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Marseille between desire for another image and fear of losing its soul

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT – | On the Canebière, in Marseilles where major renovation works are undertaken by the town hall, on March 3, 2017

Marseille has embarked on a policy of urban renewal to improve its image of a city impoverished and marked by insecurity, but some fear that its identity as a rebellious and popular city will disappear.

For more than a decade, the town hall LR has undertaken major renovations, on the Old Port, the Canebière, the Cours Julien or in Belsunce, neighborhoods so typical of Marseilles identity. It is the turn of La Plaine, a district of downtown trading and very frequented by the youth in the evening, to know the same fate.

The municipality wants to see in particular the emblematic Place Jean Jaurès “to rise in range”. A project denounced by some of the local residents who see it as an unavowed objective of “gentrification”.

“We are in resistance,” says Christine, an inhabitant. “La Plaine is one of the city’s last popular strongholds, renovation will change everything,” she says. She is attached to the terrace of one of the many cafés in the neighborhood.

Bruno, beer in hand, agrees. “There is a desire to create a showcase for tourists and everything that goes wrong in the decor will have to disappear,” he denounced.

“Here, all the Marseillais cross, there is a life, a soul. What we do not want is that this district so magical becomes a simple place of wandering like the Old Port”, adds Christine who Lives in La Plaine for twenty-two years.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – BORIS HORVAT – | View of the Old Port in Marseille, in the South of France, January 6, 2016

Asked by the AFP, the town hall minimizes the scope of these criticisms indicating that “the majority of the residents are favorable, with the exception of a few people” to the project which, according to it, was the subject of a “long And full concertation “.

For Brigitte Bertoncello, a researcher in town planning at Aix-Marseille University, the policy of all-round renovation is in a context of competition between cities, which try to “build an image” and differentiate through their center -historic city. “Marseille is a popular city, it is part of its identity,” she said.

– ‘Welcome to the new ones without chasing the old’ –

Has this urban policy really paid off? “In the 1970s, the city lost 10,000 inhabitants a year, and we are reversing this trend. (…) The Marseillais have left, I am renovating, I fight against the sleeping merchants and I bring back Residents who pay taxes, “declared Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin in the columns of the Tribune.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT – | View of the Canebière in Marseille, March 3, 2017

Studies by INSEE confirm a resumption of demography, according to the doctoral student in sociology David Escobar, but the population growth of Marseille over the period 1999 to 2012 was in fact mainly driven by births.

“The myth of the neo-marseille who will come to save the city from the slump is inaccurate. What we see is that even if the city managed to attract executives, it did not know how to retain them,” explains -t it.

“We sold the sea and the sun but it was not enough, the renovations were only made on the building and not in the services, and what the new arrivals are waiting for are public services, crèches, Swimming pools and local shops, which are lacking today, “adds Bonner Bertoncello, referring to a challenge of” reconciliation between the renewed city and that of daily life “.

“We are not against renovation, on the contrary, but what we say is welcome to the new ones without chasing the old ones,” explains Nouredine Abouakil, co-founder of the association “a city center for all”.

But for Christine, “if the renovation of the La Plaine district goes all the way, I leave Marseille. Why stay in a city that wants to annihilate its identity?”

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