“Espace Océan”, the heart at work, not the architects

Heart Ocean @city of Saint-Denis

In August 2022, Ericka Bareigts, mayor of Saint-Denis in Reunion, proudly announced the winning park project, which will see the light of day on the site of the former “Espace Océan”, sounding the death knell of a Dionysian Arlesian. At the manoeuvre, the primary school children. In the jury, passerby. Even the whales dancing offshore can’t believe it!

There are properties that every architect, developer, promoter or even landlord dreams of. Espace Océan is one of them. Three hectares of wasteland between the seafront of Saint-Denis de la Réunion and its historic town center, 5 minutes from the bus station that illuminates the island with its flock of yellow buses, from the small market that feeds the Dionysians to the airport, a quarter of an hour. All 50 meters from the surf of the Indian Ocean.

Reunion Heart Ocean

There are projects that also have some bad luck. The plot was not always bare. The buildings, which were dilapidated, had been demolished in 2005 to make way for a new district, mixed and shiny. The numbers were staggering: 18,000 m² of shops, 45,000 m² of housing of all kinds, that is, 730 homes, 5,400 m² of offices supplemented by a hotel, a business center, a nursery, 1,600 parking spaces. At least that is what the project announced by Icade and SODIAC, developer and co-promoter on the project, initially accompanied by the architectural firms PCA Stream (Paris) and L’Atelier Architectes et Ingénieurs (Saint -Denis). The ambitions were there and the bill promised to be hefty, around €120 million initially and an estimate announced from the start of the project of a trade deficit of €25 million. Something that makes the teeth crawl under the panel at the town hall.

To understand the political effort, we must remember that Saint-Denis, 19th city ​​of France and 1time overseas with 153,000 inhabitants, is the capital of an island which is both a department and a region. The roulette wheel of the election does not fall for everyone at the same time on the same side, there is rapid chaos on the sensitive projects within the municipal majority – UMP, for the project then. The regional presidency (middle right) got involved by withdrawing its support, not to mention the intervention up to the highest spheres of the state, when a letter from Nicolas Sarkozy to the prefect asked him to carry out a new investigation effect.

As for him, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, rather to the left of the chessboard, asked that ” resize with more humility ” project. The district has thus been revised significantly downwards by retaining commercial spaces and offices, but by building only 613 residential units including an EHPA, a hotel, a crèche and 785 parking spaces around 6,500 m² of landscaped areas. To celebrate, the architects were replaced by others, Triptyque (Paris) and Demain architectes et paysage (Lyon) with Base.Since then, the project has moved back and forth, arousing other appetites while being partially used as a parking lot.

Fifteen years later, the wasteland is back in the spotlight under the leadership of the current mayor of the city, Ericka Bareigts. The city accompanied by landscape gardeners in Saint-Leu, Uni Vert Durable, thus proposes five scenarios of parks that cannot be described as an attraction without common goals with the previous saga.

The meeting
Heart Ocean @l’Atelier Architectes

Between 27 June and 10 July 2022, an extensive public consultation took place, asking passers-by which of the projects seemed most suitable for them. Everyone knows that in Reunion, as elsewhere, the guy in his street always has an informed and technical opinion about what’s going on, especially when the pictures are chidées. The city announces 17,000 attendees, a nice score that suggests extraordinary civic momentum.

Wise citizens therefore had to choose projects that were conceived… by the students at Joinville primary school in the city centre. Fortunately, children are there to think in the place of the elected officials… A project at the height brats and not really on par with hoped-for, if not plausible, public policies.

The winner – ” forest adventure » – offer the climbing area, playgrounds, treehouses, pool and water games, hot air balloon, rides, an educational farm, an outdoor cinema or even a ‘skate park’. The Dionysians have chosen a park project, not surprisingly, with a hot air balloon! After finally receiving the city’s urban cable car in agony in 2022, the city councilors seem to be taken with a passion for traveling in height.

Especially since for those who know the area a little, in terms of strolling in the trees, an entire island covered with primary forests and hiking trails very well maintained by the ONF is available, free of charge for those who want to get some air!

To hear the mayor, there is an urgent need to ” renature ” the city. In tropical areas, the question is rather to accommodate nature in the city! Admittedly, the historic center remains very mineral, at least in its public spaces. Even in its latest works delivered: a playground for children, 100% concrete, 0% green, right in front of the Dionyparks of the future!

The meeting
Heart Ocean @PCA Stream

According to Ericka Bareigts, the aim is to ” transform the city sustainably and to prioritize quality of life. In Reunion, environmental, social and educational emergencies are not lacking, and they will not be reduced by an amusement park as children imagine. With the abandonment of the previous project, approximately 650 housing units will not be built, of which 230 are social. For an island whose housing deficit is as endemic as the Dodo, there is reason to question the public policies of an island that should welcome its millionth inhabitant in 2030.

To give you an idea, the rent in the city center ticks dangerously the top of the rent in the inner suburbs of Paris, where the median income is far below that of Greater Paris. Not to mention the number of jobs that a mixed-use urban project could have created.

Saint-Denis wants to offer new housing to its inhabitants, as in the context of the Prunel** project, but it is also determined to make this urban city a green city, a garden city, a city that breathes, a city where you just want to live », justifies the mayor. With regard to the climate crisis, a real ambition should be set against the illegal dumping that plagues the island, against the overuse of single-use plastics and much more to focus on more sustainable mobility.

To top it all off, the construction site, due to start in 2023, will be partially completed in participating workplace “. It makes you wonder what in this park could well cost the taxpayers €20M!

With such projects, architects only need to jump into the water from the new coastal road*, partially open in one direction since August 28, 2022.

Leah Muller

*Read our article NRL, the most expensive road in the world, is a halfway house, even a route
** Read our article Ecodistrict Prunel label, in Paris as in Saint-Denis de la Réunion?

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