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Idealistic Eco-Neighborhood in Lille, France Faces Unfor...

Idealistic Eco-Neighborhood in Lille, France Faces Unforeseen Problems

Humanicité is an eco-neighborhood supported by the Catholic University of Lille, France. It is situated next to a metro station and in immediate proximity to the hospital. The project is meant to be a living lab, creating the community life of the future, except for that the project is missing social diversity and public facilities.

Catholic University of Lille, France

Humanicité is an eco-neighborhood supported by the Catholic University of Lille, France. It is situated next to a metro station and in immediate proximity to the hospital. The project is meant to be a living lab, creating the community life of the future, except for that the project is missing social diversity and public facilities.

On a green path surrounded by new apartment buildings, a young man walks his dog and waves hello to those passing by. On a neighboring street, a car drives in slow motion behind a person who moves down the street in a wheelchair. A little farther down, a mom and her baby enter a daycare, two elderly people leave a retirement home, and a young nursing student heads off to school. Life in the eco-neighborhood Humanicité has begun to come together like the dream Thérèse Le Brun had in the 1980s.

A researcher at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), she also manages the Center for Economic, Sociological, and Management Research (CRESGE) within the Catholic University of Lille. To explain how the idea for Humanacité was born, Thérèse Le Brun said the following:

Louvain-la-Neuve, France as seen from above

“My work on the aging population persuaded me that we need to rethink the way we live in cities and bring together social life and health facilities. Our university was in possession of a 140 hectare terrain close to its hospital, Saint-Philibert. Why not anticipate its urbanization so that the area could respond to the needs of the weakest, as the Catholic tradition asks us to do? And why not take Louvain-la-Neuve as the example? That Belgian university town sprang out of the ground in the middle of nowhere in the 1960s. Now, it is home to more than 30,000 inhabitants in a built environment that encourages encounters between young people, families, and elderly persons.”

An Urban Environment that Stimulates Connections

Along with Jean-Calude Failly, a research colleague who succeeded her to the head position in the CRESGE, and Michael Falise, Superintendent of the Catholic University, Le Brun proposed the creation of a new “neighborhood of urban life,” where the public space would stimulate social connections. The project was put together without having been requested by the public, in partnership with the Metropolis of Lille and the communes of Lomme and Capinghem. The university served in the role of developer in order to accelerate the process. This was not the university’s normal work, but time was of the essence. Humanicité wanted to welcome health services. For each of the services that was built, the prerequisite was to obtain the authorization of the regional health department. Work was then obligated to begin within the three following years, or else the authorizations would be deemed null and void.

“We had to invest our own funds in order to make the project viable,” recalls Thérèse Le Brun.

Kinépolis Cinema in Lomme, France

She is now the superintendent of the Catholic University. Situated at the foot of metro Saint-Philibert, several meters from the Carrefour Mall and Kinépolis Cinema of Lomme, the largest movie complex in Lille, the eco-neighborhood Humanicité saw its first inhabitants arrive in January 2013. Today, there are a thousand, and by the end of 2016, there will be close to 2,000 inhabitants. This is exactly the kind of development needed to attract businesses nearby. Already more than 1,200 people work in the community, and 600 students are there preparing for work in the health sector. There is a retirement home, a medical assistance center for persons who are handicapped, a palliative care center, a companionship service for handicapped adults, a medical education institute for children, and an accommodation center for those suffering from head trauma.

“It is about using urban planning to create connections, responding to the need for density (dictated by new density laws, because we are close to a metro station), imagining a neighborhood with a pedestrian scale, offering accessibility to all, and creating shared facilities, like parking lots.”

A district heating network powered by a biomass boiler provides heat to the entire site. A place of social exchanges, the Humanicité’s community think centers unite those who live on the site and those who work there so that together, they can improve their quality of life.

Metro Line 2 Saint-Philibert in Lille, France

“These encounters gave way to changing the traffic pattern on the roads here. Now, we are looking to improve waste management in the neighborhood,” indicates Frédéric Soyer, Director of Community Centers.

This tool makes Humanicité a sort of living lab, thanks to several innovative services that can be implemented to improve transportation, heating, security, and even intergenerational relationships.

“Humanicité is an extraordinary laboratory for energy management. It offers us the opportunity to gather information from a panel of diverse users. We have access to a hospital, to individuals, to unions, to enterprises and commerce. The way users behave is essential to mastering energy consumption. To be in a position to raise the awareness of all these groups, on the scale of a neighborhood, is very rare,” explains Françoise Vialatte, Chief Executive Officer and Representative of Campus Dalkia Nord Europe.

Entrance to the Catholic University of Lille, France

This campus is situated a stone’s throw from Humanicité and is an education center dedicated to environmental professions. The center was opened in 2011 by Veolia before EDF Energy took over Dalkia’s activities in France. The campus trains more than 4,000 people a year in professions related to energy, water, waste, and transportation management.

A Commune Cut in Two

Everything seems to be going well in this idealistic community. But this is not the opinion of Christian Mathon, Mayor of Capinghem.  

“The construction of this new neighborhood separated my commune in two. The majority of the inhabitants of Humanicté are technically residents of Capinghem, but no roads give them access to the village. No public services are anticipated for them, and (as a commune) we do not have the means to finance them,” he explains.

Street View in Lomme, France

A project for a kilometer-long path for pedestrians and cyclists is being studied. If the path were built, school would no longer be more than a ten minute’s walk away. Parents would no longer need to take their car and make a several-kilometer detour in order to drop off their children.

“But new planning rules could force us to do an impact study before proceeding. This would put off the opening of the path to the end of 2015 or even the end of 2016,” highlighted Christian Mathon.

The mayor of Capinghem was elected, in part, to put an end to the urban densification anticipated in Tournebride, where Humanicité is located. The Mayor also denounces the lack of social diversity in this new neighborhood.

In September 2013, the first lodgings became available for private ownership. But the owners who bought the housing do not live there. They hastened to rent the properties. The owners of the apartments finished in 2016 (in the last block to be completed) will do the same, no doubt, knowing that Humanicité’s housing is subject to the Pinel Law.

Overhead View of Lille, France Urban Density

The Catholic University of Lille dreamed of constructing a diverse neighborhood filled with social innovations. The social diversity of the neighborhood’s inhabitants, sadly, has not been realized. People with large incomes show no interest in this new neighborhood, begging the question of whether or not obligatory urban densification can actually lead to social changes.

How can neighborhoods like Humanicité attract a more diverse community? Can such communities' sustainability outweigh their problems? How is your city handling densification? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Katelyn Hewett recently graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. During her time at St. Olaf, she enjoyed playing the French Horn in the St. Olaf Band, working as a teaching assistant for first-year...

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