Never has the gap been so great between Paris and many French cities. The rates of stone in the capital are today ten times higher than those of Saint-Etienne or Limoges. A phenomenon linked to the "metropolisation" of cities, explains the sociologist François Cusin, professor at Paris-Dauphine-PSL (1).

What is metropolisation and how is France concerned?

Paris must be distinguished from other French cities. Metropolisation is first and foremost a global phenomenon. It is defined by an economic and demographic hyperconcentration in a very limited number of cities that are in competition. Paris operates on an international stage. It has become the third most expensive city in the world behind New York and London. It is part of what are called "global cities" whose characteristics are the establishment of multinationals' headquarters, the concentration of financial and technological activities, the supply of equipment and services, including a cultural offer important. Real estate prices in Paris and London correspond to this overall attractiveness and concentration of economic activities with very high added value.

Who can live in these global cities?

For Paris, the adjustment of the dwelling places of households at very high prices is done by the distance from the center. But Paris and its suburbs have a large social park, which is not the case for American cities. And there are central and peri-central districts, sometimes old, but more accessible to modest households. The best located of them are nevertheless being gentrified, which favors the rise of prices.

Besides Paris, what are the other French cities?

The second is of course Lyon, which for twenty-five years has been pursuing an offensive policy to attract businesses. She has developed a very effective urban marketing to enhance its image, because there are still forty years, it was a city that, rightly or wrongly, had the reputation of being "gray and unwelcoming". Even if it is more recent, Bordeaux is today a metropolis. We can mention Nantes and Toulouse among the most attractive. Aix-Marseille is in a logic of metropolisation, but it still has too many problems of local governance. The well-to-do classes do not settle in the center of Marseille but in the periphery. Metropolisation leads to a more pronounced economic development around Marseille (Pays d'Aix, Aubagne, around the pond of Berre) than in the heart of the Phocaean city. We must also count with Nice. It combines the qualities of a metropolis (with, for example, Sophia Antipolis) and a tourist destination. Lille has also entered this logic of metropolisation. It is late, because it is a territory that has been much deindustrialized, but since Pierre Mauroy [maire de la ville de 1973 à 2001, ndlr] enjoys good governance and benefits today from its border situation with Belgium. Other cities are dynamic, such as Grenoble, Strasbourg, Montpellier or Rennes. French regional cities are in competition with each other and with other European cities such as Barcelona, ​​Frankfurt or Milan.

Cities like Saint-Etienne seem to be completely stuck …

For Saint-Etienne, the phenomenon of deindustrialization has been violent. It could be compared to certain American cities like Detroit, the shrinking cities, the declining cities, all the same. These former mono-industrial cities shrink, in population and jobs. In France, this phenomenon affects most of the medium-sized towns of the North and North-East as well as those of the Rhone corridor. Fortunately, unlike Detroit, which has lost 60% of its population in forty years, there are still obstacles in France to slow down this decline: social policies, city policies, as well as the financing of public facilities. Population decline accompanies the economic decline, but it occurs continuously over several decades.

What is the balance sheet of the economic decentralization carried by the policies of regional planning in the years 50-60? Is there a form of recentralization?

The Gaullist and Pompidol economic decentralization was very dirigiste: the industrial, service and cultural activities were redistributed in the territories to the detriment of Paris. This followed the publication of the famous Paris and the French desert, the geographer Jean-François Gravier in the immediate aftermath of the war. It was both a way to modernize France, but also to rebalance the territories. This very proactive management policy declined sharply after the first oil shock in the early 1970s.

Is metropolisation a new form of spatial planning?

Since the 2000s, state policy towards the territories aims to bring out national champions. It favors cities that already have assets. The priority is not so much to balance the territories as to encourage cities that are already locomotives in terms of economic development. It is of course no longer a question of constraining the development of Paris, but of supporting the capital region in its competition with London and the other global cities. But the regional metropolisation allows more and more Parisian executives to continue their careers in Nantes, Toulouse or Bordeaux. Paris no longer focuses all senior executives. On this aspect, we can no longer speak of Paris and the French desert.

Are longer distances and higher travel prices an explanation for the movement of yellow vests?

Undoubtedly, automobile dependency and travel costs penalize poor households in a context of incessant urban sprawl. But we still know too little about the sociological profiles of the people who participate in this movement to say whether it is related to the phenomenon of metropolisation. There is a tendency to oppose "peripheral France" to that of metropolises, but it must be remembered that, according to the latest figures from INSEE, the centers of the big cities and some communes of their suburbs have the highest poverty rates. The Paris region is the most congested in Europe, which, added to the price of housing, highlights that the cities do not cumulate all the benefits.

(1) Author with Claire Juillard of Real estate markets of French metropolises, Published. not-editions of the notariat, 2012.

Catherine Calvet

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