Examples of temporary experimentations in cities worldwide have boomed in the last decade: whether they take the form of disruptive usage of public space for artistic purposes or to look at urban space differently, whether they become the trendiest spot to go out or do shopping, whether they incubate the city of tomorrow, whether they are led by citizens, private companies, universities, public authorities or all of these together, they all play a crucial role in today’s cities .
The value of temporary or transitional use has now long been proven for its social, economic, cultural and environmental values . A new movement is now emerging seeking to integrate such an activity in city governance , social inclusion and in the development of a social value for temporary use (e.g. STUN Camp ) as well as using a commons paradigm and governance .
It is in light of these parallel experiences taking place throughout Europe and beyond that we can observe the temporary activities which have taken place in Lille at L’Avant-goût for the past 2 years, and the value they have brought to the prefiguration of the eventual emblematic place dedicated to food as a vector of social improvement to be built in Summer 2020.
The need to anticipate the construction of TAST’in FIVES’ building
In 2016, the City of Lille won a 5 million-euro budget from the Urban Innovative Actions to develop an integrated project on food-based social inclusion, TAST’in FIVES. This project aims at reversing negative trends of urban poverty in the deprived neighbourhood of Fives, by (re)introducing productive activities centred on food in an urban brownfield regeneration development (Former Fives Cail Babcock Factory). In Summer 2020, a building of 2050 m2 will be renovated to host an innovative combination of activities in the fields of social integration, urban agriculture, production, food processing and catering, the so-called “Chaud bouillon!”. In particular, a « Community Kitchen » will give the possibility to citizens and NGOs to cook together, learn and exchange, with the aim sharing and empowering.
Bearing in mind the timing of the building works and of the UIA funding, it soon became clear that the building of TAST’in FIVES would be built only at the end of the three-year funding. TAST’in FIVES’ partners therefore decided to start rolling out a prototype of the project on a temporary location, L’Avant-goût, conceptualised in January-March 2017 and launched in September 2017.
What was this experimentation for?
The initial and immediate objectives of L’Avant-goût were defined to: allow residents and stakeholders to get to know the future project; provide local NGOs and residents with facilities and material to cook, produce and process food; provide all inhabitants with an open space for social activities several days a week; develop a regulatory framework adapted to the objectives of the project (user manual, hygiene and safety rules, etc.); develop consensus among inhabitants and stakeholders when it comes to make decisions about the functioning and use of the Avant-goût . More than a focus on the Community Kitchen, L’Avant-goût became a test bed for the whole project, experimenting its location, co-creation model, governance, activities, emergence of an integrated ecosystem and visibility to its audiences.
The importance of the location
The whole surface (1180 sqm) was big enough to accommodate several if not all the components of the future project: a bungalow hosting the community kitchen, a dining room and on an outdoor terrace (110 sqm); a container hosting a forerunner of the urban farming demonstrator (45 sqm); a bungalow hosting the UIA partners who will play a key role in running the site (30 sqm); and green spaces.
Bottom-up co-creation of the future …
The rationale for the experimentation was “not to tell the project but to live it”, as Antoine Plane, coordinator of the project put it, making possible the overall testing and prototyping of the infrastructure, activities and governance model. In addition, using this temporary site and buildings supported the co-creation from the very bottom, from the needs and wishes of users.
Residents have been put at the heart of the co-creation of the site. Their initial comments on the fact that location appeared to be difficult to access and not enough visible, not welcoming and with some overall cleaning and hygiene issues, led to reflections and improvements upon those. At the same time, their feedback on what they liked about the site (its looks), complementarity of aspects, vector of dynamism in the neighbourhood, diversity of activities, etc; confirmed the need and interest for developing further such a project. Immediate feedback has been directly input in the revised designed of the project.
… while triggering the local ecosystem for an integrated governance
L’Avant-goût has also supported the reinforcement of complementarity and synergies between the different existing local activities, driving social integration in the neighbourhood. Although organisations and stakeholders existed in the neighbourhood of Fives, in relation to social poverty and in relation to food, no such an “integrated ecosystem” existed previously.
Complementarities and synergies are also embedded in the governance model, at the heart of the UIA project for the current and future management of the building. Such governance design takes times not only for drafting but also and especially for: getting to know each other and each other expectations, as well as ways of working, for testing the proposal, for readjusting it, …
Learning by doing
Since the launch of L’Avant-goût, more than 1,300 activities have been organised on the site ranging from cooking workshops with the neighbourhood, with children or homeless people or job-seekers, to activities around the greenhouse, as well as co-design of the future Community Kitchen and video-making, with more than 20,000 participants. Readjustments were made as to the types of activities to be carried out and when, for example:
• Allocation of timeslots by types of organisers/beneficiaries: NGOs and local stakeholders during the day, private entities (entrepreneurs) in the evening;
• Modification about the renting procedures have been implemented (free vs compensation, private vs NGO stakeholders);
• Adjustments were also made to the participants’ contribution to the workshops.
In terms of infrastructure, L’Avant-goût for example also made a research, test and proposal with children to obtain the best suitable material (at the right height, right comfort etc.).
In the meantime, L’Avant-goût has earned the unexpected opportunity to host an actual food court: an opportunity aroused while to young entrepreneurs were seduced by the Avant-goût and offered to recreate and ephemerous street food market, “La Friche Gourmande”. The risk was high for this audacious idea, but the City of Lille and Soreli helped and encouraged the initiative, as an opportunity to try and test the popularity of such concept in a deprived neighbourhood.
Its two iterations were the occasion for tests and readjustments: the first edition was organised in Summer 2018. It was a huge success with 60 000 visitors. It proved that with an adequate offer, visitors would come and enjoy the space. At the same time, the first iteration showed the limits of integration of local residents, communication of the wider project, as well as to a future realistic Business Model. The second iteration imposed criteria closer to the social and environmental objectives of the project.
Making the project visible – to the neighbourhood and beyond
A full dedicated communication was developed in 2017: creating a name for the site (“L’Avant-goût” – “foretaste”), graphic charter, flyers and other communication documents, goodies (aprons, potholders, kitchen clothes), friendly magazine open to the neighbourhood (not institutional), launch of a blog and Facebook page, signposting from the metro stop to the site, very large opening by the City Mayor with a feast and neighbourhood party. In 2019, communication on the site increased: large pictures printed on tarpaulin, stickers on the floor…Yet, communication efforts are still on for improvement as notwithstanding these efforts and the clear visibility of the site, some people continued to complain about the lack of visibility of the project.
An important learning was also the experience of La Friche Gourmande which showed in May 2018 the ability of a private actor to mobilise a large community (notably via social media), to attract high visibility, become known and THE reference point for going out in a very limited period of time: thousands of people getting on site, overcrowded parking lots, newspapers’ articles, local TV on site. Residents finally “discovered” the place. Without any budget, La Friche Gourmande overpassed the communication strategy of the project.
Yet, the communication of the message shared by Friche Gourmande was focusing solely on the temporary Food Court, leaving aside the whole social and integration dimension. It was therefore decided that the City of Lille would develop its own brand reflecting all the integrated components of the project (from the social to socialising activities) and would own it: Chaud Bouillon! as a common brand for the future building, was the result of this decision.
The specific leadership of this temporary use
Rare are still the examples where city administrations change their posture and ways of working to ensure a real co-creation of the city, stepping down from a top-down approach to a real user-centered integrated co-creation of a site, which will, as much as possible be regenerated based on the learnings from the experiment. The main innovative elements of the project (creating an integrated Business Model for the future TAST’in FIVES building, co-production of solutions, changing posture of local authority) were clearly described in the First Journal of the project . Yet, now reaching towards the end of the project, innovation becomes even more clearer in its success: the use of L’Avant-goût to test a governance model, activities, create an ecosystem, give visibility to the current and foreseen project. It has enabled finding a balance between different realities: the need to act fast on local issues vs. the long-lasting construction of the site (including delays); the strict and short timeframe of a UIA project vs. the need to anticipate the after-UIA phase; the need to ensure co-governance vs. strong coordination and leadership; various partners’ working pace vs. co-creation pace:
• Leadership for implementation: The City of Lille has ensured a strong vision at the same time as a clear objective. Prototyping has been supported from the beginning as the only viable and relevant solution for the project, also strongly promoted during its official opening on 30 September 2017 by the Mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry.
• Organisational arrangements within the urban authority: Within the project, the City of Lille has been an actor of temporary use, seizing such an opportunity for its development and for addressing wicked social issues. This has led to internal transformation as well, ensuring project-based activities and increased transversality.
• Participative approach for co-implementation: L’Avant-goût was a living lab for experimenting the TAST’in FIVES future building, together with the methodology to co-create it, be it for its actual design and content or for its governance. The learnings can now be integrated in the future management of the site.
• Communication with target beneficiaries: as described, local communication was tested, adjusted and improved. It has built on local ecosystems and will be transposed to the new site.
• Upscaling: the whole experimentation and prototyping had upscaling at its heart. For future implementation of the TAST’in FIVES building, together with dissemination via the other activities of the City of Lille and of the partners
Prototyping for prefigurating the future?
It has not been possible to test all the different aspects of the project. For example, the idea of an economic retribution of the food court towards social activities has not really been tested at L’Avant-goût, which was mainly funded by the City of Lille. At the same time, L’Avant-goût has proven its social and societal added value while seeking to address the main objectives of the TAST’in FIVES project.
Chances are the partners will regret this playground where everything was still possible and when every failure was another opportunity to innovate. Chances are as well, that they will cherish the concrete implementation of their dreams, making their support to Fives neighbourhood more operational and efficient. Many journeys can support temporary use . Maybe more than anything else, prototyping is a state of mind that should be kept during the implementation of any project.
Reposted from the UIA website.