Lyon Urban School

University of Lyon, France

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The Lyon Urban School is designed as a brand new experimental project headed up by the Université de Lyon — a public body (called in French : Communauté d’universités et d’établissements, COMUE) clustering, at the scale of Lyon-Saint-Etienne urban area, 4 public universities, 6 public higher education institution and CNRS. This project involves public institutions (universities, schools and local authorities) and private entities (enterprises, associations, etc.) with the aim of transforming the relationship between education, research and action in order to face up to the major societal challenge posed by the convergence of problems linked to the generalization of global urbanization and those linked to global change (which we describe as the “entry into the Anthropocene”). The purpose of this experiment is to address the scientific and practical dilemmas this convergence presents.

We understand the convergence between the contemporary urban question and that of the AnthropoceneItalic Text as meaning that due to the very nature of global urbanization, new conditions of human habitation on Earth are necessary; the Ecumene is being profoundly modified and challenged by global change. Faced with the global and local transformation of living spaces, and the social and economic consequences of globalization, a sense of crisis regarding the intelligibility and foreseeability of the rapid changes underway is emerging; pessimistic, even catastrophic, visions are spreading, it seems new types of action must be invented instantly and the need for urgent action is constantly reiterated, as if our very ability to continue inhabiting the planet were in doubt. At this particular moment in history, in our contemporary world, the established diagnostics have given rise to numerous responses based on old models of knowledge and action that no longer enable us to understand and map the complex situations and potential uncertain choices. We are even witnessing the end of the general belief in the all-powerful nature of scientific and technical knowledge and, at the same time, the disappearance of confidence in the institutions housing, legitimizing and spreading such knowledge.

A problematic and growing discrepancy is therefore arising between our potential to analyze and our capacity to act, placing the main scientific and technical fields in jeopardy: science and engineering are criticized for their power of production with no theory of action while, on the contrary, the social sciences are challenged for their power to criticize and theorize without the capacity to act. It is as if knowledge and action still existed in separate, closed silos; a separation accentuated by the time lapse separating the activities of those producing the knowledge and those putting it into practice. We have to reject this dichotomy and address urban and environmental issues differently, and by regenerating those issues by their re-embedding to their social, cultural and political context. We need thus to create another way of connecting actors, institutions and knowledge, without separating issues but rather considering scientific research, learning processes and educational activities, along with redefined instruments, principles and ethics of action, as different parts of the same global socio-ecosystem.

The challenges of urbanization and the Anthropocene are giving rise to new fields of research and training, new professions and opportunities, and changes in the theory and practices of most existing occupations, in particular those relating to urban engineering, architecture, spatial planning, urbanism and the landscape. For this reason, our Lyon Urban School project is based on the participation not only of the Lyon-Saint-Etienne site universities but also of Lyon-based engineering schools (ENTPE, National School of Civil Engineering and INSA, National Institute of Applied Sciences) involved in urban-oriented occupations, the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (ENS) and the Lyon École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture (ENSAL). As is already the case for certain courses included in the new Master programs, all courses offered by the site that constitute resources for urban-oriented occupations are assets and a source of input for the convergence institute, designed as a collective tool enabling deep-rooted changes in professional practices and, in return, in educational and research models.

This project draws on the scientific resources of the COMUE Université de Lyon. In particular, it involves the Intelligence des mondes urbains Laboratory of Excellence (“LabEx IMU”, Smartness on Urban World), which represents 28 research laboratories, and also benefits from input from the Institut Rhônalpin des Systèmes Complexes (IXXI). Urban and environmental social sciences have been working in conjunction with the engineering, environmental, computer and digital sciences within LabEx IMU since its creation. Based on this experience, which we want to extend to new forms of knowledge and other social knowledge regimes, the Lyon Urban School will implement radical and extensive interdisciplinarity in response to a problem addressed from the perspective of the intelligence of contemporary societies. The Lyon-Saint-Etienne university site has high-quality, internationally renowned resources in this field.

The Université de Lyon supports four projects within the “Instituts Convergence” call for proposals. These projects were selected after a screening process steered by the Université de Lyon’s executive board. This process was led according to the IDEXLYON2016 project strategy. LUS is one of the for project supported by Université de Lyon and is also officially supported by the presidency of CNRS.


This Lyon Urban School (LYS) would be set up at the so-called “Transmitter” building (which would take the name of “Urban Transmitter” — “l’émetteur urbain”) located on the Lyon Tech-la Doua university campus. The Lyon Urban School will be organized around three main “factories”, supported by platforms and mobilizing all participants in the project. The “Factories”, which will, in time, be grouped together in our “Urban Transmitter” building.

These factories are intended as places, times and processes linking research, training, and action through creation and mediation.

The three factories are:

  1. Ordered List Item Learning and training programs. The most important, indeed essential, factory in our Convergence Institute, that which constitutes the attractor and sets it apart, is that consisting of the training programs. In the very choice of naming our project “Lyon Urban School”, we want to underline that the raison d'être of thinking and researching is to “educate”, i.e. guarantee that the knowledge produced is rendered didactic, transmitted and shared as public property in order to contribute to the overall progress of society. Educating thus means co-elaborating knowledge through innovative pedagogy and teaching in order to offer different ways of anchoring it in social and practical terms. Our Convergence project therefore aims to highlight this transmutation of the knowledge and theories resulting from laboratory work into tried and tested knowledge transferred and activated by students into their own fields of action and creation. Our objective is actually to train the actors involved in the necessary mutations of contemporary urban habitation in order to disalienate them from the paralyzing conception of anthropocene as a doom.
  1. Ordered List Item Themed “studios” organized upon request. The purpose of the Studios is to bring together doctoral students, researchers, practitioners and political actors to address emerging issues, cognitive lock-ins and eagerness to participate.
  1. Ordered List Item Demonstrators of all sizes (from the micro-situation of a school project to scale 1 situations); their purpose will be to anchor the institute's approach with regard to experimentation.

The purpose of the platforms, located in the Urban Transmitter building, is to handle logistics and resources for the functioning and dissemination of the results of the work of the factories. They would represent a base for the scientists and research engineers involved in the Lyon Urban School.  

The platforms supporting the factories' activities will be:

  1. Ordered List Item A digital platform harnessing the substantial know-how already in existence in the field at the Lyon Saint-Etienne site.
  1. Ordered List Item An exhibition and debate platform, for the production, creation, editing and sharing in new and original ways of all productions by the Lyon Urban School, and to present the problems being addressed and even resolved.
  1. Ordered List Item An incubator for scientific and technical excellence, preparing promising “junior” teaching and research staff for international projects.

Organization of the Lyon Urban School

  Figure 1 - Organization of the Lyon Urban School

Research Program

We plan to build an agile organizational model, prefiguring a new way of understanding, transmitting, teaching, acting, practicing and researching: the resolution of and by problems approach. The participants (whoever they may be: inhabitants, practitioners in local authorities or engineering firms, entrepreneurs or researchers) find themselves faced with the conditions imposed by generalized urbanization and entry into the Anthropocene. The acceleration of environmental changes, social transformations, economic cycles, pace of life, etc., and the reshaping of the boundaries and scales of all phenomena (individual and collective), which now always take place both locally and globally, are generating new problems concerning the place of the individual and collective regulation, the construction of democracy and the exercise of power(s). Our aim is to start from what we call the practical dilemmas stakeholders have to face.

The dilemmas we propose to address can be listed in 5 main, non-disciplinary “fields” of scientific problems, which cover at the same time the major issues and imperatives for action, and whose approach requires a redefinition of our ways of thinking, acting and transmitting knowledge:

  1. Ordered List Item The vulnerability and dynamism of urban spaces in the context of global change
  2. Ordered List Item The environments composed by Anthropocenic urbanization
  3. Ordered List Item Science and technology as a mode of intelligibility for urban situations and for orienting action
  4. Ordered List Item What is a Learning City?
  5. Ordered List Item New governmentalities and professionalities
  6. Ordered List Item Epistemological workshop

The research carried out as part of these five themes necessarily requires the development of a methodological and epistemological process of reflection, particularly on the subject of the systemic nature of the urban Anthropocene, and vigilance with regard to the history of knowledge and interdisciplinarity. For this reason, the Urban School will organise a research workshop on critical epistemology and contemporary scientific history.


We will use the first two years to prepare to cross the threshold of 200 FTEs by mobilizing increasing numbers of researchers within the laboratories and by expanding into new areas of research, training, action and innovation. Hence, a number of specialists in air pollution analysis (a new theme addressed by the LUS) will join us from 2019 onwards, which we are preparing for by integrating four chemist colleagues as of 2017. Similarly, in 2019 we will incorporate into the project additional members of the Lyon Philosophical Research Institute, a research laboratory in philosophy and ethics (EA 4187).

We hope to open up new fields within a maximum of four years after the launch of the LUS. The public health and environment theme will be developed and constructed based on the skills and network of the veterinary colleague and member of the Steering Committee; this will enable us to address issues surrounding the public health risk, regulations and safety, key concerns central to the urban Anthropocene. We would also like to develop cooperation with INRA in order to address in a more systematic manner the question of urban “animality” and open up the LUS to problems linked to food supply in cities and to the development of urban and peri-urban agriculture. We thus aim to reach 230 FTEs after three years.

We will also reinforce partnerships with cultural social and economic players, with the aim of achieving optimal permeability between academic and professional entities as of 2019-2020. The Musée des Confluences, which supports this project in 2017 (see letter of commitment in our web site), will become a full partner within three years (the time needed to finalise the partnership, plan the first joint events and define the financial commitments on each side).


We obviously expect that the research activities carried out within the Lyon Urban School will generate publications and the obtaining of funding for national and European research projects (we aim to obtain at least one ERC project per year after 5 years). But we must assume that this is not the main aim of this project, in accordance with what we have understood as the purposes of this call for tender. Thus, the major impact of our School will indeed be societal. Our emphasis on training obviously reflects our concern to contribute to the personal development of individuals, but also to ensure their employability throughout their career at a time when job destruction is linked in part to the progress of work and organizational productivity, as well as the expanding scope of artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, in medicine and soon no doubt also in biology. In this context, it is less the acquisition of prerequisites specific to a trade or an exclusive profession that is important, as the ability to promote the value of knowledge and experience across several types of activities. In our opinion, the linking of training, action and research within the various factories contributes to a training program enabling individuals to mobilize their resources (knowledge and experience) in various action situations.


The project initiator is Michel Lussault, Geographer, Professor at the University of Lyon. A recognized expert in urban issues, on which he has written several reference books, he also has extensive experience in project management and running academic establishments. If the creation of the Lyon Urban School is confirmed, Professor Lussault will devote himself full time to its development, its various research, training and mediation aspects, as well, of course, as the actual management of the School.


Due to the very innovative nature of our problematic, the proposed activities and radical multidisciplinarity that we want to focus on, our project is anything but a routine academic proposal. Rather, it represents a complete departure from the norm, experimentation comprising a significant part of the project objectives. This is why the governance of the project will, by its responsiveness, ensure the dynamic of the Institute at the start, representing a preliminary test period. It will have to have the capacity to both accommodate new proposals while drawing on the existing research and training potential (the Doctoral Schools in particular), without which nothing can be envisaged. Our Convergence Institute, even if based on the pre-existing “bricks” available on the site of the Lyon - Saint-Étienne COMUE, should thus be considered a work in progress. From this point of view, the first four years will be decisive and can be considered as a trial period to test our ability to federate the local actors around new intelligible models of societal realities and urban practices, new training methods, factories and actions.

LUS will be based on a system of governance by project in the interests of responsiveness and efficiency. The steering committee will be composed of six academics (at the origin of this file) and three high-level members of staff. As the executive body, it will meet on a weekly basis. Headed up by the PI, it will be responsible for steering the project from a strategic point of view, managing the cooperative work and taking decisions with regard to the choice of action and allocation of resources. The projects developed within the platform and factory “entities” (each entity will be supervised and administered by an engineer coordinator) will be allocated resources and may organise themselves as they see fit depending on their specific characteristics and in accordance with the engineer coordinator. Each project will be bound by an obligation to achieve particular results and must conduct online follow up and reporting, according to a schedule and in a manner to be defined by the steering committee.

Funding justification

Our budget is deliberately focused on the functioning of the learning and training programs and on that of the other factories and platforms, as we feel it is necessary to concentrate new means on these activities in order to maximize the innovative impact of the Lyon Urban School and guarantee its attractiveness. We assume that some funding for research will be mainly contributed by the partner laboratories and through the support of the COMUE institutions and establishments. Indeed, the main need (and focus) for LUS is also its main ressource : people. The establishments who compose the LUS project contribute via the permanent staffs and their environment; it represents an input of more than 141 M€ (for 10 years). As well as the financial and human resources already listed, an important contribution will be made via collaborations and developments carried out in and around LUS, at local, national and international level.

Facts: Asked Fund= 12 806 k€. Full Cost = 153 980 k€. 20 universities, schools, public institution an local authorities (Lyon métropole) involved. 8 economic clusters. 300 people involved = 114 FTE. 27 research laboratories. 2500 square meters in our building : “The Urban Transmitter”.

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