Candidate – France
Submission by: City of Saint-Etienne
Project name: Montreynaud Forum
This is the story of a spectacular urban renewal in Saint Etienne, which transformed the sterile concrete environment of a social housing district, into a fully regenerated green district, now rooted in fertile ground.
The Montreynaud district in Saint Etienne offered exceptional distant views on the city and its landscape. Over the years, though, it had been increasingly suffering from both obsolete town planning and rising impoverishment. Concrete slabs and inaccessible steps, vast unused and unsafe car parks, uninhabitable ground floors and impossible maintenance, the district had turned totally disconnected from the rest of the city, branded with a very bad reputation.
When the city went for a renewal program, instead of just “greening” concrete slabs, it took the daring step of completely deconstructing the place and creating a real natural space, grown on real fertile ground. The two key objectives were 1- to restore the value(s) of the housing buildings, 2- to restore a fertile ground and a strong link to nature.
A few years later, plentiful shrubs and trees, a vast meadow and even an orchard offer a living green environment, more resilient to the heat, droughts and/or water flooding. A vivid local life has come up, for all generations and all parts of the district are now discernable and easily accessible. The image of the district has completely changed and the community has gained pride to live in an exemplary place. This is the story of a renewed urban place, at last responding to the growing need for urban nature of urban societies.
The Montreynaud district program was awarded the Grand Prix at the 2022 Victoires du Paysage.
“We are so happy: now we can hear the birds singing!” The greatest success of this ambitious project is undoubtedly the vivid satisfaction of its residents and the newfound pride of living in Montreynaud: 2,500 people live directly on the site and 7,500 residents of the neighborhood can benefit from this exceptional urban renewal.
Real results are there already:
– An improved living environment for the residents: no more poorly accessible and even hostile concrete slabs, but green instead, welcoming and fertile open ground spaces, planted with trees.
– Local life and social bonds are revived, made easy by smoother paths, engaging ground floors, new meeting spaces and play areas for children. The quality greenery is also essential to this.
– The entire site is now easily accessible for pedestrians and persons with reduced mobility. Smooth connections between the various parts of the district, residences, facilities, peripheral roads, also reconnect the district to the rest of the city.
For the municipality, it was also clear that the community would have to be closely supported throughout the entire transformation process. Residents and stakeholders were included at each stage, diagnosis, imagining the future facilities, monitoring the project… Families, co-owners, local schools and community centers took part all along in workshops, meetings, festivals and other project cafés. Each step was an opportunity for detailed information and dedicated events. This strong community involvement has been decisive for the success of the whole project. The people now not only prize the new amenities, they also take good care of them. The formerly disgraced district is totally transformed and benefits from a new image, both socially and economically, it is now fully again part of the city.
By deciding to transfigure artificialized and sterile concrete slabs into a vast esplanade of open and fertile ground, planted and wooded, the municipality made a strong move for urban biodiversity. Because the plentiful trees and shrubs were planted in an open fertile ground, they quickly had a new and rich ecosystem emerge. The different plant strata are home to a diverse population of insects, birds and small mammals. The presence of numerous berry bushes provides abundant and varied food and the large lawns left in meadows shelter a multitude of insects and other small animals. Rich in around sixty different species and varieties, the selected plant range of this new landscape is a major component of the success of this urban transformation: Acer campestris, Carpinus betulus, Ostrya, Prunus, Cydonia…
One of the major challenges of the Montreynaud program was to restore values for the condominiums, use value, firstly, but also monetary value. For more than 10 years now, the ground floors of the condominiums had lost their operating activities, no more shops, no more services, so necessary to bring life to the district. The hostile concrete slabs were almost inaccessible, because of countless steps. In the end, all condominiums suffered from serious financial difficulties while local real estate prices were known to be among the lowest in France.
In just a few years, the first results are already visible. More accessible and better highlighted, the condominiums ground floors have found associative, cultural, social or commercial activities. At last, life and animations are back in the entire neighborhood, also with the help of the rehabilitated shopping center. The new circulations are fluid and easy, finally giving effective accessibility and encouraging a good appropriation of the places. As for the condominiums, they are gradually reaching healthier functioning, with a value per m² which has now stabilized.
Important, too, is that the project took into account its evolution over time and made it possible to keep maintenance costs under control: sober and resistant urban furniture, ground covers to reduce interventions, precise management and maintenance plans and documents to take into account the community’s resources and its operating principles: responsibility, sustainability, ecology.
The Montreynaud district of St Etienne is now a pleasant area to live and work. Its radical transformation has profoundly changed the lives of its 2,500 inhabitants; it also has a positive impact for the 7,500 residents living nearby.
Benefiting from an ambitious program reclaiming fertile ground and link to nature, Montreynaud district also experiences a better resilience for a changing climate. The sequences can be summarized as follows: 1-radical dewatering, 2-recreating fertile open ground, 3-intensive and qualitative regreening, 4-creating freshness islands, 5-reducing flooding risks, 6-getting a better drought resistance.
Several hundred trees and shrubs have been planted, the chosen species and planting methods favored a better adaptation to climate change. Planting different species, in different strata and with different plant strengths, as well as planting dense, actually increase drought resistance. Additional systematic mulching also helps limit watering. To improve rainwater management, it was decided to combine swales and planted embankments. Important to notice, too, is that the land brought in to replenish the fertile soil, was extracted at 60% from the bed of the local river, which had to be widened to reduce flooding risks.
The ambitious redevelopment of the Montreynaud district has provided a complete metamorphosis of the living environment. It went from a mineral, sterile and degraded, to a green, welcoming and gratifying urban planning. It gives ample place to a reclaimed nature, creates nice spaces to live and peaceful circulations. The cold and inhospitable concrete slab has been transformed into a living green space. Residents no longer live in a devalued, stigmatized area, but in a lively, rejuvenated, welcoming neighborhood.
The spaces are ample and generous, suitable for multiple uses: gentle paths, play areas, meeting or rest areas, meadows and orchards. Instead of the mineral slabs and steps topped by a water tower, the top of the hill is now a wide open meadow offering breathing space and a breathtaking view on the city and its landscape.
Restoring nature, creating new wooded areas, the program has brought all the benefits of well-designed facilities and qualitative greenery to a rather vulnerable population.
Several hundred trees and shrubs were planted on the site, selected to meet plural objectives: aesthetic, technical, functional, ecological and economic. Each tree was individually chosen in the nursery, favoring various silhouettes to create visual continuity with the hillside and avoid uniformity. Dense and diversified plantations reduce the risk of loss, improve drought resistance and promote biodiversity: different species, different strata, different strengths, scots pines, shrub hedges, berry bushes, ground covers, meadows, etc.
All necessary materials were carefully selected. The backfilling used quarry fill and crushed materials from demolition. The recreation of fertile soil was based on the reuse of land coming at 60% from the bed of the local river which the community had to widen to reduce flooding risks. The overall layout was designed for sobriety, with for example sober and resistant furniture that will require little maintenance. The project design considered its evolution over time, with a forecast monitoring plan and strict control of maintenance costs.
The Montreynaud site is exceptional for its unobstructed views of the city and surrounding areas. The main challenges of the project were to restore fertile soil in place of concrete slabs and three floors of underground parking, and also to make the district green again and to create fluid and peaceful routes.
Demolishing the high slabs was a major part of the program. It completely remodeled and softened the topography of the site. This former district on slabs has been transformed into an open-air district. The different areas of the district are fluidly connected.
Two main promenades now run through the district and finally offer a simple, direct and pleasant crossing. A large mall is designed as the new backbone of the neighborhood, it forms a long and quiet promenade. On the upper part of the site, a generous space suitable for multiple uses is extended by an orchard and a vast meadow which opens towards the horizon. Instead of the mineral slabs and steps topped by a water tower, the top of the hill is now a large common meadow offering space and a breathtaking view of the city and its breathing landscapes.
The radical transformation of Montreynaud began with the radical demolition of the slabs and three floors of underground car parks. A new topography was thus implemented, with first of all the (re)creation of a true open ground. A large continuous ramp now rises gently, complete with several transverse hooks that lead to the buildings. A large planted embankment connects the neighborhood to the surrounding hilly landscape. The pedestrian network is very accessible and now offers peaceful path throughout the Forum sector. The densely planted trees provide pleasant continuous paths under the canopy. This new composition has profoundly reshaped the link between inhabitants, plants and buildings. By its very nature, it replaces highly artificial and mineral spaces with a vast open ground esplanade planted with trees. The project is highly beneficial for the environment and the biodiversity.
The innovation value of the project
Instead of only “greening” concrete slabs, the Saint-Etienne authorities have taken a very daring step by completely deconstructing the place and creating a real natural space on real fertile soil available for the 7,500 inhabitants of the Montreynaud district. This radical transformation started with the demolition of the slabs and the three floors of underground car parks. A completely new topography was thus implemented. The new composition has defined a new relationship between plants and buildings, it gives a new life to the ground floors and offers real potential for new social or economic activities.
The complete demolition of the slabs and underground parking lots, with a clearance of 6m, within a site inhabited by 2,500 people, was both a technical and organization challenge. Reconquering the open land to recreate fertile soil was possible thanks to this large-scale demolition. It was possible with fundamental work on the terrain model.
The reflection undertaken on the materials provided led to reusing the land from the river which the community had to widen to combat the risk of flooding, the recovery of quarry fill and the crushing of materials resulting from demolition.
This exceptional program also manifests the importance of a true and open dialogue between all concerned actors. By daring to reformulate the initial objectives, the contractor was able to give the program a much wider purpose, greater achievement and stronger sustainability.
“A victory for dialogue and life.”