“Espaces is an organisation using urban ecology to get people back to work. The aim is to create jobs for people in difficulty in environment and nature-related occupations.”
Yann Fradin, Espaces chief executive
Since Espaces was founded in 1994, the organisation has developed back-to-work programmes based on urban ecology. Espaces is faced with quite a challenge: the aim is to develop innovative projects to manage urban spaces undergoing transition, while helping people experiencing difficulties to get back to work and integrate into society.
One of Espaces’ projects is located in Aubervilliers in Seine-Saint-Denis, near Paris. The organization has worked with Topager, an urban vegetable garden and garden design company, and is now maintaining a garden on the roof of the Fashion Center wholesale shopping mall in Aubervilliers. The layout is ideal: the mall’s roof has a 1m deep layer of soil, meaning that trees can be planted.
The mall has made 2,000m² of roof space available free-of-charge in return for the organisation maintaining the area. Espaces and Topager will gradually increase the growing area from 120m² in 2016, to 500m² in 2017 and 1,000m² in 2018. The crops will be grown based on the principles of agroecology. The end goal of the project is to become economically sustainable within three years, the deadline that the organization has set itself for conducting a practical initiative-research programme on job creation in urban market gardens and, in a wider sense, on the profitability of urban farming.
A successful partnership
Espaces’ partnership with Topager has already yielded results. Topager is a young innovative company specializing in designing, planting and maintaining vegetable gardens in cities and works with INRA (France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research), AgroParisTech and the country’s Natural History Museum. The two organisations have successfully joined forces on several development projects, including the Stream Building project at Clichy Batignolles, the winner of the Réinventer Paris competition, with an integrated market garden and distribution project on the roof and facades of the building.
In 2016, two of Espaces’ back-to-work employees will be seconded to the rooftop vegetable garden and there are plans for four additional employees to be hired in 2017 and six new beneficiaries the following year. As for consumers, the garden’s produce will be put on sale in October 2016. Potential customers include the employees of the groups based in the area, individual customers via Aubervilliers market, the restaurants in Le Millénaire shopping centre and the city’s AMAPs (associations supporting smallholdings).
Espaces is innovating by using urban farming to foster socio-professional inclusion, all thanks to the support of the Veolia Foundation.
 Agroecology is based on designing production systems which draw on ecosystem functions.