ville proximité
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City ​​of proximities

Can the city of proximity really exist at conurbation level?


Métro-boulot-dodo (“travel-work-sleep”). In three little words (a hexasyllable in the French), the poet Pierre Béarn captured in 1968 the daily rhythm of today’s Parisians in particular and city dwellers in general, and raised the question of their time management: transport takes up a disproportionate amount of time, only leaving time for work and sleep. Having no leisure… is no life!
Fifty years later, the phrase is still just as apt. Going to work and doing your shopping on foot is a luxury reserved for a minority, a matter of luck or a utopia that could, within a decade, become a reality for the majority of city dwellers.

For a new model has been emerging since 2015, driven by urban planners such as the Dane Alexander Stahle[1]and university professors like Carlos Moreno: this is “the closer-together city ” (Alexander Stahle), or “quarter-hour city”(Carlos Moreno). “In less than a quarter of an hour”, explains thelatter, “using soft mobility methods (walking, cycling, scooter), a resident must be able to access the services that are essential for their life.” He counts six of these: “housing, work, buying supplies, looking after ourselves, learning and thriving”.
“This “city of proximity” must reconcile citizens both with the region and with time. It will optimise three fundamental states. First of all, being better with the people we love by spending more time with them. Then, being better socially,[by sharing and offering services within our neighbourhood, or even our building, and by building new relationships in the public arena]. Finally, being better with the planet [by reducing our carbon footprint, and dedicating more time to ecological actions].”
The idea is popular with three quarters of the European city dwellers interviewed by the Observatoire des usages émergents de la ville, (the observatory for emerging uses of cities) in a survey conducted in 2017[2]. For it combines the advantages of conurbations with “the calmer living environment of a city on a human scale (…): a win-win combination”. In cities such as Paris, Copenhagen, Barcelona and Tokyo, the city-village is already progressing from concept to reality.

[1]author of Closer Together, This is the future of our cities (2016)
[2]study conducted with 4,000 French and 3,000 European people (in Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy).


The city of proximity as a social model

The city of proximity responds to a simple philosophy: putting people at the centre of the picture.

To reduce the theory supporting the quarter-hour city to an ecological functionalism would be a mistake. The quarter-hour city is not just a question of demobility, i.e. reducing travel time, and zero-carbon transport. Above all, it responds to a social ambition.
“Sociability is the ultimate target of the “quarter-hour city”; demobility is merely an aim that makes it possible to achieve this goal,”explains Carlos Moreno, who coined the expression. There is no doubt: it bonds family groups, brings together people who love each other since they can spend more time together, allows for good neighbourly relationships, and ensures smoother, more effective relationships with work colleagues. All in all, citizens can’t help but find themselves supported in their roles, committed to a city – and, beyond that, to a planet – that is more inclusive and sustainable.


This project is an opportunity to ask ourselves how cities can become calmer, with more flexibility, altruism, diversity: a common good with intangible values for all citizens”,

‐ Lily Munson, town planning and economic development advisor in Jean-Louis Missika’s office, at Paris City Hall.


Because living in the city of proximity means reconnecting with the original meaning of “policy”, derived from the Greek word polites“he who lives in the city (polisin Greek), and takes part in the city’s affairs”. Cities and participatory democracy are interlinked, one helping to keep the other alive. The quarter-hour city can help to achieve this by allowing every citizen to perceive interactions, inclusion in urban life, diversity and social mixing in a responsible manner. “This project is an opportunity to ask ourselves how cities can become calmer, with more flexibility, altruism, diversity: a common good with intangible values for all citizens”, explains Lily Munson,town planning and economic development advisor in Jean-Louis Missika’s office, at Paris City Hall.
The project could also boost the legitimacy of politicians, in the contemporary sense this time, by bringing citizens closer to their elected representatives, the public and the private. The Mayor occupies a central role as the pivotal point between citizens and those who must meet their needs, primarily promoters and entrepreneurs. “We are currently experiencing a revolution in terms of consumption, including in property,” said Franck Dondainas, CEO of the Quartus group, to L’Opinionin March 2018, “where what counts is less the structure than how we use it or what we’re planning to do with it […] The 2008 crisis has led to the emergence of the concepts of “co-” and “sharing” [essential in the city of proximity]:co-working, co-living, car-sharing, and co-sharing. Economic pressure has encouraged better use of the available capital. This change also applies to our market, because we need to put people at the heart of the picture in the property sector. And the value of a building is in its use.”

The same aim exists in the joint project between Ogic and Altarea Cogedim, known as Nudge, and inspired by the work of Richard H. Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize for Innovation. It should be completed by 2022. This 137-storey building is a “vertical village”, “focused on all that is common”: “a generous system of walkways forming a canopy of shared spaces”, according to the Paris Rive-Gauche website. DIY workshops on the ground floor, a shared terrace, a vegetable garden on the 11thfloor, a sports hall and winter lounges should unite the neighbours. And an apartment with several guest rooms would allow another level of closeness. On the ground floor is a hybrid space, the “Bouillon Club” born of France’s first solidarity-based commercial property, a ground-breaking partnership, SoCo. “Much more than just a shop or restaurant, it will be a platform for innovations dedicated to ethical and responsible food, a “workshop/shop window” which will provide, at the same time, participatory workshops, an educational kitchen, “Cantine Rock”, andprovision of cultural content”, announces the LSA’s Commerce & Consumption website.
“The fact of living in the same building certainly helps to bring citizens closer together. But the inhabitants of a district can only forge strong links there if they feel safe. This is what shops and cafés provide, playing the role of lookout”, explains Lily Munson. Urban planner Jane Jacobs develops this idea in The Death andLifeof Great American cities (1961). In a street, when a shop closes it opens up a hollow space into which discourtesy flows. In the city of proximity, filled spaces – like cafés and shops on the ground floor – mix services and functions and reinforce civic-mindedness; in this way they increase their chances of survival whilst guaranteeing balance in the neighbourhood.

Finally, “ecology is an ideal factor for uniting citizens of a district, like those of a village”, emphasises Rima Tarabay; she co-leads a project called Eco-Town, developing small towns in the Mediterranean area, based on the model of the quarter-hour city. One of them, Nakamura, is on the border with Israel in a military area. “I think geography is our common project, more than our history. The attachment to land and to the air we breathe goes beyond political quarrels. And encourages people to find ideas that are good for their region. They put their energy into competitions to reduce energy use and water consumption. But it’s a project that is progressing slowly, very slowly…”


Demobility : a different way of looking at proximity

Demobility (i.e., reducing travel time). In order to avoid enforced travel and respect the zero carbon objective, cities are coming closer to their inhabitants. This phenomenon can be observed in Paris, Barcelona and Copenhagen.

Since the late 1980s, the announcement of a transport strike has inflamed conversations, and fuelled the press. Everyone has their own piece of advice: set off earlier, work from home, stay put for a day or two.
Staying put for that one day, losing our mobility, is this a punishment or an opportunity to be grasped, or even to be repeated subsequently, on a daily basis? “More than being about cars, buses, roads and railways, mobility is a question of lost time and energy, and of environmental responsibilities”,maintains sociologist Bruno Marzloff, in a column published in June 2019 on the OuiShare x Chronos Lab’s blog. “Above all, this comes down to avoiding enforced travel and reducing the use of motorised transport. A different way of looking at proximity, city and region is required.”
This type of perspective, adopted by local authorities, urban planners, promoters, entrepreneurs or ordinary citizens, is creating new neighbourhoods, in Europe, America or Asia, designed or redesigned for “demobility”. This neologism can be illustrated by three examples: Nordhavn, a port area of 200 hectares located west of Copenhagen, a city currently being built on polder; Eixample, in Barcelona, reconfigured and unrecognisable with its “superblocks” imitated by Tokyo; and the Arc de l’Innovation, a crescent covering the eastern Paris-metropolitan area, “given back to its inhabitants” by the town hall.


A city within the city"

Nordhavn is a contemporary adaptation of Copenhagen’s city centre, designed as a city within the city to house 40,000 inhabitants and reduce their journeys. In order to prioritise buildings with three to six floors, i.e., “on a human scale”, space had to be taken away from the streets, resulting in a dense and compact city. Only a few large buildings are to be seen: the International School of Copenhagen, to the north, and to the south the UN City, which encompasses eight United Nations agencies. But public spaces have not been forgotten: a network of squares, parks, walkways and garden-streets. The quays bordering the canals and the sea have pedestrian paths, cycle paths and squares. The water is a leisure area too. Thus, the public space, freed of pollution, brings the district to life in the same way as the local businesses on the ground floor of buildings, the offices, schools, university and housing.
By applying this same principle – to meet a maximum number of needs within a reduced space – Barcelona has re-examined its urban planning plan drawn up by Ildefons Cerdà in 1860: a grid layout, with traffic lanes ranging from 20 to 60 metres wide to accommodate the expansion in motor traffic. Less than 16% are pedestrian paths, a proportion that the city wishes to inflate by 270% to 67.2%, step by step: by cutting the city plan into “superblocks” or “superilles” in Spanish. It’s a question of considering the city not as a big grid, but as a set of 400 x 400-metre squares (“superblocks”) made up of 9 blocks (think of the face of a Rubik’s Cube). These blocks are demarcated by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. These lines (roads formerly used by motorised vehicles) then become the pedestrian walkways of the “superblocks”. At the four intersections of these walkways are four public areas, occupied by shops, cafés, squares, theatres, etc. In this way, each of the “superilles” becomes a “green” small town. Cars are pushed back to the outskirts, and travel on the roads which demarcate each “superblock”, never more than 5 minutes’ walk from a home.
The Arc de l’Innovation project in Paris, even though it primarily responds to economic imperatives (developing activity in the east to re-balance the forces currently focused on the west and the centre), aims to bring this vast crescent to life thanks to the functional diversity of shops, offices, training centres and housing, places of culture and meeting areas. On the other hand, unlike Norhavn and Eixample, it will be difficult to turn the whole of the concreted district green. Here, proximity is created not only in terms of distance from home, but also from the workplace. To facilitate this, social housing providers have devised and implemented this year in Ile-de-France a rental exchange platform, Echanger-Habiter. Exchanges between renters avoid long administrative formalities in getting an apartment better suited to one’s needs, and enable people to get closer to their place of work. According to a Parisiensurvey, published in mid-October, it is working actively.


Polymorphic cities

“Cities are becoming polycentric and polymorphic,” says Carlos Moreno. Hybrid sites are encouraged to increase: a theatre, for example, will become a university lecture theatre or company auditorium, its café or restaurant will be used for studying outside mealtimes, or even at night. In its “Demobility Manifesto” the Fabrique des Mobilités sees the emergence of “demobility hubs”, concentrations of shops, public services and cultural venues, so that residents feel less need to travel. Ten years from now, 50% of French people will work at a distance from the company’s headquarters, remotely, an official addition to the French Labour Code in 2012. For the past ten years, doctors have also been able to work remotely and are opening “e-surgeries”, for remote consultations. Co-working areas have had to multiply.
As a result, digital technologies play a key role in the quarter-hour city, since they allow people to be everywhere at once. Thus Copenhagen foresees “dynamic streets”, i.e., covered with heated paving stones in winter, fitted with sensors to record and analyse movements in real time, and equipped with LEDs: lights on the ground mark traffic lanes, which can be modified according to the time or traffic conditions. Streets can, at the click of a button, make space for delivery lorries in the early morning, then turn into three-lane “cycle roads” from 8:30 am, and into a pedestrian square at midday, and so on. A dream or a nightmare of city, administered thanks to its data, whose protection poses a problem. Neither Barcelona nor Paris seem tempted by this futuristic model.



“Demobility” does not mean “immobility”: soft mobility belongs in the quarter-hour city. The Arc de l’Innovation in Paris, like Eixample in Barcelona, is developing or widening cycle lanes and increasing parking facilities for bikes, yet is still unable to compete with the infrastructures of the capital of cycling.
According to the Copenhagen’s 2011 “Good better and best” plan, bicycles should account for 40% of transport methods within five years, against around 25% for cars, 25% for public transport and less than 10% for walking, for necessary journeys. To make sure of this, and make the bicycle the fastest vehicle, short cuts for their exclusive use are multiplying, in Nordhavn as in the rest of the city: tunnels, bridges, and contraflow systems. Car parks are envisaged between each building, two-storey metal structures, and in front of schools, shops and administrative buildings, with wider spaces to accommodate “cargo-bikes”, with their two-wheeled carts in front to transport children or shopping. The plan concludes: “More space, less noise, cleaner air, healthier citizens and a better economy. This is a city in which it is more pleasant to live, and where people have a better quality of life.”


Can the city of proximity really exist at conurbation level?

Interview with Rima Tarabay, doctor in geography and psychologist, former adviser to Rafiq Hariri, and co-director of the Eco-Town project, for developing and cleaning up small towns in the Mediterranean area.



With the car and motor bike, we have gained fabulous tools for freedom. And the “quarter-hour city” excludes them. Will knowing that we’re helping to eradicate an environmental threat be enough to make up for this loss?

Of course, mankind must remain mobile and it is out of the question to exclude cars and motorbikes from the roads outside of cities. But travelling fast must have meaning. Like going out in the car in the evening to drive into the countryside and see the stars. Or setting off in the middle of the night in order to listen to the seagulls early in the morning, sitting on the beach. But driving slowly through a city in a SUV next to a pedestrian or a cyclist, with no professional need for it, has no meaning.
The Danes and the Dutch have understood that, on a day-to-day basis, the bike is the means of transport best suited to human pace, urban space and our needs in this context. But, above all, it reconnects us with nature, even in cities: we notice smells, sounds and textures, even fleetingly. Such pleasure goes a long way towards compensating for the frustration of not using a motorised mode of transport on a daily basis.


The quarter-hour city, sometimes known as the five-minute city, is a concept we must move towards, in order to organise the life of the district or neighbourhood as a whole and our own in particular, in accordance with our essential needs – housing, work, buying supplies, looking after ourselves, learning and thriving. Only the lucky few in Paris are testing the concept of the quarter-hour city, but most of those who live and work in cities are not far from it. Then there are those who live in suburban areas. Some have a total of four hours of travel per day, sometimes more. This time should be spent at home, at work, or with friends. Remote working, the creation of economic activities in dormitory towns, for example, should remedy this imbalance. However, lack of time cannot be resolved by the city.


The “village life” that the quarter-hour city should be aiming to reproduce does not allow you to be alone."

When they are rare, long journeys bring people together, as they are synonymous with adventure. But daily long journeys exhaust and isolate them: just look at the faces in the underground. People’s eyes rarely meet, they avoid each other. They are generally staring at their phone screen. On a bike, or on foot, you have to look where you’re going, at who you’re overtaking. Within a small area, you meet same people again and again, you greet them and may engage in conversation. When we talk about demobility, we’re talking about integration in an area.


First of all, I think that the “village life” that the quarter-hour city should be aiming to reproduce does not allow you to be alone. Knowing that you might be at home, your neighbours will sometimes knock on your door when they need to see you.
But being faced with loneliness in fact requires discipline; it’s up to everyone to make the most of these moments for their own well-being. By doing all the little things we wouldn’t have time to do as prisoners of the “travel-work-sleep” routine: taking time to smell the coffee, look at it, and appreciate the patterns that form at the bottom of our cup once we’ve drunk it, feeling the cup grow cool in our hands. This is what is known as full awareness: using at least three senses at a time to appreciate something. And slowing down time, feeling better, helps you to listen more to those around you, to their expectations, and smooths social relations. Solitude is an opportunity that must be grasped: it helps you open up to the world.



Digital technology makes ubiquity possible, the fact of being in our professional and personal time at the same time, and in several places at once. Once again, it’s a question of discipline, of knowing how to keep these realms separate so that we can be fully in each one, in the present moment. Knowing how to disconnect from social networks. Dependency on this type of communication is a reality that can affect the individual, however much vitality the neighbourhood has to offer. This is why education about social networks is essential, why groups of people should act to respond to this problem… and bring together city dwellers who live or work in the same neighbourhood.


Once again, I think this idea allows us to move towards improvement, but it remains a concept. For me, the solution is to develop villages by establishing activities in them that are good for the planet, or to allow small towns to thrive without encroaching on agricultural land. That’s what I’m doing with my Eco-Town project around the Mediterranean. Public policies should support this type of solution. It’s at this level that citizens will really be able to take ownership of their territory, get to know it, define its identity. It’s at this level that we can build a “nature city”with a framework and a lifestyle in harmony with nature, a city that is a reservoir of biodiversity. Let’s move towards this solution that would enable us, in the evening in the city, to gaze at the stars in an unpolluted sky.

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