by Renard Teipelke
Only a quarter of a page in a 400-page guide for France – that is all that experts thought needs to be said about Nantes a couple of years ago. With its roughly 290.000 citizens, Nantes is a major city in Western France and has more to show than just its nice historical city center with its ancient castle and churches. Over 20 years ago, public and private stakeholders started a project that mastered the redevelopment of Île de Nantes – an island connected with and right next to the city center. During the booming post-war years this site was the hub of the region’s boating industry. As with many heavy industry centers in Western Europe, the situation on the ground aggravated with the rise of new countries and competitors as well as the growing dominance of the service sector. So what to do with a huge brownfield right across the river? What to do with its great past? How to prevent its foreseeable grim future?
Under the direction of SAMOA (Société d’aménagment de la Métropole Ouest Atlantique) and with essential support through various EU funds, a large-scale redevelopment project was initiated. Even though some parts of this project still have to be completed, Île de Nantes has already become a “Mecca of Sustainable Urban Redevelopment.” Through a multitude of well-sized public-private partnerships, various stakeholders were included into this complex process. Whether you look at the resource-conserving energy systems, the user-friendly infrastructure, the innovative architecture and open space design or the mix of industrial, service sector, residential, educational, and tourism elements – Île de Nantes is a textbook example of sustainability with respect to economy, ecology, and equity.
In contrast to other (often less successful) examples of urban renewal, the stakeholders at Île de Nantes have not disavowed the place’s industrial past. Quite the contrary, they embraced the strong industrial tradition, prevented the eviction of blue-collar workers through substantial social rent housing regulations, supported promising national industries as well as local businesses, and opened up abandoned heavy industry sites to the exploration by citizens and tourists. Besides the courageous implementation of sustainable development guidelines, the Île de Nantes redevelopment project did not strive to create a distinctive uniform brand for this urban place. Rather it’s the coexistence of old industrial sites, spacious greenfields, and colorful buildings that leaves the revival of this place to its various users with their different backgrounds.
Considering the tremendous efforts over the past two decades and the courage of public and private actors to transform Île de Nantes from an economically-desperate heavy industry island to a role model for sustainable redevelopment (including other projects across the city), it only seems consequential that the European Commission declared Nantes as the European Green Capital 2013. The already targeted designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site would crown this exemplary success.
Further details: http://www.iledenantes.com/en/