Current Loeb Angelyn Chandler commuted to a site outside Paris to participate in harnessing the creativity of students to solve the problems of a contaminated agricultural district. As a member of a jury for the Les Ateliers workshop "Replay: From an In-between Space to a Territory of the Greater Paris.” she guided and advised the teams of students and ultimately helped select a winning team. Here is her report.
In late September 2013, I participated on the jury of the Les Ateliers workshop "Replay: From an In-between Space to a Territory of the Greater Paris” in Cergy, 25 kilometers northwest of Paris. The jury was the culmination of a month-long competitive workshop. Twenty-four students from 11 countries worked in teams to produce ideas for the development of the Plaine Pierrelaye-Bessancourt, a 1000 hectare (2471 acre) area of mostly agricultural fields, on which the wastewaters of Paris were spread as irrigation and fertilizer from 1869-1975. I was asked to participate because of my experience leading the design and construction of Freshkills Park, once the world’s largest landfill at 2200 acres, now being transformed into an urban park. In fact, many of the issues we are confronting at Freshkills relate to the challenges found at the Plaine Pierrelaye.
Les Ateliers is a non-profit organization which organizes international planning workshops for students and professionals, focusing on collective and interdisciplinary engagement in urban design and spatial development. Operating with only two full-time staff, Les Ateliers hires consultants to construct and manage the workshops, and then brings together previous workshop participants (now advisers), local officials, representatives of institutions and regional public organizations, and invited local and international professionals to provide guidance and direction, and ultimately to select a winning team.
In 1999, the soils of the Plaine Perrelaye tested positive for heavy metals, and the cultivation of crops for human consumption was no longer permitted. The territory is now considered contaminated and is consequently being used in illegal and unproductive ways. The workshop was held at the request of local officials to develop proposals for the transformation of this site situated in a rapidly urbanizing region. The programmatic elements the students had to incorporate were forest, 6000-8000 units of housing, existing and proposed transportation networks, agriculture and space for "travelers” (camping caravans). The elected officials in the 7 communities surrounding the Plaine had generated significant support for the creation of a forest--a space for leisure, sport, ecology and production--as a means of filling a void space with value, demonstrating a sustainable planning project, and providing a connection between the adjacent forests of Montmorency and Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
The notion of "forest” was the most challenging element of the project for the students and jurors. The students saw forest as something that could be broken up into smaller pieces and sprinkled throughout the plan to achieve separation between uses. They used words such as "exploded forest”, "tessellate”, "mosaic” and "bocage” (delimiting fields with hedgerows), to describe their forestation strategies. The site contamination was also a difficult problem, but many found opportunities in what might be considered a heavily challenged site. Illegal dumping became a source for materials, polluted soils gave permission for agricultural research and ground shaping, polluted water became the subject of a research project, and the quality of being a wasteland allowed the site to be a place for activities no one wants to or can accommodate elsewhere, such as motocross and camping.