Promoting Natural Spaces

Parks and Gardens Agency in Ile-de-France (AEV)

Visiting the forests, green spaces, nature reserves and agricultural land that constitute the AEV’s area of intervention, we discovered a history that is a little more complex than that of green spaces that must be protected from galloping urbanisation. Of course, maintaining a green belt in the heart of the metropolis of Greater Paris is a step by step process, as part of the struggle against the pressures of real estate. But what these sites relate above all is the tightly interwoven history of the relationship between human beings and nature and the post-war development of Ile-de-France, when the vision of planners was that the countryside and the forests were areas that "served" the city, and to that end were to be where factories, waste tips and extraction plants (notably of gypsum) would be sited.

This is the historical background to the project to recover wasteland, disused landfill sites and former military installations as part of the rewilding activities of the AEV. This is, however, a somewhat under-recognised activity of the Agency, which has a tendency to gloss over the specificity of these spaces in the interest of portraying an image of "untouched nature". Our first move was to establish a prospecting project for all these sites with a group of Agency employees. The work was published as a series of research notebooks (cahiers de recherche), part of the Agency’s project for developing a new positioning strategy and a proposal for a series of pilot activities which would create new modes of understanding and test new kinds of use. Several of these activities were then implemented in conjunction with a network of cultural and artistic partnerships as well as with several stakeholders from Greater Paris, all new relationships for the AEV. The Agency went on to request more detailed studies of specific sites.