#2 : The Archipelago City : Cohabitation, Mobility, Sharing – June 28th, 2012

The title of this conference, the archipelago city, prompts us to reflect on what this really means : a group of islands surrounded by water, a cluster of different shapes and sizes, creating links, juxtapositions, and spaces. An archipelago is used as a metaphor for cities that are comprised of near and far, the familiar and the exotic… And the French word for city – « ville » – includes the French words for « life » (vie) and « island » (île), just like on the islands that form an archipelago.

The archipelago city therefore means understanding the city as a « transient » centrality, forced to gradually redefine itself in line with developments brought about by the changing patterns of work, housing and relationships between its inhabitants.

Using accounts from experts from all walks of life, the aim of this conference was to report on real-life experiences of cohabitation at work, mobility initiatives and new sharing opportunities, initiated in the city and by the city.

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About « alter-places »…

Sociologists commonly refer to the home and living spaces as the « first place », with the « second place » being the work place where people actually spend most of their time. « Third places » represent « anchors » of community life that help maintain urban sociability. But why put places as promising and rich in imagination into third place by calling them « third »?

Otherness or « alterity » is what really interests us here so we prefer to use the term « alter-places » to qualify these transient community spaces governed by different temporalities and uses.

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Cohabiting

« How do we want to live and work? » This was the question asked by Christoph Fahle and Eric Van den Broek, creators of Betahaus in Berlin and La Mutinerie in Paris (respectively) on entering the job market. Why do we have to make radical choices between working in a large company in cramped offices or home alone?

Creating living spaces where you can meet people, chat, work, and have a coffee was the main objective of these young entrepreneurs. « Why should I spend my life working in an atmosphere that doesn’t suit me? We prefer working in a café with a good atmosphere. That’s why we created Betahaus, to be master of our own destiny! » laughs Christoph Fahle. The first reason that makes people choose « co-working » is to have (« similar ») people around them. Indeed, for some occupations, simply having an office is of no consequence, the important thing is creating connections, networking, otherwise, you remain isolated. So as Eric Van den Broek explains, we are no longer forced to negotiate between a « solitude = freedom » solution and « social structure but no freedom ». The real challenge is « how »: how to reconcile freedom and a rich social environment in order to continue to be creative. Eric Van Den Broek even went as far as suggesting a new Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace for co-working : at stage 1, the office and wifi, for security (the basics) ; at stage 2, the café, and the blog, for a trusting environment and the « social pact » ; at stage 3, community events for a sense of belonging ; at stage 4, the active role of the community ; at stage 5, a shared vision, an effective collaboration.

Today, although in its infancy, co-working represents 2000 spaces worldwide, and this trend of socialisation and mutual support in a common place has doubled every year for 4 years. But the most striking fact is probably that this phenomenon, originally designed as a very local solution is also an increasingly global means of sharing knowledge and events. « Being able to work together at a global level is the real issue for co-workers » insists Christoph Fahle, who also emphasises that managing these co-working centres is not a hobby but a real business…

Laurent Lehmann, Deputy General Manager of Marketing and Communication for the commercial property group CBRE, and a businessman himself, is following this trend closely. He feels that these alternative work experiences are characteristic of cities, as cities generate an environment where the unity of space and function is fragmented. « In the cases shown, you will choose an office because the people you will meet there are interesting. When you’re in a building of 800 people like ours, the possibilities are endless… »

It’s a significant trend that will further intensify over coming years, along with a second trend, which is that of the porosity of the workplace. Laurent Lehmann is betting that companies will think more and more about the possibility of opening their walls to third parties: « they will be more open to this notion of community, where shared knowledge and the opportunity to work on projects together will change working methods (…). In traditional working practice, it is line management that provides impetus. Here, it’s mainly the community… »

But this is an observation that still eludes most of the major players in the commercial property industry. With 53 million sqm of ‘traditional’ offices, they will not « abdicate overnight », even though barely 80% of premises are actually occupied due to more nomadic work, teleworking and the overall reduction of working time in France.

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Moving in the city

At the heart of the city, people navigate according to their needs and duties, without always having the choice of which route to take or the pace at which they travel. They are dependent on « infrastructure ».

For example, train stations, which are supposed to be spaces designed for mobility, now tend to focus on « stopping » the traveller by turning into shopping centres. « Stations are forced to make profit on their new commercial spaces by managing the flow of passengers as best as possible, the aim being to prevent them from leaving the station, like at the Gare du Nord (in Paris) » explains Philippe Gargov, geographer and founder of Pop Up Urbain, « In France, the aim is to make the most out of travellers’ transit times » … A paradox which has also made an impact on Silvio d’Ascia, architect of the new railway stations in Turin and Naples. Considering that stations have the potential to become « plug-ins » connecting territories to cities, he is working to transform them into true multi-modal hubs.

By creating more open spaces, his aim is to rehabilitate train stations as a true public space where « there can be meetings, encounters and even conference rooms. » As far as he is concerned, his projects will have been a complete success when people go to the station« even though they don’t need to take the train ».

His work on the train station in Naples is a perfect example of this: by rehabilitating an old railway station and an abandoned convent, he has managed to create a multi-purpose space in the heart of the historic city, which connects the past and the future of the city as a whole.

When it comes to the « forced » passenger flows in train stations, Philippe Gargov highlights another paradox, which overlaps with the first: the impossibility of taking breaks. Although passenger flow is key, it is also detrimental to the freedom to « take a break » where we want whenever we want. Here, false benches that no longer allow passersby to sit (or tramps to sleep), there, McDonalds pictograms are converted into information on waiting time…

Aside from pedestrian traffic, how can you get around the city when you’re a motorist? Noting that urban pollution was out of control, with cars taking up too much space, in 2010 the City of Paris launched a call for bids for an electric car share service. The Bollore group, on the back of its previous work on energy storage, won the call for bids with Autolib’, based on the premise that the current model of mobility was coming up short, having failed to evolve in terms of form, engines, and access modes. The challenge was therefore to establish a policy of sustainable mobility by providing users with alternative and ecological modes of transport, no longer focused on possession but on use. At the end of 2012, experiments currently underway in the Paris region will tell us if urban users are satisfied.

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Sharing

Again focused on this idea of « use », this year Citroën is launching Multicity, a website for facilitating travel, centred on car-pooling and car sharing: « it is a solution that responds to the cost of accessing vehicles and there may a new world being created around cars: sharing, testing and helping » explains Sylvaine Maury, Head of Innovation, Marketing and Services at Citroën.

Indeed, allowing Citroën owners to share their car not only opens up a new relationship with the brand but can also help us to see changes in behaviour, and to create an incentive policy to help new types of use to develop over time… and even to identify and attract new client bases.

A world in which Mappy would also like to get involved, offering its users a new concept focused on experiences: Urban Dive. By letting internet users find out what is happening in the place they are going, Mappy helps rediscover local life. « Our challenge is to make a simple route planner into a tool for exploration and travel » says Michèle Brual, business and partnerships manager at Mappy.

The benefit of this service is something like that of a private concierge: having an assistant who can help you to project yourself somewhere: a neighbourhood, a city, or a region, by recommending exactly what you need, sometimes even « diving » into buildings themselves. During the Monumenta exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2011, Urban Dive allowed for a virtual tour of the exhibition. A practical and fun way of providing inspiration to encourage people to move around the city.

On another note, it is clear that whatever the services offered, we tend to continue to « objectify » and view the city by day. As if the night time was a sort of 3rd dimension accessible only for party-goers, people on the fringes or drifters. Radia Daoud, a geographer, offers a different impression of the city at night, through what she calls the « joys of the interstice » the in-between of day and night, when you see the city behind the scenes, when the streets are cleaned, the bakers are ready, when nurses and taxi drivers switch shifts, and the nightclubs empty…, « urban life moves at one pace by day and another at night. It switches on in the early morning and accelerates towards the end of day » To understand what is really at stake, we should encourage « night shift » experiences », so that communities, politicians, business people and artists can work together to develop balanced services for day and night, like the initiatives already established in Amsterdam with the town halls at night …

While French cities are struggling to adapt to the different rhythms of their inhabitants, Berlin does not seems to have problems managing this paradigm. Berlin is living in Open Source;« anything is possible, things aren’t forbidden like in Paris. Freedom stops with a phone call from a neighbour » explains Virginie Gailing, who lives and works as a strategic designer in Berlin. The Open Source model comes from the world of computing: you put together a source code that anyone can use, with open access for opening files, and start to share, to discuss. Berlin is an accessible city that invites people to participate in its evolution, its creativity: « The city is evolving in a participatory fashion and relies on its own dynamics. This is DIY, we co-cook, co-transport, co-bed, co-own… We quite simply share, all in a very transient mindset: the city is not complete and probably never will be ». This idea of transience is even used by governments, allowing those who request it to use empty land pending the start of construction, through a lease for a pre-defined duration. Such pragmatism is unthinkable in our traditional French cities, where discussions on public and private space are still going round in circles.

Seeing cities as unfinished has become a major inspiration for creative people and when a town hall understands this, it can also become involved in projects, for example, deciding to grant temporary contracts to occupy or revitalise an abandoned area. Virginia Gailing cites the example of a swimming pool turned cultural centre and the development of a lawn for visiting a site after a building with asbestos was demolished…

Cohabitation, mobility and sharing… three words that try to provide a framework for a complex reality: that of opening the city to different temporalities; the anticipated and essential reconciliation between all its seemingly contradictory aspects, at the line between movement and rest, work and freedom, public and private, personal and community, day and night.

An invitation to design cities enabling encounters of knowledge and opportunity. A little « Serendipity » in our cruel old world?