numéro 102 octobre 2007Individualisme et production de l’urbain
In his seminal article Urbanism as a Way of Life written in 1938, Louis Wirth said that the two main factors with the greatest influence on urban life were the density and heterogeneity of the populations living together. With periurbanisation, these two factors lose their prominence : population becomes less dense and, above all, residential quarters become much more homogeneous. This observation leads on to the notion that, because the characteristics that historically create urbanism disappear with periurbanisation, the values and lifestyles of periurbanisation are anti-urban. This article discusses this idea in more detail.
Hostility to individual housing and urban sprawl is now constant and widespread among city planners. Yet demand for this type of housing remains extremely high and has not declined at all for several decades. That such a hiatus exists is because the issue of single-family houses has a political more than a planning role. The public authorities, which by local regulation and by financing access to ownership are encouraging a type of urban development they do not actually want, are exploiting the question of periurbanisation not for itself but for the chance it offers to reaffirm some general ideological principles. By using the centripetal cohesion of urban areas as a substitute and metaphor for the social cohesion maintained by the public institutions, MPs and central technocrats are trying to reaffirm the predominance of public order over social trends. But this is helping neither the debate on the way cities are developing, nor the debate on how to exert political control over a society of individuals.
An exploration of residential behaviour and the reasons for people moving to the outskirts of cities in western France shows that the spread of this type of behaviour is due above all to the constraints of the land and property market. As people’s relationship with the city oscillates between attraction and repulsion, the way they use space is more varied, against a general background in which the frequentation of space is tending to move towards the outskirts. Finally, although a part of the population may remain at the margins, people’s social lives are still varied and intense and largely extend beyond the bounds of periurban areas. These areas are therefore at a turning point in their history : the rise of individualism in periurban areas, like in other geographical types of residential area, may be a necessary condition for the emergence of a renewed and deliberate citizenship, but it may also become the trigger for a widespread withdrawal into the domestic sphere and drive a rise in the development of homogenous communities.
Residential practices seem to favour two diametrically opposed extremes - on the one hand the micro-territory of one’s housing block or individual house, and on the other the macro-territory of the whole urban area. The district as a traditional intermediate territory between the home and the city is increasingly falling out of use. Life within and beyond the district seems to be emerging as a major characteristic of the contemporary citizenship associated with increasing individualism in lifestyles. This is what was revealed by surveys based on in-depth interviews conducted among inhabitants of L’Isle-d’Abeau.
For more than a decade, urban sprawl has been radically changing the way our towns and cities are organised and function. These creeping extensions of the city are unsustainable for two reasons. On the one hand, the development of land for housing, the accumulation of pollutant activities, and the phenomena of urban segregation all contribute to a deterioration in the quality of life and the living environment, with increasingly lengthy commutes, accessibility problems, and heavier management costs for the local councils concerned. On the other, these areas are actually temporary or even ephemeral phenomena, since ultimately they are destined to become completely urbanised. But the process of transformation from un-urbanised to completely urbanised turns out to be surprisingly stable in terms of the mechanisms at work and the chronology of events. This process needs to be addressed to make it sustainable, rather than simply opposed.
This article looks at the diversity of forms of belonging and lifestyles of commuters from periurban areas. It questions the assumption that the growing individualism reflected in the development of and preference for single-family housing on the outskirts of towns is a question of space. The analysis is based on research conducted in the area surrounding Dijon, where surveys were carried out on city-dwellers who had moved to the countryside just outside the city, but also on people from rural areas who had found jobs and services in the neighbouring town. From the point of view of personal journeys, there is a contrast between the loop travelled by people from rural areas, who are drawn back to the village they came from, and the stepped journey of city-dwellers, who come to ownership of their homes in stages. Apart from the difference in where they come from, there is another distinction that concerns how they belong to where they live, reflected in their daily movements and social networks. Attachment is a feature of the most fragile households, and is expressed by a withdrawal into the home, the only secure place in an environment characterised by mobility and uncertainty. Anchorage is a feature of households that have acquired know-how concerning networks and mobility. These methods of belonging ultimately reflect different forms of individualism : the individualism of a withdrawal into security in the first case and the individualism of an openness to likeminded people in the second.
At a time when gated communities are emerging into the debate on towns and cities, this article looks at the question of residential enclaves of individual homes (before becoming gated, a development is generally an enclave) as a form of urban development and method of extending the periurban fabric, the individualism of which they are supposed to symbolise in contrast to the idea of integration. An analysis of their spatial and morphological characteristics gives the first clear idea of how they work and how they relate to their immediate environment, showing that physically they constitute what is known as a ’defendable space’ (which comes with the idea of exclusive use), and generate a split with their environment. Understanding this type of urban phenomenon should pave the way for an analysis of how they come into being and the lifestyles of their inhabitants, specifically in the periurban environment, so that an understanding can be gained of what kind of society and "city" they are leading to and, potentially, from the point of view of those in charge of urban development, what approach should be taken to them.
Much of the literature looking at what we call "gated communities" is based on the following presupposition : that gated communities produce a way of living in urban environments that has no real connection to the town, because of the way these communities exacerbate contemporary individualism among the middle classes who decide to go and live in periurban developments. The development of gated communities in Latin America is part of a movement to pursue and intensify the expansion of the middle classes into outlying areas of cities, but it is far from being only in "periurban" areas. Although the conception of individualism driving these lifestyle choices, which are certainly increasingly personalised, is based on the exercise of free will, it is not necessarily synonymous with emancipation, even in relatively affluent circles, as the daily life of women shows. The rather forced adhesion to periurban models and ways of life is not without its consequences for their feeling of loneliness, which varies greatly in line with the histories and daily activities of the individuals themselves. The neighbourhood does not create that "feeling of community" everyone dreams about. The fear of the city may be more broadly a fear of the other, which comes as part of the wider process of social individualisation at the price of a sense of insecurity that is rather difficult to pin down.
Periurban expansion does not just extend existing conurbations. It is now also having the effect of fragmenting city development. This article explains how the current forms of urban de-densification are driven by economic trends that can be comprehended by looking at those buying the homes and those involved in the property market.
It questions the existence of demand for lower density and the preference for small, scattered developments, and looks at the economic interests supporting this. It also explains how supply, as influenced by norms and the professional environment, economically favours fragmentation in city development. More generally, it explains how periurban expansion is revealing non-economies of scale reflected in arguments for de-densification and the reduction in the size of developments.
We cannot continue to look at periurban communities merely as areas for the expansion and dispersal of urban housing. Through jobs and services, they are involved in a twofold process in which they are developing an internal structure around a small centre, which will still be very unobtrusive, and integrating into the spatial dynamic of their urban area as a whole. In other words, they seem to acquire to a lesser extent some of the characteristic features of the larger towns and particularly their suburbs : they exert a certain attraction on the working populations of the main city ; the geographical distribution of jobs there is less widespread after two decades of periurbanisation than it was before ; "residential jobs" are apparently not the only things that explain the very positive balance of total employment in the outer rings, despite the decline in traditional employment in rural areas from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Socialising practices using the information and communication technologies (ICTs) affect the family, friendship and work arenas. Although they are anchored spatially (mainly within the home, but also in the workplace and in leisure venues), they create a type of socialising that makes a connection between web-users and where they live. The places where socialising takes place - the domestic environment, the multimedia environment, i.e. created by Internet use, and the public environment -, and the type of socialising of web-users living in periurban environments are no different from those of web-users living in towns. Provided that it offers the same access to the ICTs, the periurban environment allows web-users living there to be citizens.
While students are finding it increasingly difficult to find accommodation in large university towns, many elderly people are living alone in these same towns and have unoccupied rooms in their homes. From Madrid to Paris, local associations and programmes are interpreting this residential segregation, at the frontiers of two stages of life, as a contemporary expression of metropolitan individualism. To remedy it, they have been working for several years on "intergenerational accommodation". In this vein, the author creates new households for us of old and young, households of fellow citizens linked neither by joint tenancy or kinship and having nothing else in common. How can the search for autonomy paradoxically lead to the sharing of a home? To find out, this research invites us to stay at the "student hostel", the "old people’s residence" and the "neo-family gite".
Living in periurban environments seems to be billed increasingly as an anti-aesthetic, anti-economic, anti-environmental and anti-social act (the single-family house as individualism, withdrawal into oneself, etc.). Studies of voting patterns have also identified these areas as bastions of protest and extremism, while (compact) cities are the seats of progressive universalism. This article offers a critical discussion of the texts of Jacques Lévy, the main producer of these normative arguments. The criticism looks essentially at methodological and theoretical issues, focusing on several major questions : can we really (and should we) impose this binary division on geographical space and on voting patterns? Can we (and should we) make direct inferences about motivations, value systems, relationship with the world and others, etc. on the basis of residential location and/or electoral behaviour? Can we (and should we) remove or even reduce socio-economic inequalities and constraints, but also the socioprofessional identities that influence the practices observed?
Socioeconomic and sociopolitical mapping of France shows a difference between the urban core of the big cities and there peripheral suburbs, where the extreme votes, left or right, are very numerous.
This text questions how easy it is to create a contemporary image of periurban areas, as an ideological dimension of the creation of this environment. The semiological analysis of recent films and publicity material tends to show that periurban areas are now not only plagued by the single-family house mythologies well documented in the 1970s but are also invested with fantasies (and their unforeseen consequences) about control by the individual of his various choices regarding his environment and society. Analysing periurban areas as if they were a "personality", this exploratory approach dwells on several subjects in particular : what ordinary images but also pessimistic and apologetic images of are propagated of periurban areas? What markers of diversity appear in popular visual productions? How is the environmental dimension present…?