R-Urban - constructing new cultures of resilience
« The Earth is not a present from our parents. We only borrowed if from our children»
It is perhaps the first time in history that our society develops
global awareness and calls for the necessity of collective action to
face the challenge of the future: global warming, depletion of fossil
fuels and other natural resources, economic recession, population
growth, housing and employment crisis, consequential increase of social
divide and geo-political conflicts, etc.
The Earth’s population currently consumes two and a half planets.
This consumption is mainly located in the urban and suburban areas of
the developed countries. There is an urgent need for efficient new
models of ecological living and urban retrofitting. While governments
and organisations seem to take too long to agree and act, many
initiatives started at a local scale.
These initiatives are nevertheless confronted with the difficulty of
changing the current economic and social model of society based on
increased global consumption. How to construct a socially oriented
economy, which does not depend on the global market? How to initiate
progressive practices and sustain ecological lifestyles while acting
locally? How to reactivate cultures of collaboration and sharing in a
world that promotes individualism and competition?
The R-Urban strategy proposed by atelier d’architecture autogérée
explores alternatives to the current models of living, producing and
consuming in cities, suburbs and the countryside. It draws on the
active involvement of the citizen in creating solidarity networks,
closing local cycles between production and consumption, operating
changes in lifestyles, acting ecologically at the level of everyday
R-Urban proposes a retrofitting of the city through principles
following the ecological Rs: Recycle, Reuse, Repair, Re-think, etc.
R-Urban also aims to explicitly reconnect the Urban with the Rural
through new kinds of relations, more complementary and less
As other emerging strategies, it aims to increase the social, urban and cultural Resilience.
contrast to ecological resilience, social, urban and cultural
resilience could be adaptive and transformative, inducing change that
offers huge potential to rethink assumptions and build new systems. It
is this transformative quality that interests us within the R-Urban
approach, which is not only about sustainability but also about change
In the case of European cities, the
resilience capacity should also allow for the preservation of specific
democratic and cultural values, local histories and traditions, while
adapting to more economic and ecological lifestyles. A city can only
become resilient with the active involvement of its inhabitants. To
stimulate this commitment, we need tools, knowledge and places to test
new practices and citizen initiatives, and to showcase the results and
benefits of a resilient transformation of the city.
The R-Urban strategy is built upon coordinated actions at different
local scales (domestic, neighbourhood, city, region) and
complementarities between five fields of activity:
residential (co-operative ecological housing)
economy (social and local economy)
agriculture (organic urban agriculture)
culture (local cultural production and trans-local dissemination)
mobility (no fossil fuel dependent transport)
These fields cover the essential aspects that define the
contemporary urban condition. Flows, networks and cycles of production
- consumption are formed across these fields, closing chains of need
and supply as locally as possible, but also in as many and as
diversified ways as possible. To overcome the current crisis, we must
try, as French philosopher A. Gorz states ‘to produce what we consume and consume what we produce’.
R-Urban interprets this chain of production - consumption broadly, well
beyond the material aspect, including the cultural, cognitive and
R-Urban strategy could be applied in suburban contexts to deal with the
collapse of the modern urban ideals (monotonous urban fabric, obsolete
tower blocks, real estate bankruptcy, segregation, social and economic
exclusion, land pollution…) and their transformations. Between the
urban and the rural, the suburban condition could valorise the
potential of both.
R-URBAN strategy could also operate within
dense urban contexts, in which the rural is internalised and
disseminated through specific practices, economies and lifestyles (i.e.
urban agriculture, exchange systems, self-build, waste-recycling,
We have started by identifying micro-local practices and
interstitial spaces that could immediately be connected and activated
(i.e. local skills and ecological practices, active individuals and
organisations, underused spaces and urban leftovers, opportunities or
gaps in rules and regulations, etc.). Local residents are involved in
the setting up and management of the strategy, contributing to its
social, environmental and economic sustainability. The project fosters
local exchanges and (rural and urban) networks and tests methods of
self-management, self-build and self-production.
In order to begin, we have constructed and tested a number of
prototypes for urban agriculture (in Paris and Colombes, a suburb in
the North West of Paris) and related practices: recycling and
cultivating roofs (ECOroof), vertical green walls (aaa office), windows
(aaa office), compost toilets (Passage 56), recycling of urban matters
and their integration into agricultural soil (Passage 56) etc.
We have also set up social, economic and cultural networks based on
existing and emerging local initiatives (AMAP St. Blaise, Jardins
We have conceived and experimented with ecological devices and
locally closed cycles: water, energy, waste (Passage 56, Jardins
We have identified and encouraged local skills necessary to support
such initiatives, some of them marginalised or overseen and have
invited specialists to contribute to learning and re-skilling processes
(workshops Passage 56).
We have elaborated forms of knowledge production and skill exchange (Participative Urban Laboratory-LUP).
These prototypes allowed us to experiment with simple methods of
implementation of an ecological approach at the level of everyday life
and to generate self-managed collective use and environmental
Cultural resilience; cultures of resilience
In contrast to other initiatives that deal exclusively with issues
of sustainability as technological, environmental or social, R-Urban
states the importance of culture. The future is culturally formed as
much as the past is, says Arjun Appadurai, and this is because culture
deals with ‘the capacity to aspire’.
Within a resilient condition we need to reach an ‘ecosophic’ stage
of culture, which considers mental, environmental and social aspects
alike. In this respect, R-Urban operates with an extended notion of
culture that includes material and immaterial production, skills,
mentalities, habits, patterns of inhabitations, etc…
exactly does this relate to the idea of local? Can a resilient culture
be localised? These were the questions that R-Urban brought to the
agenda of the Rhyzom network.
Localisation is a term usually discussed in relation to
resilience. Rob Hopkins, the founder of Transition Town network,
defines it like this: ‘The concept of localisation suggests that
the move away from globalised distribution systems is not a choice but
an inevitable change in direction for humanity. The rebuilding of local
economies offers a response to the challenges presented by peak oil, as
well as a tremendous opportunity to rethink and reinvent local economies’.
However, within the contemporary condition, culture can’t be assigned
anymore to a geographic location. If we can localise economy we will
never be able to fully localise culture. Cultural resilience negotiates
between the necessity of rebuilding local economies and keeping us
But how can we still be connected in a resilient way? How to
associate and empower resilient practices, skills, mentalities, habits,
economies at a bigger scale? Maybe ‘from local to local’, through
relational institutions which federate heterogeneous components, both
cultural and environmental, amateur and professional, civic and
educational… In such way, resilient practices could go beyond the
sphere of the local and become trans-local, could operate a re-weaving
of scales and issues through the construction of a trans-local mode of functioning.
Living practices, deep locals, cultural and social biodiversity
As many other projects within the Rhyzom network, R-Urban addressed
also the idea of a deep local, a multilayered local made out of
multiple and heterogenous micro-locals. Such micro-locals are also
expressed at the level of everyday life practices, proximity dynamics,
domestic habits, neighbourhood relations. They represent specific
cultures of living.
In addition to existing local cultures of living, R-Urban proposes
new collective forms of these cultures through reinventing and
revitalising proximity relations based on solidarities (i.e. ways of
being involved and deciding collectively, sharing spaces and group
facilities, rules and principles of co-habitation etc.). Urban life
styles in neo-liberal societies have abandoned progressively the
different forms of solidarity that were perceived as inadequate and
outdated. Though, it is exactly these relations of reciprocity which
constitute the fundament of social progress. In his analysis of the
connections between the economic and the political (inspired by Tarde’s
sociology), Lazzarato describes the civilisation of ‘progress’ as ‘a constantly renewed effort to replace the reciprocal possession by the unilateral possession’. Or, it is exactly these relations of reciprocity and solidarity that are missing in the urban environment today.
In contrast, the dwelling and the living models proposed by R-Urban
are based on solidarity relations and implicitly produce sociability
and common values and affective relations. They can allow for further
emergence of conditions for the production of locality through
authentic cultural phenomena, which are fed by their territorial
anchoring and their transversal co-operation
The ‘locality’ is formed as such through a multiplicity of
micro-social and cultural phenomena which are embedded in their
territories. Guattari underlined the role of micro-practices in what
he called a heterogenesis process: ‘it is essential that
micro-political and micro-social practices, new solidarities organise
themselves (…) It is not only that these different levels of practicing
haven’t been homogenised (…) , but that they operate in a
heterogenesis process’. It is this kind of heterogenesis process
that can produce and preserve local cultural and social biodiversity
which is based on sustainable solidarity.
Transformations have to take place at micro-scale with each
individual, with each subjectivity and this is what constructs a
culture of resilience and at the same time a resilient culture. As
Hopkins puts it: ‘Resilience is not just an outer process: it is also an inner one, of becoming more flexible, robust and skilled’ .
The culture of resilience includes processes of reskilling,
skills-sharing, building social networks, learning from others,
learning from other experiences. These micro-social and micro-cultural
practices are most of the time related to lifestyles and individual
gestures, they prompt attention to details, to singularities, to the
capacity of creativity and innovation that operates at the level of
everyday life. R-Urban offers a platform for such practices to gain
visibility and feel empowered in their singularity while being
connected to others through relations of reciprocity. This is a form of
R-Urban strategy is tested for a first implementation in Colombes, a
city of 30 000 inhabitants in the North West suburbs of Paris. The
local council and a number of local organisations ( …) have formed the
first R-Urban Agency. Available plots have been identified and
connections have started to be established between some of them.
An urban agriculture pole has been initiated at the foot of a
high-rise building on a plot negotiated for reversible use with the
Poste company which owns the land. A social economy cluster and organic
food market will be initiated in connection with the cultivation of
plots. A Recycling Unit which will process construction materials and a
co-operative housing built from these materials will start next year.
Seminaries, debates and workshops disseminate knowledge and skills
necessary to the process. A trans-local research centre will
disseminate cultures of resilience in the region. The future is