Between May and August 2008, a research was conducted by atelier d’architecture autogérée (AAA) to investigate strategies that could lead to ecological, economic, and social change on both local and global scale. With the idea to intervene in an existing urban social fabric, AAA sought to work in an interstitial location to introduce collective practices in the everyday life of the citizens. Through a process of establishing collectively-run facilities, people can generate local resources to involve local business, and together build up a sustainable and ecological urban community.
This strategy was proposed to the municipality of Colombes and was met with great interest. Rather than playing a role as the client, the municipality soon became the partner together with other local organizations. Different from the top-down, bureaucratic planning process, R-urban was initiated by this cooperative team to enable the three pilot cases: AgroCité, RecycLab, and EcoHab - the first focuses on urban agriculture and pedagogy; the second on recycling, eco-construction, and social economy; and the last one on cooperative housing.
R-urban is probably not the first project to focus on sustainable urban living, but one of the few that directly involves its stakeholders in the process of making and creating their daily environment, with a strong civic engagement on practicing the ecological R’s, such as recycling, reusing, repairing, re-thinking, etc.
Colombes is a suburban town near Paris with a population of 80,000, with a high rate of unemployment but a vibrant culture of civic activity – there are 450 non-profit organizations, showing a strong civic engagement and the fact that the inhabitants' are willing to contribute.
R-Urban is thus focusing on engaging the active inhabitants, utilizing a bottom-up strategy that allowed for citizens to directly contribute to urban living through sustainable measures and through participation in decision making. Citizens can participate to establish a collectively practice, such as contributing to the garden, working in the shop, and deciding as a community what tasks they will take on.
There are educational opportunities, with cooking, gardening, and construction classes offered alongside the building activities. This allows the community to learn and be fully involved in the success and future growth of Colombes. The process of cultivating the land and the programs not only creates more local resources, local production, job opportunities, but also enhances the sense of ownership and social capital for a community of resilience.
The city and outside community itself is focused on sustainability, instituting programs such as Agenda 21 to promote recycling and environmental education. While R-Urban was designed to forgo the slow pace of central government, the city has taken strides to incorporate sustainability into its growth.
R-Urban consists of three test/pilot projects, each focusing on one major aspect to generate social, economic and ecological assets, including: recycling and eco-construction; civic urban agricultural; and ecological cooperative housing.
The first, Agrocité is a set of buildings and structures dedicated to ecological agriculture. The urban ag civic area boasts an educational garden, a shared garden for residents, and an experimental garden for new theories and methods to be tested. Citizens can grow their own food, learn new recipes, and share their harvest with neighbors, creating resilient and self sufficient agricultural consumption.
Recyclab, is a unit meant to use creative ways and thinking to repurpose objects that would normally be thrown away. Through workshops, local events, and a lab for advanced technology, Recyclab aims to achieve environmental improvements through these new and green urban practices.
The final unit, Ecohab, will be a unit of seven socially mixed housing apartments. The goal is to have inhabitants live green and share natural resources. This is in the process of being built.
This city of Colombes is a northwestern suburb of Paris, with a population of 83,220. It’s elevation is 23-44 m and is 7.81 km2. Like its big city neighbor, Colombes has generally cool winters and mild summers, with occasionally strong, dry, and cold winds from the north. The summer months bring lots of sun, while towards the end of fall and through winter it stays darker longer.