Waiting for the Colloquium “Les cités jardins du XXIème siècle” in Paris
The garden city near the Eiffel tour
From the train that goes to Suresnes the traveler can discover an unexpected and unusual view of Paris: the Bois de Boulogne is a huge expanse of green, the modern skyscrapers of la Défense and then the city of old postcards and the tourists’ imagination. Suresnes is an autonomous urban center and at the same time an extension of the existing city. In fact Henri Sellier, government minister and mayor of Suresnes in 1919 envisioned this garden city as a new quarter, capable of serving specific needs but integrated within the city. Suresnes is one of the sixteen garden cities that were built around Paris during the interwar period. They were conceived as social units, mixing diverse social categories and creating a rich and picturesque environment. Suesnes’ plan d'aménagement called for 2 500 lodgings distributed in individual houses and collective houses of three or four floors. There were also a chemists, a kindergarten, churches, a cooperative shop, a hall for celebrations, an home for the elderly, a school with a swimming pool and even a vineyard which still produces wine to this day. Social services had a symbolic central location. The theater Jean Vilar and the Notre Dame de la Paix church whose bell tower was never built are still focal points of city’s circulation system.
Even today, walking around the city, it is possible to recognize the urban principles that have generated it. The road structure is radiocentric but also adapted to the topography and the ancient demarcation of the plots. The road structure in the north-west is regular and creates a perspective effect which is reinforced by the alignment of buildings and the rows of trees along the main streets. In the south-west the roads are curved and reflect the atmosphere of a small countryside town. This diversity in the road structure and the succession of different architecture typologies contribute in creating a rich and diversified urban landscape. For the same reason the facades of many buildings have ornaments like the mix of different brick colors, the use of different materials, the presence of columns and other facade stucco elements. The city was in fact conceived as a unique work of art. The green is still a characteristic element of Suresnes and it takes the form of public and private gardens that surround the houses, a small park, the tree-lined avenue and the new project of collective gardens.
This city which was created to meet the needs of an era and of a specific population today accommodates new residents, mostly elders and young immigrants. What we need to understand is how its squares and gardens will be able to adapt to new uses, new visions and new dreams. What values and meanings a garden city can communicate today? How translate the garden cities theories in contemporary contexts? How we can apply the concept and reconceptualise the garden city idea so it is shaped and owned by the community rather than the planners?
These are questions that waft in the streets of Surennes and to which the colloquium will try to answer.
The colloquium on the garden city principles, will be organised in Paris by IAU ( Institut d'aménagement et d'urbanisme de la région Ile de France) in partnership with IFHP, its French Chapter, COFHUAT, our twin association created by Ebenezer Howard,TCPA (Town and Country Planning association), and three emblematic French cities neighboring Paris and harboring Garden Cities (Stains, Suresnes and Chatenay-Malabry)
The programme of the colloquium will be available soon on the IFHP website.