[Reaction to the French Ministry of Territories' colloquium "Resilient Metropolises" - January 2021] The MAPATM and OUR laws have given a special status to metropolises in their trajectories to impose themselves as territories of modernity, new globalisation, attractiveness and competitiveness in a globalised world. The tertiarisation of the economy gave metropolises a role that was believed to be unsurpassable.

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Resilient Metropolises

[Reaction to the French Ministry of Territories' colloquium "Resilient Metropolises" - January 2021]


By Jean-Yves Chapuis, sociologist, town planner, elected Rennes city councillor from 1983 to 2014, former vice-president of the Métropole and director of the Rennes School of Architecture. He is now a consultant in urban strategy.

The MAPATM and OUR laws have given a special status to metropolises in their trajectories to impose themselves as territories of modernity, new globalisation, attractiveness and competitiveness in a globalised world. The tertiarisation of the economy gave metropolises a role that was believed to be unsurpassable.

The development of the High Speed Train, but also of intermediate rail networks, made it possible to put many regional metropolises two hours away from Paris and to form a city of 20 million inhabitants by agglutination.

Today everything is collapsing, with the help of the pandemic, neo-liberalism is being pointed at, we are moving from the metropolis to the countryside, from the rural exodus to the urban exodus. Long live localism, short circuits, would the future take place outside the cities? We must regain our sovereignty over production. There is a withdrawal into oneself, we can even say a certain withdrawal into identity.

In addition to this, a general feeling of unease is developing, a feeling of fragility and vulnerability. The promises that progress, democracy, human rights would continually progress and a general well-being would develop. All this is shattering. We can sense that, as Edgar Morin says, complexity is becoming our common lot and the question is, how do we tackle it?

We can't go on like this, otherwise homo sapiens will disappear (Pascal Picq). We are always looking for a scapegoat and the metropolises become the cause of all evils, the disruptive element to the progress of the territories. This criticism is easy, but above all it does not answer the questions, the anxieties and the uncertainties of the world in which we live.

It is not, it seems to me, a question of territory, each one has its advantages and disadvantages. It is rather a question of knowing what we are going to do, individually and collectively in our lives, how to live in harmony and in a responsible manner with nature and others.

This is what was expressed during the colloquium of the Ministry of Territories (with PUCA and POPSU) how to make metropolises hospitable, allow to recreate links and insist on inter-territorial cooperation rather than on the race for attractiveness and economic competition; we find here the criticism of "Competitiveness, Attractiveness, Metropolisation, Excellence" by Olivier Bouba-Olga.

But it is necessary to go further. Pierre Veltz in his latest book "The Desirable Economy" thinks that the economy should move from an economy of possession to a humano-centric economy centred around health, food, education, culture and well-being. This evolution also requires a more collective approach. Yet we are in a society of mobility which blurs administrative boundaries. We must therefore move away from a criticism of territories that provides no response to people's anxieties. The question is how do all these major societal issues relate to each other between the different territories?

But this demand for well-being, for recreating social links, for orienting the economy towards the person (food, health, education, culture) goes far beyond how to produce, but what to produce? The citizen becomes both actor and spectator of the shift from an economy of property (objects) to an economy of access (uses) with his individual experiences (new purchases, targeted consumption). In short, today's citizen is the driving force behind the transformation of consumption for greater sobriety and well-being, the definition of which is not fixed.

The discussions clearly showed this need for resilience, hospitality, making the metropolis easy, not forgetting the hinterland, allowing everyone to make choices. It was said that it was necessary to get out of the administrative documents and that the State should be more agile and agree to co-manage with the local authorities. It is necessary to cooperate to define the strategy and the resulting objectives. People matter more than territories. The singularity of the people and places that need to be linked was emphasised. It was said that research must dialogue and exchange with the people who are continually in action: elected representatives and the professionals who work with them.

This awareness is rich, dynamic and full of hope. But how do we go about translating this multiple, complex demand which goes beyond territorial limits and some decisions can only be taken at the level of the State and of Europe (leaving the thermo-fossil world means forcing banks to finance other enterprises in phase with the ecological transition). How can we organise these different levels and make them work together?

It also refers to new relations between the State and local authorities. But it also raises questions of the organisation of power both of the elected representatives and of municipal services.

I notice that in metropolises, the urban planning affairs is often shared between several departments, thus complicating the urban project management. If we add to this the fact that economy and ecology should not be dissociated, as well as mobility. We can see that there is a need to rethink a whole strategy to meet this new demand of the citizens, which covers all areas of life.

This work of institutional change will have to be tackled quickly and give more legitimacy to the elected representatives of the metropolises through the election by universal suffrage, which is long overdue.

We must not forget that the new generations want to choose their destiny in this uncertain world. The realisation that we can no longer continue as if everything was going well is no longer possible. But between a return to the technologies of the past and an indiscriminate belief in technological innovation, it is possible to find a middle way where words are listened to, debated and decisions taken, always evaluating them to see whether they are meeting the demand.

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