Participative strategy for practices and networks of local resilience

SUMMARY
R-Urban is a bottom-up strategy which explores possibilities of enhancing the capacity of resilience of a suburban town by introducing a network of resident-run facilities to create complementarities between key fields of activity (economy, habitat, urban agriculture, culture) and initiate locally closed ecological cycles of materials, energy and services that will support the emergence of alternative models of living, producing and consuming between the urban and the rural. 
The project sets up a precedent for a bottom up participative retrofitting of metropolitan suburbs, in which the relation between the urban and the rural is reconsidered. It demonstrates what citizen can do if they organise themselves around new facilities, changing their working and and living habits and addressing collectively the challenges of the future.

PROBLEM
Recently the global awareness and calls for the necessity of collective action to face the current and future challenges have become greater : global warming, depletion of fossil fuels and other natural resources, economic recession, population growth, housing and employment crisis, increased social and economic divide, geo-political conflicts, etc.

These calls have been amplified in the current economic crisis situation, and within this context, while governments and institutions seem to take too long to agree and act, many initiatives start at local scale. These initiatives are nevertheless confronted with the difficulty of changing the current economic and social models of society based on globally scaled economics, which are based on increasing consumption and subsequent exclusion of those who are not able to ‘consume’. How to support initiatives that oppose the current consumption models? How to construct a more socially oriented economy? How to act? What tools and what means to use in times of crisis and scarcity? How to reactivate and sustain cultures of collaboration and sharing within the current society, based on individualism and competition? How to initiate progressive practices while acting locally and small scale? 

SOLUTION
R-Urban is a participative strategy of resilience consisting in a series of ecological, economic, cultural and social agencies based on coordinated actions at different local scales (domestic, town, region) and complementarities between key fields of urban activity (economy, habitat, agriculture, culture). The strategy is centred on the active involvement of citizens in initiating collaborative practices and creating solidarity networks. A number of pilot architectural projects are gradually implemented to create a network of locally closed ecological cycles across these fields, transforming the context in a resilient ecosystem. R-Urban began in Colombes, a suburban town near Paris in 2011, in partnership with the local municipality and a number of organisations, involving a diversity of local residents. 

R-Urban takes support in Colombes’s cultural and social diversity and starts with launching a number of collective facilities including recycling and eco-construction, cooperative housing and urban agriculture units, which are working together to set up the first spatial and ecological agencies in the area. Their architecture showcases the different issues they address: local material recycling, local skills, energy production, food growing, etc. The pilot facilities are collectively run and catalyze existing activities aiming to disseminate at individual and domestic levels, introducing resilient habits and lifestyles that residents can adopt and practice themselves.

IMPACT ON ECONOMY
Agrocité is an agro-cultural unit, comprising an experimental micro-farm, community gardens, pedagogical and cultural spaces and a series of experimental devices for compost heating, rain water collection, solar energy production, aquaponic gardening, phyto-remediation. Agrocité is a hybrid structure, with components running as social enterprise (the micro-farm, the market and the cafe) and another being run by a number of users organisations (community garden, cultural and pedagogical space) and local associations.

Recyclab is a recycling and eco-construction unit which consists in a number of facilities for storage, recycling, reusing and transformation of locally salvaged materials into eco-construction elements for self building and retrofitting. A fab lab is set up for residents’ use. Recyclab will function as a social enterprise.

Ecohab is cooperative eco-housing unit which consists in a number of partially self-built and collectively managed ecological dwellings, including a number of shared facilities and schemes (food growing, production spaces, energy and water harvesting, car sharing). The 7 dwellings will include 2 social flats and a temporary residency for students and researchers. Ecohab will run as a cooperative.

The units will have a civic economy dimension with 4 social entreprises and 10 Jobs created initially in fields like urban agriculture, waste recycling, eco-construction, civic education.

IMPACT ON CULTURE
The R-Urban resilience promoted with minimal means, paradoxically allows for more social, cultural, and subjective diversity. The accumulation of numerous small changes that will form a large-scale strategy depends on the long term involvement of individual participants and on the collective dynamics around their initiatives. R-Urban aims for an urban environment which can adapt itself to the aspirations of every city dweller. This should be constituted progressively, by welcoming the most varied range of activities proposed by all kind of residents, including activities developed in free time. In a second time, these free time activities could evolve into economic, cultural and ecological initiatives that will gradually replace the current productive and re-productive relations and will fundamentally define more democratic and more sustainable ways of working and living.

R-Urban recognises the condition of ‘dweller’ as political and promotes an emancipatory politics of living within populations who are usually limited in their existential choice by their social condition and the spatial, social and cultural experiences they have access to. 

IMPACT ON ECOLOGY

Concentrating on spatial agencies and pilot facilities, R-Urban tries to offer these tools and spaces that will make visible the existing citizen resilient initiatives and practices. Spatial design processes contribute to express the ecological cycles in physical and tangible ways and engage inhabitants in experiences of making and doing. Democratic governance principles are as such associated to concrete hands-on actions whose consequences are visible and measurable. More than just adaption, resilience is for R-Urban a catalyst for urban activation, innovation and creativity. 

A number of concrete impact results are expected: 
– recycling and reusing more than 75% of Units’ waste 
– demonstrating the operability of urban environmental systems in specific urban contexts and reduction by 40% the environmental footprint of the created or converted urban facilities, by engaging in uses that reduce the consumption of fossil fuels;
– initiating and integrating new Environmental Units into the R-URBAN network through accelerated administrative procedures, anticipating the reversible use of available land and the conversion of existing public facilities (20% by 2020); 
– making sustainable collective environmental practices within the greatest possible diversity of populations (large investment aimed at 15% of the population of Colombes), creating links with rural communities in the IledeFrance Region (first partnerships in 2015) and the creation of an R-URBAN charter with the s

IMPACT ON POLITICS
R-Urban claims urban sustainability as a civic right. In this sense, R-Urban creates the conditions for this ‘right to sustainability’ to be exerted not only as a right to access and consume sustainability (provided by a Welfare State) but as a right to produce sustainability (allowing citizen’ involvement in decision taking and action). Sustainability is on the agenda of many urban projects today but this doesn’t mean that all these projects are political in their approach to the issue. 

A political ecology approach, such as R-Urban, does not only assert positively and uncritically development dynamics but questions also the processes that bring about uneven urban environments and the social consequences of urban sustainability.

R-Urban is not only about grassroots innovation to meet social, economic and environmental needs, but also about a political critique and an ideological statement, which affirms the necessity of new social and economic agencies based on alternatives to the dominant socio-technical regime. Through its self-organised constituency, R-Urban gives the means to all those involve to act locally at their own scale of dwelling and opens up possibilities for actions and activities that could change their future. It affirms their ‘right to resilience’.