Anne VEUTHEY, geographer and landscaper, presents “Au dessus des toits” (Over the rooftops), a master’s thesis in territorial development, training offered by the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Geneva School of Engineering, Architecture and Landscape (Haute École du Paysage, de l’Ingénieur et de Architecture, HEPIA).
Geneva debate | Metropolises and density: Geneva elevations through the prism of the urban age
The 21st century will focus on urbanism. More than half of the world’s population already lives in cities and controlling urban sprawl has become one of the priority objectives of land use planning. In Switzerland, a trend towards returning to the city has begun again after a period of drop in the attractiveness of centers. The Confederation recommends that agglomerations become denser, which puts Geneva under pressure, further accentuated by a serious housing crisis.
In fact, the 2013 federal law on spatial planning gave rise to a form of collective resistance to territorial sprawl. It was preceded by the 2008 Geneva law on elevations, which occured in a particular urban and heritage context marked by two important aspects. The vertical densification promoted by this law proposes to create housing by authorising landowners to enhance their properties in order to increase the living area. This public policy is part of sustainable urban development since these homes are well supplied by infrastructure and services. Nevertheless, despite the approval of the law by the people of Geneva in 2008, the elevation of buildings has since been subject to debate: impact on the built heritage, high costs, lack of transparency in the granting of building permits, frequent deviations from the law, “overdensification” of central neighbourhoods, pressure on the urban landscape and, last but not least, construction of housing for a high-income population.
In 2017, the State and the City joined forces to draw up a report and then develop a methodology for evaluating elevation-focused projects which should make it possible to control the effects of the law on the built heritage. However, the law on elevations could have visible and lasting effects, while raising some pressing questions about Geneva’s urban space: What long-term visions could lead to a successful densification of inhabited territories? How to reconcile housing needs, heritage protection and the need for Nature? What public policies would allow for the necessary social mix? How to involve the population in a positive construction of its urban future?
Cornavin Station, Geneva, 2017 © All rights reserved