How are cities and their artistic liveliness participating in building an inclusive metropolis?

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

A cooperation project between Oakland (California) and Saint-Denis (France): both territories are major places of cultural and social innovation in which artists, architects, institutions’ supporters and cultural places create, often in a precarious way, new forms of solidarity, mutualization, and the gathering of inhabitants. The cooperation project is part of a global debate about the metropolization of our territories and about the role of cultural and artistic actors in urban development. The goal is to take part in the debate, to give voices to both suburbs, and to share models that are being created.

Downtown Oakland (California)

Even though they have a lot in common, France and California embody very different conceptions of innovation and bring complementary answers to the cultural, social and economic issues they are facing. This is precisely the reason why the actors of both territories have a lot to share and to learn from each other in order to create new solutions and make innovation accessible to the greatest number of people possible.

In October 2018, Didier Coirint, Head of the cultural affairs of the city of Saint-Denis, and Laure Gayet, an urbanist and consultant for cultural projects, led a spotting project in Oakland. It confirmed the relevance of bringing Oakland and Saint-Denis closer to develop an ambitious project of cooperation that will question the role of suburbs and their liveliness in the construction of an inclusive metropolis.

In February 2018, the Californian urban agency SPUR launched the regional plan 2070 for the San Francisco Bay Area. The institutional organization of “Le Grand Paris” metropolis started in January 2016. It represented a turning point for both sides of the Atlantic, for the two territories made up of 7.5 million inhabitants each. The issues they face have some similarities: skyrocketing housing prices, the evolution of the relationship between centers and suburban areas, the need for new transportation infrastructures, the search for compactness, the push for environmental sustainability, etc. The metropolization phenomenon has often been associated with the economic appeal of the area, placing innovation and actors’ creativity at the center of the reflections. However, new models should be developed in order to avoid the dissociation of economic and social issues and to additionally prioritize the decrease of both spatial fragmentation and social segregation.

The peripheral cities of Oakland and Saint-Denis show interesting similarities. Oakland has a population of 420,000 inhabitants while Saint-Denis is a part of “Plaine Commune”, a community of cities made up of 415,000 inhabitants. In perfect counterpoint to their so-called “bad reputation”, these two territories experience an amazingly artistic liveliness as well as a recent wave of gentrification. Appealed 10-15 years ago by a devalued real estate and great empty areas, artists today are gradually excluded and displaced in the periurban area – which, in the case of Oakland, can be outside the Bay.

These two territories developed strategies and formalized tools through the use of recent cultural development plans. Even though they both emphasize the implications of the inhabitants in their projects, their approaches to public action are at the same time both similar and different.

The scheme of cultural orientations in Saint-Denis leans on the recognition of the cultural right and considers cultural diversity as a resource that must be valued. Saint-Denis is placed at the heart of the Plaine Commune, which is made up of 8 other cities; it is one of the 12 territories of “Le Grand Paris”. Baptized territory of culture and creation, the Plaine Commune associates cultural projects with its public policies (including territorial organization, urban renewal, housing and economic development) as much as possible.

After a massive consultation with the inhabitants entitled, “Belonging in Oakland: a cultural development plan”, they chose to put cultural equity and the recognition of the right to cultural diversity at the center of their reflections. This is a powerful push for the creation of a sense of belonging among communities, one that aligns with the sentiment "we the people” and strives to make everyone an actor in the community. "Belonging is about building the human capital of people as placemakers".

If you are interested in joining the project, do not hesitate to contact us at

Oakland visit, October 2018. The Crucible with Didier Coirint (Saint-Denis director of Culture), Laure Gayet (urbanist, collectif Approche.s), Matthew Passmore (Morelab), Juliette Donadieu (Cultural Attachée).

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