We began our tour of Paris by taking a history crash course led by city architect, Catherine. Here she described the many infrastructural changes and city planning mindsets that altered the cityscape of Paris throughout history. The has city experience a range of redesigns throughout the centuries, perhaps most notably during the Haussmann Era when nearly 60% of the city was completely destroyed and rebuilt, leading in part to today's extensive densification and walk ability. However, radical infrastructure updates were not a new concept. In fact, Paris was renowned for its innovative urban infrastructure projects dating back to the 16th century. The revolutionary Pont Neuf and Place des Vosges introduced a newfound level of social mixing to the city, propagated from the development of sidewalks and street lighting. During our introductory day in Paris, we toured many of these renowned sites and experienced firsthand how Parisian culture has shaped and is shaped by its built environment.
On May 18th, we set off to explore Les Grands Voisins in the heart of the 14th arrondissement. Our tour was led by an enthusiastic transitions town activist, Corinne. Transitions town is a community of individuals, working towards re-imaging our world by fighting climate change, social inequality and economic decline. Transitions town has been working with Les Grands Voisins to create alternative uses of space. The old Saint-Vincent hospital has been transformed into social housing, while providing skills to help individuals integrate into the work force. Additionally, they have created countless alternative uses of space, including transforming the old cleaning room into a bar and the heating room into meeting rooms and boutiques. To encourage biodiversity and the protection of food security, Les Grands Voisins have implemented multiple gardens and also a bee garden!
Les Grands Voisins has also made it possible for travelers on a budget to camp in the bustling city of Paris. They have created camping plots along with tree forts to house anyone that needs an affordable option. Despite the incredible movement, the project will not go on forever. The city plans to create a space, similar idea to cliché (see video further below) on a smaller scale which will cause major displacement of people and businesses. This raises land-use conflict between the power of private eco-developments and grassroots.
Below is a short film documenting our tour of the exceptional grassroots project at Les Grands Voisins.
The Pôle Innovant Lycéen school is an alternative institution within the public school system in France. The school provides young adults, from the ages of 16-24, whom have left school, with the academic skills to acquire a high school diploma. Pôle Innovant Lycéen is a tightly knit community where students and teachers can work collectively. Collaboration takes place in the Agora - a meeting place where students and teachers can interact freely in a non-traditional space. The "flipped classrooms" concept organizes the class in a unique way to facilitate an environment where students can be comfortable to express their interests and teachers guide their learning. Students attend the school for only one year where they complete a self directed project that reflects their aspirations and goals. Students can pursue a wide range of topics they are passionate about. Teachers are there to help students reach their fullest potential. For example, Repair Cafes involve students, volunteers and businesses to re-purpose old goods. This builds positive relationships and helps students to gain confidence in their skills as well as feel apart of the community in which they live. The school is a closed loop system: students that were broken and vulnerable are introduced to a school system that allows them to rebuild and grow at the pace catered specifically to them. Teachers at the school invest an exceptional amount of time into the students to guide them towards the completion of their project and re-integration into a 'classic' school system.