Inside the immense Magasins Généraux buildings, on the Garonne riverside (in Bordeaux),nothing is what it may seem. These warehouses were used by the French Army after their construction in the 19th century and, in the last years, the destruction threat hung over them due to abandonment and real-estate speculation. But that was until 2014, when the Evolution group took charge of their renovation to shape what has become today a great activity complex for the ecological transition. That was the beginning of DARWIN Ecosystème.
But what is Darwin? It’s a meeting point for entrepreneurs, a circular economy space, a centre for sport-linked activities (skate, bike polo, roller derby, crossfit…), an urban garden (where they also held permaculture or composting workshops), a village for the reception of refugees or homeless people, or a place to promote organic food. But, above all, Darwin is a space to fight against climate change.
They exclusively use renewable electricity, they recycle 85 to 90% of their waste.
“The climate is our obsession, and we take into account the challenges it represents in everything we do” as remarked by Jean-Marc Gancille, one of its cofounders. Actually, Darwin was conceived as a “transition laboratory” where they could test different solutions against global warming. And to do so, they have chosen to reduce their impact on the planet on the highest level: They exclusively use renewable electricity, they recycle 85 to 90% of their waste, 65% use ‘soft’ modes of transport and their gastronomic spaces only serve organic food. “We follow our impacts and we measure their effects, to make sure we stay in line with our objectives,” Jean-Marc explains.
And if there’s something they understood from the beginning at Darwin, was the importance of involving the citizens in the fight for climate. The economic management of the ecosystem, according to Jean-Marc, is carried out by the entrepreneurs working in their facilities (often linked to creative or circular economy), and who coexist with an intense associatiave and citizen-participatory activity. Numbers don’t lie: 240 businesses and 600 fix workers linked to the business section, more than 1 million visitors per year, and 12 thousand organic meals served per month.
“At the beginning we were seen with disbelief and distrust, and what we see today is a lot of enthusiasm for what we’re doing here.”
In just three years, Darwin has become a reference in citizen participation and solidarity. During this time, the ecosystem has held conferences about vegetarianism, a festival dedicated to climate issues, collaborative reparation workshops, zero-waste systems installation… Several activities where the Bordeaux citizens can get involved to the extent they want. “At the beginning we were seen with disbelief and distrust, and what we see today is a lot of enthusiasm for what we’re doing here. But the most important thing is that we’re faithful to our initial project and that we’re getting good results,” Jean-Marc states.
And even if Darwin is already the second most visited space in the city and they present a 50 million euros annual turnover, according to its founders, they assure that the war is still not won: “The community is trying to retake control of territories where the activities from the associations are now taking place, and which has now an enormous value for real-estate developers, we have a period of strong turbulence ahead.” Without going any further, last week they lost a small battle, when the last beehives where they practised an urban beekeeping activity were retired.
But “the Darwiners” accept the challenge. They have found a new partner who will allow them to develop other activities in new spaces, and they are already receiving proposals to replicate their model or to inspire new spaces. And we hope there will be a lot of them.