During the last decades a lot of urban renewal has been taking place in Europe. Organizations like Europan have been promoting the idea of the mixed-city, and we could now say that the ideology of the mixed-city is generally shared.
But how mixed is a mixed-city actually? In many urban development projects of the post-industrial era, housing is the main program. We wisely add some office places and public amenities, but remain especially keen on stimulating bars, restaurants and shops because we want every new district to be a “genuine vibrant urban neighbourhood”. Looking back at how we organized this wave of urban regeneration, we can see how we have systematically excluded one program: the productive economy. Every warehouse has become loft apartments, every industrial shed an arts or leisure centre, every brownfield a fresh residential neighbourhood. The productive economy has left the city to the periphery, whether it is on the outskirts of the same city or to another part of the world.
There is now in many European cities a spatial and social mismatch between living and working conditions. The city provides high-skilled professionals with many working possibilities while a large part of the low-skilled workers live in the city with no work opportunity. This mismatch generates many problems with regards to economy, mobility and sociality.
The urban renewal we have been developing under the auspices of the ideology of the mixed-city is less mixed than we pretend. Productive economy, manufacturing, maintenance and repair jobs make part of city life as well. Our contemporary city is not a complete city.
Of course, we should not bring steel factories back to the city centre. But we are already welcoming all kinds of small-scale urban manufacturing. We are accommodating more and more of the new recycling industry within the city itself. We could systematically save some space in our programs for redevelopment areas for small and medium enterprises. We should avoid that the plumber living in the city and repairing our houses in the city has to drive out of the city to find available storage space. Production should be encouraged in the city, be part of the fabric, be allowed to be seen, connected to shared daily life, nurtured and celebrated.
Which alternatives to produce for such a city?
Instead of productivist programs based on separation and unlimited resources, the challenge is to reinvent proactive proximities, close circular economies, new alternatives of co-production and eco-sharing.
Maison dela recherche et de l’imagination (MRI), in Caen, is a center with co-working spaces, workshops for testing new technology and event venues. Architects: Bruther
Mixing living and working again could be a way to improve the process of hybridization between local and global economies, macro and micro strategies. And by introducing the production within the city, we therefore create new opportunities for more recycling, social interactions and urbanity. The goal is a more sustainable city.
- How to integrate some of the production activities in the city – such as production of food, energy, low skilled services, new industrial products – to enhance new relations between citizens (to assist integration, confront gentrification, create new modes of learning and working) ? How to take social embedment into account? How to involve the actors?
- How to live in productive fields and to produce in living environments? How to manage the tensions emerging from the new relations between producing and living, such as contamination affecting the life quality?
- How to integrate all the production cycles considering distribution, waste and consumption? How to encourage a diversity (of shorter?) cycles, anchor them in local contexts (the last mile) and articulate them to a larger eco-scale?
The challenge for Europan 14 is to generate new kinds of proximity by connecting the living and the producing.