What is an urban fabric initiative?

An innovative system that makes it possible to invent and test urban, civic, participatory, transitional and/or evolving micro-actions that are co-designed and implemented by the stakeholders in the making of the city.

In short, an urban fabric initiative:

  • supports a major urban infrastructure programme, led by a public contracting authority
  • mobilises all stakeholders in and users of public spaces - public authorities, associations, economic stakeholders, residents, technicians
  • tests fast, agile, frugal, iterative and collaborative urban planning practices during study and works phases
  • funds and supports stakeholders conducting micro-actions for developments and facilities – urban furniture, sports grounds, green spaces, playgrounds, areas for relaxation, etc.- or to enhance the public space sports and cultural events, embellishment of spaces, temporary or lasting actions, or to develop new uses of public spaces being transformed
  • develops shared governance of the space and proposes collective and inclusive reflection on ways to use and make public spaces and the city.

And in concrete terms?

The urban fabric initiatives - and innovative, participative urban initiatives in general - that are developing across the world make it possible to conduct a broad variety of urban micro-actions. Urban fabric initiatives can be a mobile radio that travels through the neighbourhoods of Dakar, the development of a municipal park by citizens, a participative diagnosis of sports grounds being transformed, a playground for children in a recently renovated park, testing of new forms of pedestrian traffic at a crossroadsetc.

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Who does what ?

The urban fabric initiative operator is the leader of the urban fabric initiative system. It acts as a conductor, working for collaboration between the various stakeholders who plan and make the city. The urban fabric initiative operator is often a civil society organisation or a group of partners. It can also be a local or national public project contracting authority. It is identified in relation with the contracting authority of the major project being supported by the urban fabric initiative. It can be designated directly or following a call for initiatives issued by Agence française de développement* (AFD). Its role is to co-construct, manage and implement the Urban fabric initiative at several sites, public spaces and/or brownfields, identified by putting all stakeholders and users concerned by the urban transformations in contact with each other.

The users of the sites and spaces in question are at the core of the urban fabric initiative system. They are mainly civil society organisations (CSOs), economic interest groups, and groups of residents, artists or users of public spaces. They are urban project "use consultants”, because their daily practices generate knowledge and expertise on their place of residence or activity. The urban fabric initiative recognises and valorises this legitimacy and expertise. So, it supports users throughout the process of designing and completing projects, from identification of needs and opportunities to evaluation, via the implementation of a system to manage the shared space.

The public contracting authority is the municipality, the urban planning or development agency, or the public transport planning body leading the major structural urban project. The urban fabric initiative works alongside this public contracting authority. The public contracting authority provides its technical expertise, facilitates the development of projects within a defined time frame, serves as a connector between the Urban fabric initiative and the classic urban project, and organises dialogue between the urban fabric operator and the other project stakeholders (design consultants, businesses, other public or private stakeholders).

The experts on the city are stakeholders that possess specific skills for the making of the city. For example, construction companies, tradespeople, architects, urban planners, geographers, researchers, etc., who contribute their view and their expertise for the development of cities.

Constructing an urban fabric initiative step by step

Each urban fabric initiative has its own specificities – thematic, geographic, contextual - and timescale. There is therefore no standard for the creation of an urban fabric initiative system, but there are some common bases in terms of principles and stages of implementation:

  1. Operate within the scope of a structural urban project for the territory
  2. Conduct a participatory and socio-economic diagnosis of possible spaces of intervention and needs expressed by residents
  3. Conduct a workshop to co-design the system with the main stakeholders in the territory (institutional set-up, identification of sites, procedures for selecting and supporting projects, etc.)
  4. Identify and select the urban fabric initiative operator
  5. Conduct further participatory diagnoses of the sites and/or public spaces of intervention identified by the urban fabric initiative

6. Support the co-design of projects and actions focusing on the development, facilitation, and activation of spaces, with the possibility of issuing a call for ideas or initiatives (thematic, geographic) from residents, users, local civil society organisations or local businesses

7. Collectively select projects for the urban fabric initiative’s sites (urban fabric operator and contracting authority)

8. Support the implementation of projects and their leaders (training, funding, etc.

9. Support stakeholders with management of spaces and facilities implemented

10. Monitor, evaluate and capitalise on the findings of these projects by sharing experiences and putting them into perspective with other urban fabric initiatives and other innovative urban initiatives across the world

The urban fabric initiatives can be funded through small grants or included in support services provided to the contracting authority as part of the urban project being supported.

And the urban fabric initiatives network can support the process for the creation, set-up and roll-out of an urban fabric initiative.

Are you interested? You can contact us at: contact@pepinieres-urbaines.org

A solution that was developed to address the gap between the need for public services and the lengthy timescales of major urban projects

Set up in 2018 after reflection on the need to change the making of the city through more participatory, inclusive and agile methods, the urban fabric initiatives are now supporting major urban development or mobility projects supported by the French Development Agency.

The very first urban fabric initiatives in Ouagadougou and Tunisia were promising and generated enthusiasm among the various stakeholders in the city. As a result, AFD decided to consolidate this approach with the implementation in 2020 of a programme to support the urban fabric initiatives, made up of three components:

  • the funding window for new urban fabric initiative systems;
  • the facilitation of the Urban fabric initiatives network to support roll-out of the urban fabric initiatives, initiate discussions between stakeholders and more broadly valorise the approach and reflections underway on reinventing the making of the city;
  • monitoring and evaluation, conducted by the the French National Research Institute for Development (IRD).

Today, four urban fabric initiatives are in operation: Abidjan, Dakar, Ouagadougou, Tunisia.

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