The relationship between cities and industry has always been uneasy based on push-pull effects. This link became more tenuous from the Industrial Revolution onwards, although cities and industry remain closely intertwined. “In the 19th century, industrial activity shaped the urban landscape,” explains Bernard Gauthiez, an architect and urban planner who teaches at Lyon 3 university. “New districts sprang up, combining housing, workshops and small factories. Production units then required larger areas of land, and industry migrated to the outskirts of the city.” The 1950s saw the peak of this trend in large infrastucture.
Tensions would increase over the next decades, as factories were singled out for being the cause of pollution and disruption. “Urban planning by zoning was implemented in the 1960s,” says Mr. Gauthiez, “which involved the creation of industrial zones, a model that still dominates today.” Factories have moved out of the city, and even to the other side of the world as a result of globalisation. Several large-scale tragedies also justified this clear division: the AZF explosion in Toulouse (2001) and the Lubrizol fire in Rouen (2019) drew an obvious conclusion: cities and industry should keep their distance.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated health crisis changed our vision regarding ideas we considered well- established; statements were issued very quickly on the need to re-industrialise European countries and to limit their dependence in terms of supply. However, this should be planned to minimise any disruption and, where possible, to harmoniously reconnect factories to the urban fabric, depending on the nature of the industrial activities. This means moving from the industrial city of old to the productive city which is able to anticipate shortages and offer useful services while respecting the city environment. Industry has a decisive role to play in this change, notably through its capacity for innovation and reinvention.
RATP Group, with the support of Île-de-France Mobilités and the European Commission, has been spearheading a true industrial revolution since 2015 by converting its bus fleet to electric and NGV; a transformation that contributes to the decarbonisation of cities and the company’s energy transition. A re-think of its industrial presence is an integral part of this shift, and RATP is making optimum use of its low-pollution sites by encouraging a mixed use of its buildings, with nurseries, shops and housing built above its industrial facilities to limit urban sprawl. Another example of RATP’s eco- responsible industrial strategy is to ensure that the infrastructure incorporates the circular economy and waste recycling, similar to the policy regarding its tram garage sites. Industry and cities are now on the same wavelength, and a shining example of this new relationship is the decision of local authorities not to build housing on the former AZF site in Toulouse. Instead, they installed a cutting-edge industrial facility for cancer research and treatment. A symbolic move!