In their Europan 11 Proposal, titled ‘Nudge City’, RIO Agency’s main goal was to build on a critical vision of sustainability as it is often promoted today. In their approach, the urban project cannot be a goal in itself. It has to be a frame of incentives, building on the territory’s ability to attract energies, leaning on individual aspirations to create a sustainable city. Nudges are sparks: public interventions which, designing one use, open way for a tree of possibilities. More images and architects’ description after the break.
The project is located in Saint-Jean, an area in the south of Clermont Ferrand, near the future TGV station. Affected by industrial decline, this place must look to another future. But it already possesses a rich present and a complex identity. Like any other area waiting for an ambitious urban project, the question is: how can we implement here a sustainable approach? Our answer is, at first, a design for sustainability.
Prescriptions, obligations and behavioral norms do not make a sustainable city: a normative approach can only create a desert city. There can be no sustainability without versatility and space’s ability to arouse desire in the long run. Desire generates uses, uses bring value, value opens way to qualitative change. In a sustainable approach, norms and building technics can never be a goal for its sake. Uses must be the first raw material for our project.
In this project, we placed uses at the center of a true tactic reflection. The question we addressed was: “How can the project build on desires and incentives to have the actors, places and practices evolve altogether?”. “Change” cannot just be decided, especially in a context where public action is weakened by budget cuts and administrative division. But global change can feed on people, and especially on the way they react both individually and collectively. In our project, we are referring to a sociological and political theory made famous by Barack Obama during his presidential campaign: the Nudge. Thaler and Sunstein, in their book*, describe how public action can help people make the best decisions, without compromising their freedom of choice, simply by designing the context of choice and action they act in. They described their theory as a “libertarian paternalism”.
Along the Saint-Jean area main boulevard, there is a very large parking lot next to a big mall. The transformation of this place is a key element to create a new identity for the whole area. But how can public authorities force a commercial holder to transform this parking lot whereas the current system is very efficient and cash-making? Those actors have no interest to change. We propose to create a very simple sport center on the parking lot: 4 spotlights and paint markings on the ground will suffice to give a new sport centrality for the youths, just in front of the future high school.
They would be able to come both in the day if the lot is empty or at night, when it is not used, With the presence of youths, an appetite for new businesses will arise in the long run, along with the idea that this parking lot could be even more profitable if given new commercial functions. Introducing new uses, even very simple ones, is therefore a way to provoke the site’s densification and diversification when those seemed impossible.
The project details initial purposes which actors will embrace before creating other new purposes. Conjuring interactions and having them intertwined is to generate sustainable value: it must thus be the prime goal of public policies. For instance, how can we have people long for collective housing in a dense city whereas many people leave the center for individual housing in the nearby countryside? Maybe we should simply start from the beginning, and promote a new pride for habitants living in collective buildings. This means that the private investments to come should focus on collective spaces. In today’s constructions, gateways, pathways and courtyards are often neglected, due to their lack of commercial value, only to be left the least qualitative spaces of a building.
Placing the collective spaces within the residents’ field of vision could help to keep those spaces regulated, well-maintained and appropriated at last Similarly, peoples’ individual desires to embellish their own place can very simply contribute to collective pride: when loggias and balconies are all looking towards the courtyard, all private spaces become open to collective sight, thus creating a collective and positive emulation.
We think that the value and aesthetic of a place is never frozen. Our action towards the area aims at, rather than designing, promoting the conditions of its collective improvement in the long run. There is one vital condition for that: land, whether public or private, should be considered as a common good, and be the prime target of any investments or actions.