The beautiful book by Richard SENNETT "building and living" paradoxically refers to what we experienced in this period of confinement. Street intelligence appeared to be paramount. What surrounds us in daily gestures, short distances and what suddenly appears important since we cannot travel very far. We discover local knowledge in the things of daily life.

tribune1 chapuis

The Idea of Inhabiting

Column by Jean-Yves Chapuis, sociologist, urban planner, elected in Rennes city (France) from 1983 to 2014, former vice-president at the Rennes Metropolis and director of the school of architecture in Rennes. He is now an advisor in urban strategy.

The beautiful book by Richard SENNETT "building and living" paradoxically refers to what we experienced in this period of confinement. Street intelligence appeared to be paramount. What surrounds us in daily gestures, short distances and what suddenly appears important since we cannot travel very far. We discover local knowledge in the things of daily life.

But that does not mean that the local is everything. Each time you have to relearn the local. The urban planner must grasp this intelligence of the places on which he works to grasp the complexity of what makes up the mind of the city. We are too used to seeing the city simply as its spatial dimension, hence the misunderstandings in the dialogue with the inhabitants. Having ethnologists work on an urban operation, especially if it is also in an evolving inhabited territory, is essential. I remember the opening of the Rennes train station to the south. There are roughly 100,000 residents on each side. But the station was only opened to the north.

The ethnological study showed that the people who took the train were against the opening of the station and those who did not take it or only a few were for it. Why ? in fact the people who took little train were the elders of the south-station district often of former railwaymen and the opening of the station was the recognition that they were Rennes like the others. Their neighborhood had been built behind the station, itself being outside the city. People who took the train, came to settle in this district made of old houses with gardens, a little outside the noise of the city. They are middle class intellectuals who are sensitive to the environment and their social status represents the status of those who partly inhabit metropolitan areas: the new urban young dynamic executives. Protecting yourself from the flows was essential. Of course it was not necessary to give in and open the station to the south, but if we do not understand this experience of the street, of the neighborhood how to change the city?

The city is constantly moving like society. Understanding these movements, which can be contradictory, is both the greatness of political action, but also its fragility: being able to respond to "unsociable sociability" which refers to "the inclination of men to enter society, a tendency, however, linked to a general resistance which constantly threatens to break this society ”(1) or as St Augustine said“ to be indifferent to difference ”

(1) E. Kant

Illustration : © antrimguardian.co.uk

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