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Welcoming Community Involvement (and More) in Rennes, Br...

Welcoming Community Involvement (and More) in Rennes, Brittany, France

On the first Wednesday of the new school year, some kids show their pride by rolling up their sleeves and working. -Could I use the wheelbarrow? -We have to lay down the soil without making holes. -Yes, but it’s hard. Fanny diplomatically explains the purpose of the work being done. -We are going to install

Volunteers setting up bamboo plants in Rennes, France. Credit: La Robinetterie.On the first Wednesday of the new school year, some kids show their pride by rolling up their sleeves and working.

-Could I use the wheelbarrow?

-We have to lay down the soil without making holes.

-Yes, but it’s hard.

Fanny diplomatically explains the purpose of the work being done.

-We are going to install a picnic table here.

-With wood?

-Yes, with wood! Who wants to help Charles make a bump for the bikes?

-I want to. With our bikes we’ll be able to fly!

Behind the construction site gates, the “Vegetal Labyrinth” transformed into a kindergarten. Melissa came because she was bored; Sofian, Atilla and his friends returned to their imaginations. They act as helping hands under the watchful eyes of Fanny, Marie, Louise, Charles, Adrien, José, Jérémias, and Thomas. “We are all from Rennes, and we are architects, urban planners, and one of us is a photographer… we are a group of friends who created the La Robinetterie (French for "pipework") group to put together participative projects like this one here,” explains Fann.The Nimègues Square in Rennes, France. Credit: La Robinetterie.

An Experimental Project with Residents

“This creative and recreational development project will be open for six months, during the construction on the Nimègue Square, allowing locals to enjoy a pleasant space,” explains Estel, an architect for the IAUR (Rennes Institute of Development and Urban Planning), who was commissioned by the city government to lead the consulting process in Blosne. “It is an experimental project done with the residents.” For example, posters were put up in the square so that people could vote for the places to be developed, the materials to favor, and the events to work on.

In the end, the residents chose a picnic ground, games for children, and a place to rest. “It is a development which favors natural materials like wood, with a large amount of plant life. It is a forest of potted bamboo on a floor of wood chips and a lawn with wooden toys. Therefore, one resident who is a carpenter built a small bike ramp,” reports Fanny.

On Wednesday, if families came to the picnic they entrusted their children with the Robinetterie team. Only Gérard took up the shovel. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for twenty-five years. Projects like this give back to people who suffer from the neighborhood’s negative image, even more now that it is in a secure zone.” And he then adds, “There are a lot of kids in the square and it will stay that way in the future because France is maintaining its birth rate… we have to give them nice spaces!”

One local resident from the neighborhood committee said happily, “it is nice to see all the kids working, hopefully this could stop degradation!” The next step will take place in the end of September: celebrations in order to inaugurate the garden. It will also be an opportunity to organize all of the residents to water the bamboo.

What effects can participative projects such as this have on average citizens? Can the non-tangible effects be more important than the developments themselves? 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Marcus Khoury is a recent graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, where he obtained a B.A. in French & Francophone Studies. Aside from his native Michigan, Marcus has lived in several states, in addition to France and Chile. Owing...

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