Bouygues Immobilier is a leading private property developer in France and Europe, with 1,908 employees at 31 December 2017 and sales of €2,712 million in 2017. With 39 branches in France and four outside France, Bouygues Immobilier has nearly 60 years' experience in developing residential, corporate and commercial projects in more than 250 towns and cities. Bouygues Immobilier has a strong commitment to innovation and sustainable development and therefore seeks to provide better quality of life over the long term for all its customers by making their experience of the buying process and the use they make of the living spaces and services created for them as pleasant as possible. Bouygues Immobilier is the first developer to be certified ISO 9001 in France, NF Habitat HQE, and Top Employer France 2017, and to win the 2016 prize for the best customer relations awarded by the French Customer Relations Association (AFRC).
The whole concept of proximity is being reinvented by changes in personal mobility and social ties and by digital technology, as new services and business solutions come to the fore.
Such challenges have prompted all those involved in urban development to test new ways of outreach to local populations. The processes and mechanisms designed and developed in Strasbourg have provided an authoritative testing ground for local authorities wanting to work more closely with residents in shaping towns and cities.
This year's round-table brought together around 100 participants, from politicians and policymakers to students and those interested in shaping their towns or cities. It was chaired by Alain Bourdin, a sociologist and town planner, and Nicolas Louvet, an expert on mobility. They were joined by Françoise-Hélène Jourda, architect, and Michel Pazoumian, a town planner and expert in commercial property development. All are permanent members of l'Observatoire de la Ville's editorial committee.
According to Alain Jund, the Strasbourg city councillor overseeing urban planning, the pillars of the consultative process are pragmatism, humility and method. "The project requires a blank sheet whose borders mark out the limitations but which contains enough space to take residents' input and expectations into account". But time is needed if this is to be done properly. For example, project consultation regarding the Danube district took five years. The general public were encouraged to participate at the various levels. Then there was a period for provision of information and learning. Next came the actual dialogue and debates. The technical and political decision-making took time. Finally, the project had to be designed while incorporating this competitive dialogue.
Alain Bourdin underlined the importance of the learning phase, which is vital for members of the public involved in the consultation exercises. Procedural tools – scaled to meet the challenges of various administrative levels – are now being used in neighbourhood councils, and in project and urban workshops. But according to Cécile Caffier, Project manager at Strasbourg city council's urban community consultation, this requires the time dimension to be factored into – frequently complex – urban projects almost from the word go.
The challenge was summed up by the panel as follows: "providing a framework for sampling the general public's unique viewpoint (something which specialists value highly)".
But there remains the question of how to get the general public involved. Strasbourg's public awareness campaign, presented by Philippe Delangle, who leads the "Dans les villes" agency and designs communication campaigns for local democracy, conveys the city council's ambitions of involving the general public in large-scale consultation exercises
Samuel Monbaron, a mediator with a legal background, believed in the need for this interaction to be on neutral ground. He calls for more systematic use of mediation by independent third parties between the general public and local authorities. An example of a consultation exercise conducted in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, showed that this had paved the way for successful conflict resolution, leading to a more productive collective effort in the end.
Françoise-Hélène Jourda focused on the importance of clear roadmaps for each project. This, together with a desire for inclusiveness from local politicians, mediation between the general public and local authorities, high-quality informational tools, and mechanisms for managing disagreements - according to Alain Bourdin's closing message - are pivotal to fostering bonds of trust, which is the vital ingredient in any successful consultative process.