developers. All these actors, often with varied interests, are united around a single goal—to make their vacant properties more frequently available for general-interest activities. That’s what makes this document important and ambitious.”
The signatories agree to respect eight guiding principles, which include identifying available sites, sharing experience, adapting to fees according to the economic reality of project instigators, and transparency in selecting occupants. Beyond these principles, which should evolve into concrete measures—such as the constitution of a follow-up committee—the main signal of the charter is to act upon this atmosphere of trust to imagine together other ways of managing urban space. This point is emphasized by signatory Benoît Quignon, director of SNCF Immobilier, in a LinkedIn post dated August 27: “I believe that tomorrow’s Paris should be built by multiple actors. The aim is to renew our vision in favor of a shared urban fabric, taking into account the social, cultural, urban, economic and environmental problems of the Paris area.”
Nicolas Détrie, from the association Yes We Camp, believes in the convergence of visions and interests as proven by projects like Les Grands Voisins, in order to prove that another city is possible: “It’s the confirmation that these institutional bodies are seriously considering these temporary occupation initiatives, the increasingly shared idea that these projects have the capacity to build the city more incrementally, more inclusively and more innovatively. If not confidence, we can at least talk about the understanding that it’s in everyone’s common interest to create these pilot areas where various actors of urban life intervene on a real-life scale. These temporary occupations give us the opportunity to ‘try out a lot’, test usages, cohabitations, take risks, because they are limited by the definite duration of the experiment.”
City for all
City for all? This seems to be the intent of William Dufourcq, director of Les Grands Voisins and Les Cinq Toits for Aurore: “This Charter symbolizes the institutional recognition of the social value of temporary occupations that serve a general interest and aid the most vulnerable. This assumption of trust from institutions, confiding rather than controlling operations, is a truly political choice.”
For Paul Citron, it’s a solid foundation to convince other actors and areas: “We hope that the next stage will be more signatories. Other public and private actors should be signing on soon according to my sources, but we’re especially waiting for investors, property developers, asset managers who can be important catalysts in generalizing the practice. The City of Paris has set a very positive example, and we hope that other areas will quickly follow suit. I have in mind the big poles of employment in the Paris region: La Défense, La Plaine Saint Denis, Val de Fontenay and Marne la Vallée, anywhere there is vacant property that can be put to collective use.”
William Dufourcq also sees in this charter the beginnings of systemic change: “It’s the acknowledgment that transient urbanism allows us to experiment with the inclusive, benevolent and peaceful city that encourages residents to act collectively and create meeting spaces. It’s the opposite of the city we don’t want—an expensive city that segregates and represents a place of suffering that only serves consumerism. It also demonstrates that just having a reasonably priced and accessible property in the heart of the city immediately stimulates many virtuous initiatives and the creation of new projects that can be tested in a favorable environment. Focusing these temporary occupations on the most vulnerable encourages a nurturing environment, but it also challenges the dominant model. The fact that these institutions have signed a charter to facilitate transient urbanism that is ‘socially conscious’ in one of the most expensive cities in the world is a very positive gesture.”
Much left to do
Transient urbanism in Paris may have a bright future, but only time will reveal the early effects of this charter. The road ahead is still long, says William Dufourcq: “There is still much to do in order to disseminate an experiment like Les Grands Voisins on a large scale. Challenges include the duration of the occupations that are often too short, fear or insufficient understanding of the social environment and activism that should be the driving forces of these occupations, landlords demanding a rent for a temporary occupation that will save them a lot of money.”
Nicolas Détrie also points out that all actors have the responsibility to “ensure that the objectives of resourcefulness and open values remain at the heart of these temporary projects. Within these spatial and temporal interstices, there is the opportunity to both host what is not possible in more permanent occupations and create a world of possibilities as tools of the urban fabric. (…) The next step is to turn this declared intention into a reality, where each of the signatories commits to realizing a first project that respects the ambitions of the charter: to accept a degree of flexibility, to provide hospitality, to be spaces for experimentation in our ways of life. Then the next step is transpose into a conventional city the values of usage, creativity, hospitality and liberty that are concentrated in temporary occupations such as Les Grands Voisins. »
More information about the Charter on the Ville de Paris website (in French)