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The energy transition and the challenge of incorporating uses and participation: eco-district experiments

Working Papers N°10/2015. Iddri, 2015. 20 p.

An analysis of eco-district experiments and their contribution to sustainable urban planning demonstrates the importance of a better coordination between technical innovations and user practices. A top-down model which relies solely on technical innovation and which considers inhabitants passive actors in the process does not seem to measure up to the challenges of sustainable urban planning. Rather, a collaborative process appears essential if an area is to become a place of informed, deliberate and guided transition. To do this, project management models must evolve towards increased co-production, and a number of examples show us the conditions and characteristics thereof.

KEY MESSAGES

  • THE LIMITS OF A TOP-DOWN, TECHNICAL APPROACH

An eco-district is the result of aligning technical systems and lifestyles and uses. A purely technical or top-down approach which does not take into account inhabitants’ behaviors and uses could compromise the district’s performance and capacity as well as its ability to incite inhabitants to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

  • BETWEEN BOTTOM-UP AND TOP-DOWN APPROACHES, A RANGE OF INTERMEDIARY PATHS TO SUSTAINABLE URBAN PLANNING

While the active participation of inhabitants is thus useful and interesting in many respects, several practical difficulties are encountered. Moreover, this participation relies on inhabitants’ willingness and cannot be imposed by political will. A purely bottom-up solution is thus not possible. However, there do exist a range of intermediary approaches that could better integrate inhabitants’ and citizens’ experiences into collaborative projects and work around these practical obstacles.

  • TOWARDS A BETTER REFLECTION OF USES AND LIFESTYLES

There exist actors capable of creating this bridge between technical design and the uses of the buildings and neighborhoods concerned. To do so, design processes need to evolve so that these actors are brought onboard as early as possible and legitimized vis-à-vis the technical actors who have become central to all sustainable urban planning. Some early signs in support of this movement can already be seen, be it the emergence of various local actors (associations, local energy agencies) or the development of some occupations (project promotion, architecture, etc.).

  • A NEW GOVERNANCE MODEL: INNOVATIVE PROJECTS AND EXPERIMENTS

To make the best of experiments that involve a wide range of actors (inhabitants, associations, consultancies, public companies) in a more collaborative manner, local authorities need to make changes to their governance models. In this respect, collaborative housing experiments provide several significant examples of the way forward.