LaDef franceBecause the smart-cities movement is being held back by a lack of clarity and consensus around what a smart city is and what the components of a smart city actually are, INTA approached the Urban Development Corporation of La Défense Seine Arche (Epadesa is a public agency in charge of the development of the business district of La Défense in the West of Paris) on how to apply the notions of “Smart City” to the existing business district (La Défense), to a future development area on a very constrained zone (les Groues) and a renewal project on the Seine waterfront where a former paperworks factory just closed (Bords de Seine).

Questions raised included what will be the Smart city of tomorrow? Is the Smart City only a digital city? How to conceive an integrated sustainable city where people, economy, mobility, environment, living and governance are smart?


territoire EPADESA

The Panel gathered international practitioners from Manchester (Francis Glare, BDP), London (Lawrence Barth, Architectural Association), Madrid (Juan Murillo, BBVA), Helsinki (Art and Design City of Helsinki), Hamburg (Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, HanfenCity Hamburg GmbH), Malmö (Christer Larsson, City of Malmö), Amsterdam (Ger Baron, Amsterdam Smart City), Montréal (Chantal Gagnon, City of Montréal) and Paris (Panos Mantzarias, Ministry of Culture).

To start with, the Panel agreed on a common definition of what SMART means for urban development:
- capacity to leverage information in a data-rich environment to make better decisions,
- capacity to anticipate problems better, and to respond proactively,
- capacity to co-ordinate resources more easily, and to operate the urban system more effectively and efficiently.

A SMART city is a city engaged in a process of a higher degree of sustainability, with the support of complex networks of digital infrastructure that opens the door to realising the dream of living within our means globally. The ‘SMARTer’ the City, the more competitive it is at least in terms of cost and also in increased resilience. As an "open-data" society it is becoming more inclusive. The SMART city should therefore be attractive in social, environmental, economic and political terms. In other words, SMART is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

The Panel highlighted the fact that just because we can, it does not mean we should. SMART City tools may be a solution looking for a problem, but there is a danger of abdicating responsibility for management of the City – vision, guidance, facilitation and delivery – to data driven frameworks. We should return to the core responsibility of us all as individuals to work for the benefit of society, to create places for people, not platforms for showcasing technology. That is the function of a laboratory. A city cannot be an experiment. In this context, governance is one of the main levers to promote a smarter development and management of such a strategic territory.

orthophoto La Defense Seine Arche

After 3 days of interviews of local and regional stakeholders, the Panel was confronted with the challenge of thinking “smarter” a territory at different scales - metropolitan and local, with micro and national influences, for it inhabitants and users - capitalising on its real and strong identity despite its partial recognition as only a high-rise business district. The Panel chose to work outwards, starting with the point of view of the business centre district then enlarging the vision to the whole territory, beyond the administrative boundaries of the Development Corporation.

La Défense has been a uniquely desirable location for corporate office space for half a century. La Défense gained its identity from a constellation of towers that define its skyline. But what corporate community values is not the high-rise skyline but the qualities of the public platform and its efficient integration with the regional transport network. Indeed, from a corporations’ perspective, what is needed is a flexible place, dynamic, and well connected to a web of interactions and collaboration. Corporations rely upon the qualities of urbanity of the site – a sense of place and the intensity of interactions, to maintain their vitality.

La Defense Seine Arche

Here comes the concept of a layered ground, which enables special characteristics. The challenge is to work out the value of this privileged environment while enabling both the broadening of actors who contribute to its success and also the better integration of La Défense Seine Arche community into the surrounding urban social and economic life. The position of the site between contrasting banks of the Seine River gives the possibility of integrating diverse riverside functions into a next-generation example of sustainable economic and social diversity.

In order to build a common development strategy and shared vision between La Défense Seine Arche and the supporting neighbourhoods, an economic sustainable strategy is needed. Refocusing and re-imaging La Défense for a new cycle of growth means capitalising on several components: Identity, Sustainability and Urbanity.

A diversification has to be operated through developing capacity for new business, innovation and growth, with the business quarter as a key market, creating an innovation and business ecosystem that benefits from the assets of La Défense Seine Arche, and providing the framework for growth and the area against externally generated failure.

In this context, urbanity comes in many styles: no one size fits all. The integration of the Seine Arche offers the opportunity to secure the diversity of neighbourhoods La Défense has lacked. Knowledge neighbourhoods support social learning and underpin the Smart City: they are recognised by their rich patterns of interaction and collaboration.

Improving the services, in collaboration with all stakeholders, will probably allow La Défense Seine Arche to keep his role of economic driver of the Greater Paris and France. But it will gives the chance to Seine Arche, to be, not only “the back office” of La Defense, but an integrated territory that offers high quality of life for its residents, including the current inhabitants, and attractiveness for new business opportunities such as productive and creative SME’s where La Defense cannot answer to their needs (workspace, rent level,…).

To do so, there are some steps to take for tomorrow:
- Create a single long-term strategic joint vision for all of La Défense Seine Arche area, that fosters both the economic and the social opportunities;
- This vision must urbanistically, economically, socially, culturally and environmentally be of high ambition so the area can compete internationally with the best urban core developments;
- Set up a new public and well-managed dialogue between people, companies and institutions that gives voice to existing and future actives and beneficiaries
- Agree and publicise the vision with its action plan within 2 years in order not to miss the point of turn-around, mobilisation and ambition generation.
- Agree to start with smaller and medium size projects showing rapid progress in terms of quality and ambition and new cooperative spirit

Photo credit: Mac Lean

You can download the full presentation (in PDF) presented on Friday 19 October.
A written report will be published by the end of November. It will be downloadable on this very page.

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