Book Club

The Chair read for you : Villes sobres de D. Lorrain, C. Halpern et C. Chevauché [🇫🇷]

Published on 27 February 2019

Cities are very representative of the problems raised by the impact of human activities on our planet: production of greenhouse gases, accumulation of waste, intensive use of natural resources, environmental pollution, land artificialisation, etc. Moreover, the proportion of the urban population is set to increase sharply in the coming years, particularly in developing countries. Cities are thus the cradle of many projects aimed at reducing the impact of these urban households in order to combine development and sobriety.

With this in mind, Villes sobres[1] seeks to analyse different examples where the vision of the city as we know it has been rethought. With the help of a rigorous methodology, this book offers a critical look at the actions implemented by various cities, supported by an important analytical work. Based on nine qualitative and quantitative case studies of very different metropolitan areas, it offers us a very rich and well-argued overview of the sobriety efforts deployed, as well as the limits that can upset them. Beyond the simple implementation of eco-neighbourhoods, it is sometimes very large and complex urban complexes that are detailed, each with its own problems.

After the exhibition of Western cities seeking synergies, particularly in terms of energy (Geneva and Vancouver), the authors analyse two examples of sober water resource management. Indeed, some cities set up urban projects specific to their constraints. This is the case of Singapore and Windhoek[2], for which access to water is a major strategic issue, the first because of its independence from neighbouring Malaysia and the second because of the scarcity of the resource in this region of the world. Thus, the objective is to manage and anticipate energy and drinking water access constraints.

Subsequently, the book examines the case of metropolises belonging to emerging countries. The case of Delhi is representative of the multiple problems that affect some urban areas in Asia: an immense size and insufficient services for waste and wastewater in particular. While the technical stakes are high, the authors focus on the social dimension of ongoing projects, while decentralized initiatives can leave some very poor neighbourhoods behind.

To another extent, the city of Lima is facing instability and institutional failure in water management. Indeed, beyond the technological challenges, institutional levers are of great importance in the work of decomposing and then studying metropolitan management systems, which contributes to an in-depth analysis of their functioning and not just an inventory. In the case of Lima, sectoral actors set up their own management models through privatisations and decentralisation of activities without sufficient coordination of the regulatory authority.

Finally, Villes sobres focuses on urban objects that exist alongside the housing functions of urban areas: airports (Amsterdam-Schiphol) and industrial parks (Suzhou Industrial Park and Shanghai Chemical Industry Park). These structures are strongly conditioned by their initial location, which may limit the possibilities of evolution. Nevertheless, a political will coupled with strong constraints can, a posteriori, influence the trajectories of these groups towards more sobriety and symbiosis.

With these analyses on a completely different scale, which further enrich the authors’ work, we have a global vision of the more sustainable development paths that can be considered for cities, but we are entitled to wonder what still remains to be done to extend these projects to the rest of the planet.

Etienne Lorang, Research Fellow « Circular Economy, recycling and CO2 emissions »

[1] Dominique Lorrain, Charlotte Halpern, Catherine Chevauché : Villes sobres: Nouveaux modèles de gestion des ressources. Presses de SciencesPo 2018, 360 pages.

[2] Capital of Namibia