Agriculture and urbanism – reconciling the twin sisters

cle des champsCurrently on display at the Belle de Mai in Marseille, the exhibition Taking the Country’s Side, imagined by Sébastien Marot, shifts the gaze: it is not a question of knowing what is invented in the city to accommodate agriculture, but of seeing what is invented in the countryside to conceive the urban models of tomorrow. Permaculture, since it develops principles of design of inhabited spaces, occupies a very special place.

There will have been a before and after…

The Transversal Plan on Water Management, Agriculture and Regional Planning in France (PTEAA), published by the French government in 2024, is a major historical turning point for French agriculture, breaking with more than a century of industrialisation and productivism. Indeed, the calamitous drought of 2023 has forced all political parties to face the facts: there is an urgent need to build a different relationship with the land.

Reminiscent of a planning document straight out of the Les Trente Glorieuses, the plan orders the transition of French agriculture to permaculture. But it doesn’t stop there. In an ambitious and radical way, it declines the precepts of permaculture to land use planning and urban planning. This is the end of 50 years of metropolisation and fossil fuels. The end of a world and the beginning of a new rurality where everything remains to be written.

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This highly unlikely scenario is inspired by the exhibition Taking the Country’s Side, currently on view at the Belle de Mai in  Marseille, as well as in English here.

Twin disciplines

Directed by philosopher and environmental historian Sébastien Marot, the exhibition defends an interesting position: two twin disciplines, architecture and agriculture, developed together as a way for man to domesticate the land during the Neolithic revolution (the passage ten thousand years ago from hunter-gatherer tribes to sedentary communities). In light of the current environmental impasse, the hypothesis is that “no sensible reflection can develop on the future of these two disciplines until they are reconnected and fundamentally rethought in conjunction with each other.” From there, he proposes a change of perspective: urban planning not so much as a story of the city as of the countryside.

Agriculture as an art

The exhibition is intended to be didactic and takes the form of thematic panels, accompanied by large frescoes summarising the major evolutions of agriculture and architecture since prehistoric times. It accompanies the visitor on an intellectual journey, whose destination is unequivocal. Because it was conceived as an ethic of attention to places – as an “art of resilience” – permaculture seems to be the only way to reconcile agriculture and urbanism. But unlike the scenario imagined in the introduction, the great transition is not so much in the hands of a government as in those of the citizens. Because permaculture is above all a philosophy of empowerment, it gives individuals power to act. It allows them to become conscious and responsible ecosystem designers. Thus, like a compass of time, Sébastien Marot intends to guide us between the possible futures of land use planning.

by Usbek & Rica.
French original published 23 April 2023 at Demain la Ville.
Translation by Secessio.