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Theme 5 – Reversibility and proximity: what are the issues for urban planning?

The continuous development of flows of individuals, material, information and capital raises tremendous issues for town-planners. This increase of flows has considerable impacts on individual practices, on the needs for infrastructures of all sorts, on the transformations of territorial ecology or even on socio-territorial dynamics. What role can urban planning and development play in light of these changes? If the town-planner is considered as someone who “adjusts distances and flows” between the different territorial resources, how can he act given all these new logics of localization and circulation?

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Promenade de l’Aqueduc à Gentilly (Hauts-de-Seine)
© Sabine Barles

To question urban planning and development in the light of these issues, the notion of reversibility can be fruitful. Demographic dynamics are reversible: let us recall low density areas that experienced rural exodus before recording stronger population growth more recently. Networks experience phases of expansion and decline before sometimes developing again: trams had almost disappeared before being re-developed again during the past three decades in France, in Vietnam, in Morocco… But how can we define a “reversible urban planning and development”? Is it an urban planning which envisages the reversibility of economic or social dynamics or is it one that provokes them? With which tools, methods and aims? This perhaps challenges more broadly the dominant conceptions of the planning of a territory and its development, its paradigms, such as those of growth and development, its tools, such as plans, or its operational capacities, especially large technical networks.

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Jardin du ruisseau sur la petite ceinture dans le 18e arrondissement de Paris

The increase of flows of all sorts and at all scales is one of the most striking features of the modern era, yet, in parallel, numerous urban planners and developers promote “proximity”. This proximity appears as both an aim and a value. Through what is “close”, we try to reduce useless displacements and to reconstruct solidarities. But this notion must be questioned again for urban planning, since business, social, geographical and even organised proximities are superimposed and sometimes contradict each other. If we consider proximity, does this mean there is a contradiction with this process of increasing flows or rather that we have to conceive the local embeddedness of these moving individuals and objects?

The notions of “proximity” and of “reversibility” will allow us to question research studies that are structured according to three thematic approaches. These three themes are in the continuity of the studies carried out by the CRIA so far.

The first theme deals with the ties between the figure of the network and of the figure of the territory, especially in the field of transportation. This approach of land use planning through networks, in the continuity of CRIA past studies, is amplified by the inputs of territorial ecology. A territory can be studied through the flows of material and of individuals entering or leaving it. The management of territorial metabolisms constitutes a key to analyse the potential inputs of land use planning and development.

The second theme focuses on individual practices and socio-territorial dynamics. The notions of gentrification, of rural or urban exodus, of territorial decline designate processes of socio-territorial redefinition. How must urban planning act, take into account and even anticipate these processes? How does the interaction between individual dynamics, economic evolutions and local policies of territorial planning and development take place?

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Reconversion des anciens quartiers industriels de Manchester
© Sabine Barles

We suggest a third thematic field on urban planning concepts and tools. The issues of proximity and reversibility challenge regular conceptions of urban planning (especially through the plan) and traditional interpretations of the territory (center and periphery, rural, urban and periurban, etc). A renewed questioning therefore concentrates on the elaboration and the circulation of concepts of land use planning and development. Knowledge and methods circulate from one country to another, from one type of territory to the next, without necessarily being contextualised or rooted in proximity. More collaborative or participative methods of urban planning question the role of land management as a collective practice and what is expected in terms of community life.

Persons in charge: Sabine Barles, Xavier Desjardins, Nicolas Douay

Updated on : 6 May 2015


Géographie-cités 2011, All rights reserved