In Paris, heritage versus solidarity housing

Paris. In the very built-up 6th arrondissement of Paris, it’s not easy to find a little greenery once you leave the flowerbeds and high forests of the Luxembourg Gardens. Hidden behind the high blind walls of 110, rue de Vaugirard, lies one of the rare pockets of nature remaining in the neighborhood: the remains of a monastic past that seven heritage defense associations would like to preserve, like the Catherine garden -Plowed from the neighboring 7th arrondissement. Bequeathed to the diocese of Paris by its former residents, the Visitandine sisters, the complex including the garden and the monastic buildings is being reclassified as a solidarity real estate project, against which heritage defenders are protesting. On the plot bordered by rue du Cherche-Midi and rue de Vaugirard, the diocese is developing a shared housing project intended for a public in difficulty (single women, precarious people, disabled people) financially supported by the construction of a investment building which will enable the sustainability of this initiative. “A lung of fraternity”, as described by the rehabilitation coordinator. The location of this plot in the heart of a very privileged neighborhood makes the project interesting, as the diocese explains: “This is the meaning of the project which has been designed for several years: to welcome people in vulnerable situations not on the outskirts, but in the heart of the 6th arrondissement of Paris. »

“The vestiges of urban agriculture”

“It’s a very beautiful project, entirely commendable, admits Julien Lacaze, president of the Sites and Monuments association, one of the seven associations mobilized against the project. But it could be done elsewhere; there is a whole heritage aspect to this plot which the Church is absolutely not concerned about. » The main building heritage is certainly not endangered by the two new constructions, and the 18th century mansion raised and enlarged by the Visitandine sisters is well integrated into this solidarity project. But it is for a small, less spectacular heritage that the opponents of the project are stepping up to the plate: in the large garden, which provided the sisters’ livelihood, the vestiges of urban agriculture. A brick cowhouse with cast iron ties, in which a small oratory is embedded and two other oratories at the bottom of the garden are considered by heritage associations as so many testimonies of an “intra-mural” monastic life whose traces are gradually erased. “These are buildings of good quality, believes Julien Lacaze who hopes to be able to find the name of their architect in the Order’s archives. These elements are described by Émile Zola, when he talks about the “provincial bonhomie” of the neighborhood. It is this story that risks being lost. » For its part, the diocese can rely on the opinions of the architect of the Bâtiments de France, the Regional Directorate of Archeology and the Ministry of Culture, as well as the Commission of Old Paris, which ensured the good preservation of the private mansion, but which have not retained any heritage character for these small 19th century buildings.

Project plan planned by the diocese.

© Agence Duthilleul

The garden of discord

Beyond these built elements, the associations’ advocacy also concerns the integrity of the natural heritage. Alongside the City of Paris’s deputy for sustainable food, Audrey Pulvar, they for a time defended the idea of ​​an educational urban farm intended for children. The proposal would have hit the mark with the elected official, without any follow-up being given to it. “In this story, everything goes against the Town Hall’s very fair speech on the importance of hollow teeth and the city’s adaptation to climate change. We hope that the Town Hall will comply with this speech,” indicates Julien Lacaze. “The garden is today completely enclosed and polluted, defends the diocese for its part, it will be preserved, restored, decontaminated and replanted and above all will be partially open during the day to the public. » The associations and the archdiocese are engaged in a battle of numbers over this green space indicated in the local town planning plan (PLU): 4,390 m2, of which 4,140 square meters will be preserved at the end of the work, measures the diocese which is satisfied with the plot indicated in the town planning document; 5,500 m2 judges, for its part, the Sites and Monuments association. For the latter, the defense of this heritage “in the open ground” is also considered a test for the new Minister of Culture, Rachida Dati, close to the mayor of the 6th arrondissement Jean-Pierre Lecoq, who supports the transformation of the former convent. “He is very supportive of the project, and even threatened us with legal action, which is a first”, reports Julien Lacaze. At the local level, the seven associations can count on the elected environmentalists of the district, who wish to discuss a wish on the subject at the next Paris Council.

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