The urban planning of french cities and the challenge of sustainable town planning: improvement and limits

This article challenges the efficiency of the French urban planning system in front of national and European legislative objectives regarding sustainable urban development. It is based on a historical analysis of the effectiveness of urban management tools. Thus, in a first part, one will show that the major problems of cities such as they exist today, namely urban sprawl and zoning by unique urban function (Williams et al., 2000; Mangin, 2004) and the creation of districts in the 60 ‘s fostering social problems today, appeared in spite of the development of the urban planning system at the same time. The awareness of these problems and the rise of the notion of sustainable development have made the practices in town planning evolve (Raffaud, 2003). "By making” the legislation “green", they have also strongly developed the rules which change the contents and forms of urban planning (Mathieu et al., 2005). Then, one needs to ask the question of the current efficiency of the documents dealing with the planning of French cities confronted to the challenges of sustainable development. After a quick presentation of the French planning system and the local plan, which is its tool at the scale of the city, the article will present, in the second part, the advantages and the difficulties encountered. It will hence to light the difficulties we have to translate in a statutory way the planning orientations. One will also highlight other problems, such as the necessity to make the local planning orientation consistent with other public policies of planning and the variety of temporalities, and the limitation of the effects of local plans … (Blanc et al., 2008). This article will also attempt to demonstrate that town planning documents, if accurately written, can be invaluable tools to improve the quality of town planning and that the limitation of its "impacts", made compulsory by the European legislation in 2001, seems to be an extra security for the quality of the cities (Lerond et al., 2003; Miller et al., 2005; Alexander, 2006). To conclude, after having presented the recent sustainable objectives of planning, by showing the improvements along with the numerous difficulties with which the planners are confronted, the article will focus on the fact that urban planning is not the only tool to be mobilized to make the sustainable city, but a necessary control lever, to be coordinated with other positive public actions, urban studies and responsible political choices.

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