In July of 2011 residents of the Chateaucreux neighborhood in Saint-Étienne, France banded together to turn a wasteland lot into a public square complete with a garden, public works of art, and furniture. The project was started by the Strasbourg-based group Collectif Etc, who won a competition earlier in the year to help transform the space. The group came up with the master plan then went around the neighborhood to tell the residents what they were doing and enlist their support and help. What resulted was the Place au Changement, a transformative space that has brought the community closer and given them a great space to use and enjoy.
Collectif Etc won the commission through the Public Urban Planning Agency of Saint-Etienne to design and manage the rehabilitation of the 670 sq meter space into a public square. Part of their task was to engage the residents of the area in the project. Eventually a building is slated for the space, but until then, the residents are free to use the space for the public good. Collectif Etc envisioned a public square complete with gardens, outdoor furniture, public art works and space for the community to gather, celebrate and take part in events and activities. Before the process began, Collectif Etc went to a number of community meetings and met with residents to educate them about the work that was to take place. Signs were placed up all over the neighborhood and during the month of work a Collectif Etc representative was always on hand to tell people walking by what was going on and how they could help.
For the whole month of July, Collectif Etc organized events, workshops and meetings that anyone from the community was allowed to participate in. Each day, there were three free workshops to help transform the space into the public park. First, a carpentry workshop allowed residents to help build the outdoor furniture that would sit in the park. Then a gardening workshop was open for those who wanted to learn more about plants or help with the garden. Finally a graphic design workshop was held to teach people about the elements of design and then help paint the large apron walls that serve as a backdrop for the park. Each friday a group of women worked together to cook a large meal (couscous, tagine, paella), which was offered for a reasonable cost per plate. Then on Saturdays, the space hosted circus troupes, fire throwers and other entertainment acts. Finally on Sundays, the space was used to host an outdoor movie.
Now, the Place au Changement is more commonly known to the residents as the Place of the Giant in honor of the large mural on the wall painted by Ella & Pitr. An online blog was set up to document the changes and inform residents of how to get involved. And now a little shed has been constructed to hold a water tank and tools. Those who promised to help maintain the garden were given the shed’s lock code so they could access the tools.