A temporary bistro attached to an apartment building in Nantes, France. Credit: Bruit du Frigo.

Taking Urban Changes Badly

A wooden fence, the unusual comings and goings of commercial vehicles, the proliferation of signs demanding pedestrians to walk in a specific area, and strange, new street furniture: there’s no doubt we are talking about a neighborhood under construction. And for local residents, problems arise because all of their habits start to be shaken up. However, the increase of these construction sites is not about to stop. Between urban sprawl, rising population density, redevelopment, and improving accessibility, our cities are constantly changing. Citizens put up with urban changes, they do not go along with them nor accept them, instead they seek to fight it. The building phase therefore elicits much social and environmental criticism. All the more so because the construction site often appears to be a closed and mysterious space. Construction zones should therefore adapt to each urban environment in order to better understand the issues at stake. To ensure that neighborhood changes are well-received, it is necessary to forget the “pedestrian crossing signs,” in favor of revealing the site’s aesthetics and offering local residents the chance to experience them.

Groups for Accepting Construction Sites

As part of the development of future development sites, more and more groups are starting discussions with local communities. Participative urban planning workshops are organized and residents are invited to ask about the future changes to their surroundings. Bruit du Frigo, a group dedicated to urban research and popular education, seeks alternatives for creating living environments by including local residents. In Nantes, before a scheduled demolition, they transformed an entryway into a temporary restaurant run by a neighborhood association. They also worked there with residents of the Breil-Malville neighborhood on future-oriented urban planning. These workshops promote city-building tools by using a methodology which addresses different points of view and experiences. By mobilizing residents and organizing them, Bruit du Frigo has expanded ways of thinking, enriched the coming project, and has minimized hostility to the future building site.

The Bistrot du Porche in Nantes, France. Credit: Bruit du Frigo.

Design to Accept Changes to the City

Many artists and collectives have tested the potential of an artistic, cultural, and architectural approach towards participating in the development of a city in the making, as well as in its future identity. The designer also contributes towards building the city. He or she seeks a harmonization of the human environment. As part of accepting construction sites, the designer ought to make temporary developments more appealing and set up a relational interface. Therefore, he also has a role as an intermediary, helping locals  live smoothly through this uncomfortable, daily digression and to also integrate into new projects and the city of tomorrow.

Claire Chatelier, a 5th year student at the School of Design Nantes Atlantique has turned towards this problem. “The objective is to stimulate construction areas and to open them to local residents. It is necessary to support moving into these areas – those that we have the habit of walking past.” Departing from the analysis that in order to better accept your neighbor, you have to know him better, she proposes to create “on-site windows” thanks to temporary installations. These spaces fulfill a pedagogical function through explaining the role of each participant on the building site. They are mediatory by allowing locals to express themselves about the changes underway. Through revealing this often ignored aspect of building sites, they fill an aesthetic purpose, and they serve an observational purpose by allowing you to look at what is happening on the construction site. Each structure is designed with materials issued from the construction site in order to better adapt to the urban environment. This is a means of adding life to the surroundings of zones under construction, which are places usually deserted by their neighbors.

Would increasing knowledge and awareness about construction dates and processes make residents more accepting of construction sites?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

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