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Design at the service of public policy: the case study of Penhoët train station

Design at the service of public policy: the case study of Penhoët train station

In the past few years design has gone far beyond the perimeter of industrial creation and is today becoming a discipline which facilitates dialogue with citizens about public projects.

The Citizens Rail program

Carole Garry, head of the Citizens Rail program in the Pays de la Loire Region, approached L’École de design Nantes Atlantique and asked it to get involved in a project process where design acts as a mediator between a local authority and the citizens. Penhoët train station thus became a good example of design at the service of public policy.

During the year 2011-2012, 18 3rd-year students from the Spatial Design Bachelor’s course run by Lydie Morand and David Comy, came up with 9 concepts for rehabilitating Penhoët train station. This railway stop is situated on the Nantes – Le Croisic line, just before the central station of St Nazaire and it serves the shipyard and the company EADS as well as the residents of Méan district.

The Pays de la Loire Region is taking part in a European program, Citizens Rail (railway for and with the citizens). Its aim is to increase the use of rail travel through citizen-based projects. The school was keen to get involved in this initiative as it is one of the new fields of application for design: design in public policy. The project was developed in collaboration with RFF, Gares et Connexions-SNCF and the Pays de la Loire Region, with the aim of imagining how to make this railway station an interesting and attractive place.

Une première présentation en 2012

Œuvres symboliques, by Simon Denis et Bérénice Mensier

A first presentation in 2012

In June 2012, 9 projects were presented to the partners and all the work was exhibited in Méan townhall for one month as well as in the town hall of St Nazaire and the regional council office in Nantes. This presentation was the opportunity to carry out a public consultation and to establish dialogue with visitors in order to find out their opinions about the proposals on display.

Clichés, by Raphaël Goute et Claire Thierry

The work produced by L’École de design was very well-received by the population who also expressed their opinion at a presentation at Penhoët market (summer 2013) and at the neighbourhood committee organized by the City of St Nazaire. Design has brought a new image – it has revamped Penhoët train station and its footbridge and drawn people’s attention to this previously ignored place.

In spring 2013, a meeting was held for all the concerned parties. This was an opportunity to take into account the feedback from the public consultation and to select one of the proposed concepts.

In 2013, a concept was chosen

To date, the winning concept is being developed by Gares et connexions. Students Sylvain Toldo and Antoine Lemesle, who designed the winning project, had the chance to meet the team in charge of the project. They were able to explain the intentions of their concept and could see how the project team had integrated them. "In a progress meeting we were able to put forward our point of view on the modified project.  Gares & Connexions and all the project partners were very receptive to our remarks and comments. We have to take part in the next meeting about the project,” adds Sylvain Toldo.

This relationship gives 2 students the opportunity to see how technical, normative and financial constraints operate at the development stage and make it necessary to rethink the original concept.

Sylvain Toldo and Antoine Lemesle’ project

Finally, a European workshop

In September, Sylvain Toldo also had the possibility of participating in a masterclass at a European workshop in Aix la Chapelle, as part of the Citizen Rails project which falls under the Interreg IVB program.  He was able to compare his experience with that of other students from England, Holland and Germany.  He was impressed by the desire of local authorities to increasingly involve citizens in collaborative processes to reflect on land use planning.  “You can see the determination of the local authorities and transport companies, for example the SNCF, to improve, rehabilitate and optimize the mobility strategies used throughout Europe” says Antoine Lemesle after his stay in Germany.

This success story illustrates the talent of our students but also the ability of design to become a mediator between the local authority and the citizen. The participative initiatives increasingly adopted by institutions inevitably necessitate tools, methods and actors which can facilitate the exchange of information and the involvement of every person in a project. Design is undoubtedly one of the key elements.

Jean-Luc Barassard
Head of Business Strategy department