“I bike, so I am” (or was it…”I am, so I bike”?) – Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 3

Tomorrow I will leave Rennes and go the  countryside (to Villarceaux) to assist a field practical on sustainable indicators in the rural area. But I already miss the city. As I wrote before, Rennes is an special city: it has character, class and culture. And after three weeks you’re getting to feel at home: I know my way around, do my daily shopping’s, shake hands, have a kiss here and there (‘des bisous’, more ‘cheek to cheek’…), etc. After three weeks you also get a rhythm:  I buy a Dutch newspaper at the station, have  a coffee on the terrace and a late dinner at the bistro (see picture).

Rennes is a very beautiful city, also due the fact that they have a major that is very well respected and who is major for over 30 (!) years already. So compared to other cities, Rennes has a very sustainable and constant policy, and you can feel and see the results of that everywhere.  I will show you two –also for me – very interesting examples. First : Rennes urban strategy (and at the same time: rural). Rennes, with almost 200.000 inhabitants within the city, is a very ‘compact’  city. Also due to ecological and rural motives, the city of Rennes decided over 30 years ago to  concentrate housing within its walls, and by that, saving the qualities of the surrounding countryside. So the policy was to intensify the density of its buildings, but according to very high architectural standards. So indeed, you don’t see any suburbs, industrial zones or slumps within the city: it all has quality and a very special atmosphere.

Rennes therefore looks for example like Mont St. Michel (which is completely surrounded by water), or like a fortress (where walls are the boundaries between the inside and outside).  The line between the rural and the urban in Rennes is very sharp  and very hard, and is created by the ‘rocade’ or ‘périphérique’ (the ring road, the highway, that lies like a circle around the city). Within the ‘rocade’ is the city, outside  the rural. This is one of the reasons that peoples in Rennes (and also the city’s policy) are very committed with the countryside. It’s very nearby for every (never more than 5 miles), and when you leave the city, you’re immediately surrounded by an overwhelming  ‘green’, accentuated by the two rivers that run through the city (Ill et Vilaine).The rural and the urban are divided in two different worlds, but at the same time they are part of one bigger world (the identity of ‘Bretagne’?). You don’t have to bridge the gap; there is no border between the city and the countryside. For example, have a look at the website of Ecomusée de Rennes; a former farm, which lies just outside the ‘rocade’, and where all kinds of ‘urban and rural things’ come together! Or notice the daily markets (the one on Saturday is France’s second  biggest one!), where farmers with all kinds of products (name it, they sell it) sell their fresh products. It only takes some miles to supply the city and citizen with food.

Part of this ‘development strategy’ was ‘the bike’. Indeed, a bike. Because of the many (older as well as new) apartment buildings, cars are not very comfortable in the city. But even a bike can be problematic, because within the corridors of the apartment buildings there is no place to park your bike (or it is forbidden, like for a lot of the 60.000 students), and neither you can park your bike on the pavement:  the streets are often too narrow. The solution for this problem was rather simple: the city ‘collectivized’ the bike. For €30 a year, everybody have free access and use of any bike of this project, and on almost every corner you can ‘rent’ (using your code) a bike for free (see picture). Very convenient and very cheap (and no problems with broken chains or flat tires). To promote this system, a very dense network of bike trails is spread out all through the city, with often priority for cyclist. I really enjoy to bike in Rennes (having a heavy but decent Dutch bike with you –mine is a Optare Batavus.. makes it extra comfortable). But my colleagues are very critical on the cities ‘biking’ policy, due to the fact that they don’t  put much energy in this system anymore.

Interesting to notice, is that these biking trails also connect the urban and the rural in a very easy and intensive way. Along the two rivers (to the north and to the south) there are trails, just for hikers and bikers, and you can leave the city on your bike and suddenly find yourself in Dinan or St. Malo (50 km north of Rennes), just by following these trails. To me, biking should be an institutional part of every rural-urban policy. After work I always take my bike, and within 5 minutes I feel recovered by the overwhelming beauty of the countryside; just some miles out of this metropolis!

Yesterday, when I was following the stream of the Vilaine (instead of the Ill), I suddenly stood face to face with a strange black wall –in the middle of pastures, lakes and hedges, and on the wall was written a text of Tolstoi (see picture). Again it dealt with ‘reality’ (like the one I found at one of the universities walls), but this one was not on drugs and the perception of realty, but more on reality and spirituality. Before I will write more about my work on multi- and trans-disdiplinarity (I still will come to that later…), I want to give you this quote for the weekend, and finish now my reflection on Rennes: I go outside, to make a tour in the countryside, on my Optare.

“Notre vie entier, de la naissance a la mort, avec tous ses rêves, n’est-elle pas également un rêve, que nous prenons pour la vie réelle et dont nous ne doutons pas de la réalité uniquement parce que nous ne connaissons pas l’autre vie qui est plus réelle “.  Tolstoi.

“I am, so I bike, I bike so I am….. “,  Jan Schakel, Rennes