Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Urban-Nature Relationships in Urban Planning Foresight in Europe: Contributions from the Concours Internationale Du Grand Paris

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Urban-Nature Relationships in Urban Planning Foresight in Europe: Contributions from the Concours Internationale Du Grand Paris

Article excerpt

In December 2008 and February 2009, the results of this international competition were presented in Paris. The focus was the future of the greater Paris area and options for a post-Kyoto metropolis in keeping with a territory of this size. Resulting from a series of conferences and debates initiated by the Ministry of Culture and Communi- cation, the ideas coming out of the Consultation internationale pour l'avenir du Grand Paris contributed to a very precise description of what the sustainable town of the future might look like. The ten multidisciplinary teams, made up of architects, urban planners and landscapers, but also social science and hard science research centres, proposed complete urban, architectural, ecological and political projects designed to fulfil the Kyoto Protocol objectives in terms of energy footprint and carbon audit. Teams were headed by key figures in the fields of architecture and planning, and the competition eventually resulted in the production of documents of more than 600 pages for each team. Through its media impact, because the members of the team were also teachers and critics of all things urban, these ideas helped to establish standards for contemporary European planning action.

Hence, this competition offered the extraordinary opportunity to study planners' representations concerning sustainability, regional scale planning or any prospective problems concerning big metropolises on a specific issue, rather than compacting data from different times and different cities throughout the world. As Berrington did in the Town Planning Review in 1920 concerning the first Grand Paris competition (Berrington, 1920), a critical overview of this new issue must be carried out, in order to understand and describe the planners' new frames and conceptions. It was an opportunity to specifically undertake a precise study on a given subject and identify the characteris- tics of this potentially new eco-paradigm (Taylor and Lang, 2004; Kenworthy, 2006; Emelianoff, 2007; Meijer and Dubeling, 2010).

In addressing the issue of a sustainable territorial town, the ten teams proposed a varying set of solutions, but with a common thread of the new relationship between urban area and nature. This article focuses on the particular uses of nature expressed in the competition, in order to face the question of sustainability and the future of the Great Paris urban area. On this topic, an important and various set of solutions have been proposed that do not focus on the preservation of nature in its sacred state, and our aim here is to examine what concept of nature emerges throughout the Grand Paris proposals. Although the Grand Paris projects are not so far from a 'eco-city' (Engwicht, 1992; Roseland, 1997; Register, 2003), 'sustain- able city' (Girardet, 1992; Nijkamp and Perrels, 1994; Gibbs et al., 1998) or 'sustain- able community' (Nozick, 1992; Paulson, 1997), they refer to a specific relationship between urban space and nature, a renewal of urban techniques in the management of nuisances and the structuring role of geography and landscape in the construc- tion of future morphologies.

Because the proposals embraced a wide range of urban and technical problems, this paper will be mainly aimed at describing them; however, some comparisons will be made with other uses of nature theorised in classical urban thought. Indeed, the Grand Paris propositions were meant to solve specifically Parisian issues, but also to produce generic solutions for a post-Kyoto metropolis and define normative ways to handle nature in an urban context. Of course, comparisons with former Parisian projects will also be made when needed.

Analysing the documents, we perceived a triple figure of nature in the Grand Paris competition: 'therapeutic, poetic and structuring'. These three approaches are a practical way to expose the projects and what they have in common concerning nature; after some specifications about our theoretical framework and methodology, we will describe these three approaches in detail. …

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