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The regeneration of Austerlitz Square in Strasbourg, an innovative community consultation for a sustainable city project

© Copyright Digitale Paysage 2017

Introduction

The regeneration of Austerlitz Square in the City of Strasbourg in France was shaped through a carefully designed public consultation process with local neighbourhood associations and the wider public, which involved elements of co-design and co-commissioning. For example, a citizen representative participated in the jury selecting the team responsible for project planning. In a city-wide citizen survey of 2015 the new square was considered to be one of the most three popular green spaces in Strasbourg! A follow-up committee with local citizens and public officers ensures that Place Austerlitz continues to meet the needs of local residents.

 

Veuillez consulter la version française de l’étude de cas de Consulting Territorial Europe et Governance International (Téléchargez la version française).

 

 

 

Objectives

Austerlitz Square in Strasbourg is a public space with a high symbolic value. Already in the Middle Ages it marked the southern entry to the City of Strasbourg. Today it links the historic city centre with new urban development areas in the south of Strasbourg. It also plays a key role for the neighbourhood Krutenau.

The built environment of this public space dated back to the post-war period and was designed around car transport, with vast car parking space and bus stops for tourist coaches. Over time, the area fell into disarray.

In 2008, the local council and metropolitan council of Strasbourg took the decision to regenerate Austerlitz Square within an innovative consultation process with neighbourhood groups and local residents.

The strategic objectives of the regeneration project as defined at the start of the consultation process were as follows:

  1. To create an urban space which is both a central square for the City of Strasbourg and the neighbourhood of Krutenau.
  2. To create a space for all. This meant favouring ‘soft’ forms of mobility, for example, through the creation of pedestrian zones and a decrease of the space devoted to car transport and parking. This implied different traffic options for specific streets and the need to find solutions for potential conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers.
  3. To define the functions of the new square and organise it accordingly so that the square would allow the passage of people but provide social space for people to meet others and relax. Again, this involved different options to be discussed with local people.

Change management

The public engagement process of the regeneration of Austerlitz Square was characterised by the following milestones:

October 2008 - January 2009: Co-design of the regeneration plan

This involved local associations scoping the project and shaping the regeneration plan in co-operation with the project manager.

February – June 2009: Consultation on the regeneration plan

After a public meeting on 11 February a number of specific information and consultation events were launched, including an exhibition in a community centre, an online consultation on the website of Strasbourg Council and six different locations where citizens were asked to participate in a survey by filling in a questionnaire. This phase concluded with a consultation of the neighbourhood council on 1 April 2009. In France, this is a statutory body in cities with more than 80.000 inhabitants but their composition can be decided locally. In Strasbourg the 75% of the members of neighbourhood councils involve local residents (with an equal representation of women and men) and 25%  of representatives of associations and socio-professional groups. This was followed by two events to provide feedback on the resulting project plan on 23 April to local associations and subsequently, on 11 June to the wider public.

November 2009 – May 2010: Citizens co-commissioning the public tender

This phase focussed on the selection of the company to be awarded the public tender to redesign Square Austerlitz. This involved a preparatory meeting with neighbourhood associations to identify suitable candidates who were either qualified or interested to take part in a jury. The jury involved six elected councillors (including one president), six professionals and five interested people from neighbourhood associations and the neighbourhood council.

The jury members were asked to select the bids based on the following criteria:

  1. Respect of the key objectives of the project
  2. Quality of landscape and urban integration
  3. Respect of the budget guidelines
  4. Environmental quality

The participation of citizens (as representatives of neighbourhood associations or the neighbourhood council) was a first in Strasbourg in a public space project. After receiving the offers, the jury engaged in a debate and voted the company in charge of planning the project.

Autumn 2010 – June 2012: Intense public information on the public works

In autumn 2010 the award winner presented the plans for the new square to the public in a public event. Furthermore, an exhibition was organised. From May 2011 – June 2012 the public works were carried out. Every two months a public information event was organised to provide feedback to residents and allow them to ask questions. On 2 June 2012 the new Square Austerlitz was publicly opened.

Since October 2014: Feedback through a local follow-up committee

After the opening of Square Austerlitz a number of residents who took part in the jury volunteered to take part in an informal assessment committee with public officers which meets about three times per year to assess the quality and the use of the new square and to identify actions for improvement. For example, the fact that the new Square Austerlitz focusses on indigenous plants means that at times there may be fewer flowers than in other parks where plants are changed throughout the seasons. While this biodiversity is a strong point from the point of view of an ecologically oriented local neighbourhood association this requires communication to other users who may not be aware of local plants.

The design of the consultation process shows that each step involved an intense consultation with neighbourhood associations before the wider public was consulted. Furthermore, in each phase, feedback on the results of the consultation was provided – again, first to the neighbourhood associations and second to the wider public.

© Copyright Digitale Paysage 2017

Outcomes

  • The use of the square has considerably increased as a result of the regeneration. There are now many more residents, tourists and other groups using it. For example, visitors of patients in a nearby hospital like to walk to the square and dwell there. Indeed, the use of Square Austerlitz has increased so much that many surrounding restaurants and bars have expanded their facility – some of them state that their turn-over has increased three times.
  • In a city-wide citizen survey carried out in 2015 on the perceptions of local people about the state of nature in Strasbourg, Austerlitz Square was identified as one of the green spaces most liked by local people
  • There are now more public events taking place in the square – both small-scale neighbourhood events and events for a wider public.
  • The regeneration of Austerlitz Square has received two awards: the first in the competition “Victoires du paysage” in 2013 and, secondly, in the competition “Infrastructure for mobility, biodiversity and landscape” in 2015.

Performance indicators

Based on the terms of reference resulting from the co-design and consultation process, the landscape architect Agnès Davel of the company Digitale Paysage put into place a regeneration project which put a new emphasis on biodiversity with a majority of indigenous plants.

The result was “a nature archipelago between the historical city and the modern city”.

The regeneration project in numbers:

  • 10,000 square meter of public space, from house front to house front
  • 2,600 square meter of plants
  • 6,000 bulbs
  • 46 trees, 13 160 herbaceous and 5810 shrubs (the majority of which are indigenous plants).

Most importantly, this consultation process has been different from that in most other projects – it was allowed to define the objectives of the project. Typically, consultations are carried out after the objectives have already been determined.

Political, administrative and community leadership

It was important to Michèle Seiler, the local councillor who is responsible for activities in the neighbourhoods Bourse, Esplanade and Krutenau to engage local residents in this regeneration project from the very beginning. The consultation involved a multi-stage process, including the use of different media and formats of events to engage with different audiences and feedback to assure stakeholder groups and residents that they have been listened to and to inform them of the decisions taken at each stage.

The consultation was done in-house and led by the Department for Local Democracy of the City of Strasbourg and the Department for Public and Green Space of Strasbourg Council and the Euro-Metropolitan Administration of Strasbourg.

Costs and savings

The total costs of the regeneration project amounted to about 2.5 million Euros. The consultation process with the public involved one staff member in charge of the project and one staff member to monitor the construction site but no external consultants were used for the consultation process. Obviously, the consultation also involved considerable time of citizens, which has not been measured.

Obstacles

  • The public engagement process made a real ecological impact on the new Square Austerlitz in terms of its biodiversity. At the same time, limitations of public engagement in environmental projects became visible: While local public services (so-called territorial services) act between the interface of residents and the local council other staff working in public utilities or thematic services such as economic development do not necessarily have the same culture of engaging with local people.
  • A competitive public tender is not necessarily the best mechanism for a regeneration project of a public space as it limits the opportunities to negotiate with the architectural practice and only allows the involvement of a limited number of stakeholders as this was the case of the jury Austerlitz Square where only a few community representatives could join the jury.
© Copyright Digitale Paysage 2017

Lessons learnt

  • The consultation process allowed the involvement of a large number of stakeholders and placed great value on the contribution of the neighbourhood associations. As a result, the stakeholders involved now take ownership of the new square.
  • At each step of the planning process, the solutions co-designed with the neighbourhood associations were presented to a larger public. This has allowed the different solutions proposed to be validated throughout the process.
  • There are no identical consultation process. Nevertheless, similar approaches have been used in the context of the regeneration of the Squares of Château, Saint Thomas, Saint Etienne, and the Market of Neudorf.
  • The regeneration project allowed experimentation with the use of new materials, new types of equipment and decoration, and a different approach to nature within the city, with the full integration of nature in an urban area and the use of many indigenous plants.

Further information

Website presentation on the project by the architectural practice:
http://www.digitalepaysage.com/spip.php?page=projet&id_article=71

 The Austerlitz Square regeneration project has given rise to a number of publications, even having an impact as far as China:

« Conception écologique d’un espace public paysager : suivez le guide ! », Le Lien horticole, n° 920, 11 mars 2015, pp. 12-13

« Un archipel de nature en ville », Horticulture et paysage, juin-juillet 2015, pp. 43-45

About this case study
Main Contact

Céline Gigleux

Environmental Services , Strasbourg Council and Eurométropole (in charge of the project):
celine.gigleux@strasbourg.eu

Agnès Daval

architectural practice Digitale Paysage:
agnes.daval@
digitalepaysage.com

This  case study was written by Luc Scheek, Céline Gigleux, Olivier Terrien and Elke Loeffler in May 2017.

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