the tracks from the Social and Solidarity Economy Lab

Caroline Megglé for Localtis

After “smart city”, place in “low-tech city”? The Social and Solidarity Economy Lab (ESS) recently published a study entitled “For low-tech and solidarity metropolises – A simpler, more sober, more human city”. Carried out with the assistance of the cities and metropolises of Bordeaux, Lille, Strasbourg and Lyon, the city of Paris, the city and the urban community of Poitiers, this study, particularly supported by the Banque des Territoires, gave rise on 7 April 2022 to a webinar organized by the Caisse des Dépôts Research Institute , Banque des Territoires and ESS Lab.

“If it can provoke debate, the word ‘low-tech’ is now being used by most people to express this relationship to a more sober, more proportionate technology,” introduced Hugues Sibille, president of ESS Lab. . Believing that “SSE has a special role to play in defining a more sober development model” and noting the cities’ interest in this topic, the think tank has chosen to address this concept around a question: “In what ways can metropolitan areas be dependent? of the social and solidarity economy to implement a systemic low-tech approach? ” Among the publications resulting from this work is a practical guide intended for local authorities wishing to apply a low-tech approach “in order to build a sustainable, united and resilient territory”.

Technological solutions to ecological challenges: a reflex that needs to be reconsidered

“Low technology is an approach that aims, for a need that is considered legitimate (…), to provide a technologically proportionate and sustainable solution, that is, the simplest and most agile, the most restrained in terms of resources and energy., the most accessible and granted by the largest number “, we can read in the study. ESS Lab has mobilized for this work Philippe Bihouix’s expertise, especially author of “The age of low-tech”, published in 2014.

In Poitiers, low-tech, “it’s more of a political compass than the implementation of a specific low-tech action plan,” testified Bastien Bernela, city councilor for the city of Poitiers and vice president of Greater Poitiers. For example, to set up public lighting that consumes less energy, “we must accept solutions that may be less efficient in terms of power but more efficient in the sense of the process: If we put sensors everywhere, the bulbs will consume less, but the entire introduced system is energy-intensive ”, illustrates the chosen one.

According to him, there is “a cultural struggle to be waged”, services often have as a first instinct to favor technological solutions to the challenges of ecological conversion. This involves in particular an evaluation of public policies, which promotes the analysis of “processes”, “life cycles”. Or by taking into account these sobriety issues in public procurement, for example by systematizing “diagnoses of recycling of materials when working with our heritage”.

Action handles for communities

The circular economy is also the core of the study carried out by ESS’s laboratory, where the think tank has focused on four major needs – “living, (moving), access to consumer goods and services, production, production and work” – and to the “low-tech” answers already given by SSE in the cities considered (see box below).

The guide, which is intended for them, calls on local authorities to carry out a diagnosis of the territory “through the prism of low technology”, to obey and mobilize the inhabitants, to study the “metabolism of cities”, ie. “all streams”. of energy and materials brought into play by the function of a given territory “, and to identify sector by sector” pockets of dependence on high technology “and possible and desirable developments towards low-tech solutions.In September 2021, the city of Bordeaux launched a call for expressions of interest” circular and low-tech city “to support such projects.

SSE Lab then proposes courses of action in five public policies. In terms of economic development and employment, he urges communities to “promote the development and relocation of small industries in the city” and to “revitalize urban crafts”. Is quoted ParisFabrik call for projects in the city of Paris, aimed at supporting education on “activities related to the transition and development of ‘doing’ in the city”.

In urban planning and residential construction, the identified levers relate to the densification and transformation of the use of public buildings, temporary housing projects or even eco-construction. The city of Bordeaux is currently experimenting with a “frugal construction” label that aims to encourage individuals and businesses to choose “renovation of buildings over construction, and to favor economy rather than installing high-tech systems” (natural ventilation systems) and the presence of “vegetated cool islands” for example). Other avenues have been put forward in the areas of environment and living environment, mobility, culture and education. To raise awareness of this still little-known topic and promote “low-tech innovation”, the urban community of Poitiers has teamed up with the SPN’s associative network of digital professionals to organize a January 2022 hackathon bringing together developers, startups and students.

  • Circular economy, sustainability, sobriety, “do it yourself” … “Low-tech” at the crossroads between several concepts

What “low-tech” solutions to needs related to housing, mobility, consumption of goods and services, production and labor? With the six areas of the study, SSE Lab looked at these four major groups to identify recommendations and solutions from SSE.

The challenge of a low-tech housing policy will thus be to “build less by densifying the city” in a spirit of “circular urbanism” – intensifying applications and merging spaces, transforming the existing, etc. -, but also to “build and equip better” – energy renovation, eco-construction, choice of “sparse equipment” such as dry toilets … Several approaches aimed at a circular economy of building materials are appreciated, including the “Urban Metabolism” “project the regional Public Institution Plaine Commune (Seine-Saint-Denis) Coordinated by the Cooperative of Collective Interest (Scic) Bellastock, this project consists of mobilizing and supporting local actors in construction and development in a process of recycling, reuse and recycling between construction sites of materials from the construction industry.It led in particular to the preparation of an “urban mining diagnosis”, which was to identify local deposits of materials in order to exploit them in the context of new projects.

With regard to the development of public space, the “multiplication of display panels, especially in the form of screens” for ESS’s laboratory appears as a “counter-model” to a low-tech approach that would favor “an eco-built and socially usable urban furniture” , but also the nature of the city.

“Active mobility” and cycling in particular are at the heart of the chapter on travel. There is no shortage of SSE initiatives on this subject, and the think tank cites several, including the association “Les Jantes du Nord”, which offers self-repair workshops for bicycles and which works to recycle waste from these repairs. Other examples relate to car sharing (Scic Citiz), carpooling (Mobicoop), rental and repair activities of association workshops, etc.

The low-tech approach is thus to a large extent an invitation to acquire know-how and to “do it yourself” or to exchange services locally within the framework of an “Accorderie” e.g. – Little is mentioned. In addition to strengthening everyone’s autonomy, “promoting it itself promotes a reconnection to production and therefore increases awareness of the real value of work (…) and the resources needed for production”, we may read in the study. In Poitiers, the association L’Atelier du soleil offers a du vent training in working with materials and in the manufacture of objects, but also in the installation of solar panels and water heaters.

C. Meggle

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