Jean-Pierre Sueur

Changing the City For a New Urbanity Publication date : May 1, 1999

In February 1998, Jean-Pierre Sueur completed an 800-page report on the future of cities for French Employment Minister Martine Aubry. The report, which provoked many heated discussions, has been edited and revised and is now published in book form.Twenty years after France introduced its urban policy, the situation in the cities leaves much to be desired: French cities are increasingly segregated, the traditional social mix is gradually disappearing, and ghettos are developing in many neighbourhoods. Politicians on both the left and the right made the mistake of believing that they could cure urban ills by attending to the most urgent problems, but without making significant changes in the rest of the urban sphere. They wrongly believed that urban problems could be solved with the creation of a ministry and the implementation a few specific policies targeting short-term goals – even if long-term goals and a global view of the situation were ignored. Eighty percent of all French residents live in a city in one of 36,700 districts, and many of the problems they encounter in their daily lives are specifically urban. They include insecurity, violence, inequality, unemployment, pollution, poor housing or housing in hideously ugly tower blocks, traffic jams, dehumanising standarisation, and the offensive ugliness of the access routes to many cities. These problems are too vast to be resolved locally – and neither can they be expected to go away after a quick coat of electioneering whitewashing.The author gives a critical reading of the various remedial urban policies introduced during the past few years and points to ways in which the underlying causes of today’s urban problems may finally be confronted, so as to ultimately and truly change our cities. He believes that we must begin creating tomorrow’s urban centres without delay if we are to reject the inevitability of the city-as-ghetto for the poor, and of the city-as-gilded-prison for the rich. To succeed in this task, a three-pronged approach is required: institutional changes must be made at the highest political level in order to confer on the city the significance that rightfully belongs to it when faced with the rural world; the decision-making processes in urban centres must be reviewed; and, in order to speed up necessary reforms, the sharing of financing between the State and local government must be changed.Is 35 billion francs – to be spent over a ten-year period – too much to improve the living space of 80 percent of the population of France ?

Jean-Pierre Sueur, a former government minister and member of Parliament, is the mayor of Orleans and president of an association of mayors of major French cities. He is a lecturer at the University of Orleans and holds a doctorate in French literature.