Engaged for some fifteen years now in theoretical work on the productive territories essential in post-industrial society, I am a priori interested in your hypothesis of also integrating agricultural production into the city. Transcending the industrial paradigm of the urban, and particularly its opposition to the rural, is indispensable. However, another characteristic of the old doxa of the urban unit managed by a central state apparatus is also disappearing. Cities now represent regions precisely contextualised in social and cultural ensembles. Virilio’s deterritorialised visions, in which space becomes secondary, do indeed bolster another ideal-model of the global paradigm of financial liberalism, but enter into direct conflict with the regional subjectivities asserted by cities. It is the central role of the productive city that is at stake in a multi-faceted society whose economic and cultural specificities have to be taken into account.
On the other hand, although urban agriculture is already far more than a hypothesis for nations with high population densities such as the Netherlands, it immediately encounters the defiance of a country with vast expanses of non-urbanised and very fertile land like France, where agriculture is the dominant component of the landscape and rural culture is still a key factor of its historical heritage. Even the most authoritarian fantasies of state regional planning bodies such as Datar and FNSEA have always had to take France’s profound attachment to the rural world into account. The productivity of these rural regions has increased in tourism and landscape terms, as has the sprawl development around their towns and cities, but their agricultural uses are still a major national priority. On this politically vital level, as long as its fields of application are not specified much more clearly, the form of urban agriculture your are advocating will be an absolute anathema for all political parties in France, including the ecologists.
Merely moving rural agricultural production into the cities would exacerbate the age-old rural/urban dichotomy that has to be transcended. As part of the Grand Paris plan, the Grumbach team’s Seine Métropole project, to which I contributed, integrates the diverse regions between Le Havre, Rouen and Paris into a metropolitan strategy that does not deprive these agricultural areas of their productive role. The current tendency seems not to be to create a self-
To bring the country into the city, several times you evoke the elimination of transport from agricultural regions in France and abroad. But this necessary concern for logistic questions is unfortunately contradicted by your projects themselves, in which you devote absolutely no space for
mêdistribution, even in your most gigantic towers (except for one sentence in the Mini-Farm project). Although this question is crucial in a country where road transport continues to be encouraged by government policy, viable alternatives are now being proposed. With Paris Métropole and Paris City Hall, I am currently working on a project for the Paris region’s agricultural production to be transported to the city by barge, which is gradually gaining the support of producers.
More generally, only your Tour Vivante, Ferme Tridi and perhaps Super Ferme are on the scale of our cities, contrasting with your other projects, still too subjected to the specialised functionality of the industrial era, notably multi-purpose tower blocks totally cut off from their environment. Your project for the re-integration of agriculture into the city is absolutely essential, but to develop it you will need to integrate innovative human dimensions into your architectural preoccupations. And the gustative qualities of this future production, about which you have not written a word, would probably be a vital factor.
22 December 2010
Thierry Baudouin, “Investir les métropoles”, Multitudes no. 43, 2010, Paris.