Promoting communal wellbeing through collaboration

Jeannie Rabearinaivo and Bylitis Leibovici

Promoting communal wellbeing through collaboration

Would it be possible to imagine, to create innovative spaces in order to impulse cooperation between people ?  Facilitating the process of « living-together » is the ambition of « third-places », new collaborative spaces.

« A new form of individualisation has been affecting Western societies for the past 20 or 30 years », declares political analyst Christian Le Bart. According to him, no society is in itself a kind of “homogeneous social body”. Each society is made up of a multitude of individuals, each with their particular interests and objectives. « Meetings » between each of these individuals, sometimes very different, must therefore be provoked, someway, by initiatives. This is the role such places focused onconviviality, on sociability, where everyone meets, shares experiences and learns from each other : these are what we can call spaces linked to «living-together».

As Bart demonstrates, these spaces tend to disappear as our societies become more individual. We can see a certain isolationism. How can we, then, fight against the cult of « every man for himself »? The answer can be found in how social innovation is set up, with the creation of « third-places » which essence is based on the desire to recreate a « living together » process, a process which would have been lost or forgotten. These « new common spaces » generate such interest that they are the subject of « calls for tender », implemented by public authorities, as in the case of « Réinventer laSeine » or « Imagine Angers ». Associative or private actors then intervene as project promoters in order to respond to these calls. These calls for projects are placed under the sign of innovation, design and collaboration between actors. In this perspective, we can thus evoke initiatives, sometimes coming from the public sector, sometimes from the private sector, often local, which respond to this new aspiration linked to renewing social cohesion. Collaboration and design then become objectives of transition, of transformation of a

place in order to make it an « alternative space », a space creator of social bonds, social mix and conviviality, as at Cours Saint-So, in Lille, for example, where an urban wasteland turns into a vegetable garden, a barbecue, and a sports field that people can access freely. These innovations, with a social dimension, constitute new forms of cooperation between citizens and public/private actors. Building social ties becomes a primary goal in our compartmentalised societies. To what extent do such initiatives make it possible to link  together heterogeneous audiences, with different social backgrounds, around the same collaborative projects ? How can third-places facilitate the creation of a « living together » process and what are the possible limits ?

The characteristics of the new places of « living-together »

In order to bring out the logic of collaboration, places and services create new possibilities of use for users: this is the very concept of affordance. Defined in the 1970s by the psychologist Gibson, affordance refers to the possible actions between an object and an individual. Affordance can be defined as a generic concept applicable to multiple domains. In locations or services, it promotes collaboration between users and the creation of a community. The « third places », new collaborative spaces, thus increase opportunities for audiences to meet and do things together. La Voisinerie de Wazemmes, a « café-restaurant-conciergerie » was born from this spirit ; located halfway between two districts of Lille with very different social crowds, la Voisinerie has been attracting very heterogeneous audiences every day since its recent opening in December 2019. Numerous activities are organized in order to create social cohesion and encourage users to meet each other : selling used clothes, local associations’ meetings, childcare services… A janitor service is also added. « Third places » such as La Voisinerie have a social vocation: sharing economy, mutual aid, barter…

A business serving a social housing residence

Located at the foot of a social housing residence, La Voisinerie opened its doors in December 2019. It can be described as a place of solidarity, combining concierge services and catering. This third-place creates a form of conviviality between the public, often composed of people in precarious circumstances or with disabilities.

In its 2018 report on coworking entitled “Faire ensemble pour mieux vivre ensemble” (literally “Doing together to live better together”), the French General Commission for Territorial Equality (CGET)  emphasises the importance of third places such as La Voisinerie, underlining how crucial it is to encourage citizens to do things together in order to improve the community spirit in our society. This would obviously help to discard the preponderant individualistic mindset. 

Other social third places are currently emerging and trying to foster new ways of living together such as the “Stream building” project. This Parisian project aims at building a workplace where there will be a huge common area/co-living room. The officers will thus be able to feed themselves, to work and to meet their colleagues in this place. The goal here is to facilitate and to promote socialisation within the workplace by providing a multifunctional, innovant and original co-living place : there, we will find groceries, restaurants, community vegetable gardens, etc.These projects echo and participate to a more global evolution, in terms of urban redevelopment, in a new way of designing public spaces in a collaborative perspective as in the case of the Recyclerie in Paris or the «Darwin Ecosystème» in Bordeaux (spaces for collaboration, sharing and social exchange). These places, by their special design, facilitate encounters. For example, located in an abandoned train station, the Recyclerie has been designed to meet all users’ expectations at every moment. It is a modular space, with a main room, a workshop, an urban farm and a terrace. Built in disused military barracks, « Darwin » has an organic restaurant, a grocery store, a coworking space, a skatepark, and workshops. Therefore, those spaces are “multi-spaces”, conceived and adapted in their design, in order to suit as many as possible, thus encouraging a logic of « social cohesion ». Design here facilitates connection, collaboration between audiences.

To build a community, the challenge of social third places 

Users’ proactive participation and creativity are essential to make social third places prosper. The geographer Richard Florida therefore invented the concept of “creative classes” to underline the importance of creativity in urban spaces. In that perspective, one may consider social third-places as a true laboratory for democracy at the community scale. For instance, La Voisinerie tends to encourage the HLM residents to take part in the administration of the café-restaurant. This might sounds (and it is!) as an innovative initiative since it fosters collaboration logics. However, this participative approach might also be far away from what these residents would know: the principles of social and solidarity economy are valuable, still this culture relies on important educational challenges. To take part of an executive board is indeed something that is not innate and must be acquired. Cognitive barriers still exist and thus can be a hurdle to overcome in order to foster a collaborative mindset. Furthermore, group dynamics and the injunction to socialise with neighbours are not that straightforward. It requires third places to  nurture a continuous process of rapprochement and socialisation. An article published in January 2018 in the magazine Actualité Habitatquestions the main limit of neighbourhood dynamics: it actually takes time for a community to gather, to form and to settle permanently. As an instance, since its recent opening, 90% of HLM residents have not yet visited La Voisinerie. The time will thus be the best indicator to measure the “success” of such an initiative. All the actors of the project are still by the way mobilising their forces to encourage the HLM residents to appropriate this environment according to the principles of  “affordance”: it begins with a basic incentive to come and grab a coffee, to hang out in the place where they will be able to meet their neighbours and to attend to the organised events (movies snacks, cooking lessons, workshops for children, etc.)  

The creation of an « à la carte » community space

Winner of the city call for innovative projects (APUI) « Réinventer Paris» launched by the Paris City Council in 2015, the project «Stream Building», developed by the agency PCA-STREAM, is innovative in the fact that it will offer spaces and services « à la carte », a true « living together » ecosystem composed of co-working spaces, giving priority to collaborative organisations and sharing.

What kind of perspective for these third-places ? 

Facing the individualisation of society, we need to reinvent the way we are living together.  The rising trend of social third-places can be an answer to tackle the crucial issue of connecting people within local communities. The intentions are good still the challenges to address in the long run are multiple: such places have to encourage and to facilitate the meeting between people, to foster awareness

around economic alternatives, etc. To build a community is not a straightforward process since some cognitive and sociological biases, as well as a latent feeling of exclusion can persist (“This place is not made for me!”). These are all barriers and challenges that social third places have to meet. Still, it is important and necessary to hail the tough work of all of these initiatives’ project managers who definitely try to favour social integration and inclusion for all

« Built in disused military barracks, « Darwin » has an organic restaurant, a grocery store, a coworking space, a skatepark, and workshops. Therefore, those spaces are “multi-spaces”, conceived and adapted in their design, in order to suit as many as possible, thus encouraging a logic of  social cohesion ». 

« Darwin Ecosystème » in Bordeaux

« Collaboration and design then become objectives of transition, of transformation of a place in order to make it an « alternative space », a space creator of social bonds, social mix and conviviality, as at Cours Saint-So, in Lille, for example, where an urban wasteland turns into a vegetable garden »

Le Cours Saint-So in Lille 

An article written by Jeannie Rabearinaivo and Bylitis Leibovici, two students of the public/private relations major at Sciences Po Lille.