Making two social housing neighbourhoods in Brest more secure

For several years, the council flats organism Brest Métropole Habitat was confronted with difficulties linked to gatherings of young people in the entryways and areas around certain buildings. These gatherings were the source of noise and nuisances and were sometimes difficult to regulate. The life of the tenants was made quite unpleasant, and it had become particularly difficult for the Urban Community, like that of the social lessor, to properly manage these sectors of tension. Tenants were leaving the area, and the neighbourhoods suffered at the time from such a reputation that it became difficult to re-let and take back public land.

In 2002, Brest Métropole Habitat set up a security observatory whose aim was to track three types of trouble: attacks on public buildings, incidents in public areas and attacks on individuals and property. The reports on incidents, drawn up in this framework, allowed for assessing the origin and recurrence of problems. This knowledge was supplemented by a spatial analysis of the places most affected and by interviews with community personnel. These analyses and interviews enabled us to understand why these places, more than others, were the site of problems. The occupied and damaged entryways all met the same geographical and spatial criteria: visibility over the principal accesses to the site and possibilities of escape. Beyond social and police actions, these characteristics justified an intervention on the fitting-out of the premises.

The project is original on two levels: firstly, the elaboration of a veritable urban renewal programme starting from the problem of security (targeted at the outset on a few entryways). Secondly, the development of a method by the Landauer studios consisting of giving an urban area a sense of security by reinforcing the capacities of use of the public space rather than by implementing defensive elements. The enduring nature of the project is on three levels: the participation with consultation meetings at every step of the project, the recycling waste with the integration, on every public space created, of buried selective collection bins, and the durability of the arrangements with a choice of durable materials.

Concerning the conditions of the adaptability of the project elsewhere, it is possible to say that it is more the method used by the Landauer studios that is adaptable than the specific forms and arrangements implemented. This method relies, for the most part, on the nature of the diagnosis. This must not focus only on the reasons for the sudden appearance of insecurity phenomena; it is also a matter of analysing the conditions of use of the public space and trying to explain why neighbourhood life is not in a position to prevent the emergence of untimely gatherings. The success of such an approach also depends on the capacity of the partners (lessors and local authorities) to join forces to produce a coherent project.

The situational prevention approach, as developed over a number of years by a certain number of Anglo-Saxon countries, largely inspired our project. From reading numerous guides dealing with this subject, we were more interested in the arrangements favouring a diffuse presence of users and residents than the principle – recurrent in the guides – of the ‘defendable space’ elaborated by the Canadian architect Oscar Newman. Our project seeks to contribute to the development of a new form of situational prevention, adapted to the conditions of use and making of French or ‘Latin cities. Rather than reinforcing neighbourhood solidarities by the organisation of views and the creation of impasses or enclaves, we recommend the development of shareable public spaces capable, by the density of uses, of pacifying the neighbourhoods. Combining the demand for security and safety with the making of a public space ‘free from rights constitutes a way of promoting Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms that ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’.

 

The project started in 2008 and is still running.
Last review: September 2015.