Context 162 - November 2019

20 C O N T E X T 1 6 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 9 Urban sprawl, which for a long time has justified the boom in the new towns’ housing programmes, is now under strong competition from, and is even fighting against, the notion of urban densification. Galvanised by ecological and environmental change, this idea features prominently in the current master plan for the Ile-de-France region, which has set out regional urban development milestones for the next 25 years. Adopted in 2013, the master plan increases densification, particularly for districts close to railway stations. It also calls on local elected officials and town planners to avoid any de-densification initiatives in these regions.4 As for the omnipresence of the car, this is now clearly being threatened by public poli- cies on regional mobility, and environmental concerns. As reported in 2012 in the white paper published by the European Commission on Transportation in Europe: ‘The gradual phasing out of “conventionally-fuelled” vehicles from the urban environment is a major contribu- tion to significant reduction of oil dependence, greenhouse gas emissions, and local air and noise pollution’. VPAH certification These elements are an obstacle to the heritage of French new towns. However, some of the towns are attempting to implement historical, heritage and cultural mediation initiatives. Using exhibitions, studies, discovery workshops and urban walks, these cultural public policies are brought into France by intercommunalities, the political and administrative institutions that bring together the communities in the regions of the former new towns. Take the case of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Since the start of the 2000s, continuing its New Towns History and Assessment Programme, the Museum of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines applied for the Ministry of Culture’s Towns and Districts of Art and History (VPAH) certifica- tion. Established in the 1980s, this certification is aimed at communes or groups of communes wanting to foster awareness among inhabitants, visitors and young people of the quality of the region’s heritage, architecture and environ- ment. In 2008, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines was awarded this door-opener, becoming the first new town, and the first town built after 1945, to lay claim to this title. The VPAH label offered valuable recognition of the quality of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines’ architectural heritage5, where only four per cent of buildings are listed in the historic monu- ments register. It has served as an important acknowledgement of the urban identity of Saint- Quentin-en-Yvelines, rooted in a time that the inhabitants themselves knew very little about. Even though important historical research has been carried out in France on new towns, and despite the heritage efforts of some of the towns, in public opinion and in the eyes of a number of town planners, new towns continue to be regarded as barren, soulless dormitory towns, devoid of urbanity and sociability. Educational efforts need to continue for connoisseurs of new French towns, whether teachers, researchers or local elected officials. Is this work feasible, even though the budgets of communes and intercommunalities are fall- ing sharply, against a backdrop of increasing competition between regions?This is the current challenge that is emerging in France for former new urban centres. Art in the city: Jean-Marie and Marthe Simonnet’s work ‘Arborescence polymorphique’ (1974) is nicknamed ‘Spaghetti’ (Photo: Daniel Huchon, SQY City Museum) Frédéric Theulé, head of studies and research fellow in the Chaire Territoires et Mutations de l’Action Publique at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Rennes, has written a thesis on Saint-Quentin-en- Yvelines.6 CallumWalker is at CWTranslation (www. References 4 The six master plan instalments are available at 5 Ricardo Bofill, Martine and Philippe Deslandes, and Manolo Nuñez- Yanowsky were among the architects of Saint- Quentin-en-Yvelines new town. 6 Theulé, Frédéric (2011) Intercommunalité et gouvernement d’agglomération en ville nouvelle: le cas de Saint- Quentin-en-Yvelines, 1965-2004 , Université de Paris XIII