My personal contribution to the Europan 14 urban project for Aurillac, my home town in France.
Saturday 17 June 2017 – 15:05
I have a few hours to create my vision of a productive zone in the old ‘Foirail’ area of the city of Aurillac, located at the centre of the Europan 14 project boundaries. Productive of what? Energy, food and a sense of community.
I discovered the Europan 14 project at the end of March 2017 in the local press. I visited the website, looked at this international competition and focused on the project for Aurillac, ‘A city in the countryside’. I also realised that I couldn’t participate to it as ‘Every team member, whatever his/her profession, must be under the age of 40 years old on the closing date for submission of entries.’1
I thought I would try to propose something anyway, outside the competition, which I would publish in my blog. Hence this article.
Garden fruit production, fruit factory and the ‘Comité Interprofessionnel des Fromages’
In March, I read in the press that one of the possible uses of the former Engie site would be a new home for the ‘Comité Interprofessionnel des Fromages’ (CIF), the professional body for Cantal and Salers cheeses.
I visited many times the CIF’s office’s in ‘avenue des Pupilles’ when I provided market research services to this professional body and knew about their wish to have a proper place for their activities and a ‘Maison des Fromages’ somewhere.
I would see it as a place representing the unique know-how of the industry, as the LVMH group ‘Maisons’ embody the strength and uniqueness of their luxury brands.
The Engie site would be great for this indeed, enabling to have a shop window of one of the most distinctive local productions, cheese, including Cantal cheese, created 2,000 years ago and benefiting from the latest research and innovation in modern cheese-making, Cantal being also the name of the administrative district of which Aurillac is the ‘Préfecture’ and of the largest European volcano the city is close to.
What is the connection with garden fruit production and a fruit factory?
A fruit factory where local people would bring, exchange, store and transform or contribute to transforming apples, pears, plums, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants, to name only but a few of the fruit that grow in the gardens around, would be a great complement to this shop window of local cheese making: the enhanced homemade would stand alongside the excellence of the professionally made, and both would value each other and local production.
Workshops showing how easy it is to make your own jam, compote and other local fruit product derivatives would be held near the site where live demonstrations of how professionally skilled you need to be to produce Cantal cheese would promote the quality of the local agricultural production.
This would create an unprecedented connection between people and what they eat, since the inhabitants of our cities have lost touch with the reality of agriculture and ways of producing food. Citizens of Aurillac and its surroundings and professional cheese makers would both contribute in their own way, and somewhat together, to the promotion of local food production, in the heart of the city of Aurillac.
Other local food products would be found in the shops of the city centre, which would also benefit from this dynamic. From the Sainte Germaine apple brought by the Jordanne valley private gardener to the fruit factory and to the pounti the same gardener could buy at the market or delicatessen trading a few hundred meters away on the other side of the river, the local sources of food would suddenly become more integrated to celebrate local growing, making and eating.
The Engie site, hydroelectricity and electric local transport.
The second idea that quickly came to my mind was to use the waterfall on the Jordanne river just in front of the ‘Pont Rouge’ (the Red bridge) to produce electricity for the site and a few electric vehicles.
This waterfall is right in the middle of the Europan 14 site, a hundred meters away from the Engie site. The only thing I know about the river’s flow is that there is a big difference between spring and summer because in spring the flow benefits from snow-melting in the Cantal volcano and in summer the flow is much smaller because of the season and because the Jordanne valley is the main source for the ‘Bassin d’Aurillac’ public water network. This would be worth investigating further, some of the projects submitted today will probably have done that.
Whether solar panels could be used as an alternative for electricity production in summer and early autumn is a question, but surely there is today an unused source of local energy during other seasons, which could serve to power for instance the ‘Maison des Fromages’, the fruit factory / local fruit storage space, and hybrid council multi-transport vehicles which would charge their batteries on the Cours d’Angoulême, with no loss of power in electric cables at such a short distance of the waterfall.
Overall, the site would keep some of its history (Engie) and produce clean hydroelectric energy at the heart of the city.
Private gardens, commons and the Visitation garden
A mature apple tree of a local cultivar can produce a hundred kilos of apples a year without using fertilizers and chemicals. With variations of production from one year to another, due to environmental and varietal factors such as the frost we had in May this year during blossoming, mitigated by the fact that cultivars blossom at different times and would therefore not all be affected by such frost, we probably can count on an average fifty kilos per healthy tree per year.
One tree per garden in twenty gardens is already one ton of fruit. There are around twenty thousands households in the ‘Communauté d’Agglomération du Bassin d’Aurillac’, 50% of which have a garden according to statistics I read last year (find source). One tree per garden in 10,000 households would be 500 tons. One per cent of this production ending up in the fruit factory would be 5 tons, already more than enough to run making workshops with participants living for instance with a kilo of apple and chocolate compote to share with their family and spreading the word for further planting of fruit trees in the area.
But there are other possible sources of fruit. La Plantelière in Arpajon only uses part of their fruit. And there is the Visitation garden on the Europan 14 site, 20000 m2 of which maybe a half could be used to grow fruit trees? I need to check with my expert colleagues of the ‘Croqueurs de Pommes du Cantal’ how many trees that could be. The ‘Croqueurs de Pommes’ are also experts of local cultivars, organic soil amendment and tree maintenance, they could contribute to making the Visitation orchard productive as they do in La Plantelière and will soon do with the collaboration of the city of Aurillac on the South side of the Puy Courny. The production of those three orchards could contribute to meeting the fruit factory and its visitors’ needs.
I have also seen that the abandoned orchard I talked about in my 10 May 2016 article ‘In front of the students’ eyes’ is just on the North-West Europan boundaries near the Saint-Etienne castle. I have discovered since that this orchard belongs to the University of Clermont Auvergne. It would be in the interest of all to have a renovated orchard there, and the fruit could be transported to the Cours d’Angoulême fruit factory with one of the hybrid vehicles, probably small vans like Kangoos or Berlingos able to transport fruit and picking tools that could be used for other purposes outside the harvesting season.
And other fruit trees are being planted by the city of Aurillac, which was awarded financing from the Ministry of the Environment as part of the ‘Territoires à Energie Positive pour la Croissance Verte’ in autumn 2016. When those trees start to produce, how will the fruit be used?
Through those examples, which would need further investigation, in particular with regards to potential production figures, as the above estimates have been very quickly drafted along the flow of this spontaneous writing, we can see what sort of dynamics such a project could create in the Bassin d’Aurillac: there could be more fruit trees around, producing a growing part of the local consumption of fruit in the area in particular during the Cantal fruiting season and the months that follow, especially if the cultivars chosen are diverse enough to include varieties that can keep for months in the fruit factory’s storage place.
This would also feed into the energy side of the Europan 14 project for Aurillac, saving food miles through the local sourcing of fruit. Indeed, most of the fruit produced in private gardens would be eaten within families, without even going out of the household, and the fruit produced in the various communal orchards of the city and its surroundings would only travel a few miles to be delivered to the fruit factory and other places in the city like school canteens when production grows.
Produce a sense of community
My work on sustainable development issues during the postgraduate diploma I completed in 2015/2016 a the University of Clermont Auvergne has enabled me to understand a fundamental element: sustainable development is a matter of human solidarity as much as it is a matter of respect of the environment. This is probably why our new Minister of State Nicolas Hulot insisted on the word ‘solidaire’ to be added to his title so that it would become ‘Ministre de la Transition écologique et solidaire’.
Saturday 17 June 2017, 18:58. Time to stop for now.
Monday 19 June 2017, 10:31. Let’s start by reading and proofreading what I have written so far. 11:25: Amendments complete, with some added bits. Sources to be added later on as I just have half an hour to finish this article and publish it.
A sense of community… I don’t have time to develop this here, yet other articles in this blog, for instance connected to my volunteer activities in Great Britain with organisations like Abundance Wimbledon, or the compote workshop I ran in October 2016 in La Plantelière, will give the reader a glimpse of what I mean. The reader might also look at the articles on ‘Les Croqueurs de Pommes’ and the CABA’s webpage about La Plantelière and its educative activities, which in my view develop a great sense of community among the children of our primary schools, among other publics who attend its events.
Finally, the research I have carried out during my Education for Sustainable Development studies last year on the subject of biodiversity and the harmonious relationship of humans and their environment, with a focus on fruit trees in domestic gardens is in my view worth looking at too.
There is something else I would like to say. I read the Europan 14 brief for Aurillac in March 2017 and remember something about means of transport. And on Saturday morning, before starting to write this post, I quickly looked back at it, to realise that the overarching title of the Europan project was about ‘productive cities’.
My view is that the Europan 14 project for Aurillac should first focus on the people, on the way they could enjoy walking and being active in this part of the city. The biggest trap in which the project could fall would be I think to focus too much on transport and parking in that zone. There are always solutions to accommodate those important issues, and many cities in the British countryside for instance have chosen ‘park & ride’ solutions. It enabled those cities to focus on keeping and nurturing the core functions of the town centre, and most of all, to make them charming places.
What could trigger the development of an area of charm for the inhabitants of the city, enabling them to welcome citizens from the surrounding areas and visitors from more remote places, creating a place that could grow for centuries near the millenary Saint-Géraud district? This is the major question the architects, landscapers and developers who will win the Europan 14 competition should ask themselves when they take the project further.
Monday 19 June 2017, 12:32: publishing now.