Societal Sustainability | A Question of French Feasibility

After Ralph Hall’s module 1, there was much preparation to be done in Derek Hyra’s Module 2 prior to our trip to Marseille.  While Ralph’s section focused mainly on the broader subjects of sustainability and its relation to economics, Derek’s module focused mainly on housing—in particular, gentrification and the rise of mixed-income housing in both the United States and Europe.

Meeting with officials concerning sustainable legislation and practice in Bern, Switzerland

By the time we actually arrived in Marseille, we had a good idea of what to expect in terms of the housing.  We rode a bus into what seemed like the heart of town, and also the ghetto, to be quite frank.  These neighborhoods were composed mainly of foreign populations, as the roads were dotted with Corsican restaurants and kebab kiosks.  There was an air of poverty, as there were many people loitering on the streets (as opposed to the more composed cafe settings seen in the more gentrifying neighborhoods) and the smell of trash dominated.

Disheveled shopfronts dominate these lower-income, diverse neighborhoods

I think it was good that we were confronted with this part of the city initially.  Because, (other than Barcelona), until now, we had mainly only seen the beautiful, immaculate towns in Switzerland, which are ridden with affluent residents who place the imagery and cleanliness of their surroundings at top priority.  It was in class after our travels that multiple students were complaining about the dirt and grime that exists in the city of Marseille.  These initial perceptions weren’t helped by the fact that we spent the night after Marseille in Nice, which is known for its reputation as a spot for affluent vacationers.  Anyway, it was upon these complaints that JP countered that he appreciated the “grime” and argued that it indicated that the cleanliness of the city is the last thing on the foreign population’s mind, below such other priorities such as equality, employment, et cetera.  It wasn’t so much what JP’s final point was that struck me, but more some of the underlying themes.  I really did appreciate Marseille because it is a living city.  It includes inhabitants of all socioeconomic statuses and all walks of life.  I think these qualities are necessary to maintaining a truly sustainable city.  Sure, Switzerland’s government really has it together with their scheme for sustainable legislation and jurisdiction.  However, their model is mostly applicable to a state of affluent inhabitants.

Common residential aesthetic as seen in Bellinzona, Switzerland

This is not to say that Marseille doesn’t have many problems with the current residential condition.  As some neighborhoods continue to gentrify, it is apparent that an even greater divide will be created between these communities of differing incomes.   In addition, the communities of different races and nationalities within these low-income neighborhoods have little contact with one another, as stated by the reading material on Marseille.  Through these observations, it becomes apparent that Marseilles could benefit from some form of mixed-income development, but its feasibility is highly questionable, from what I can tell.  As old buildings continue to be renovated, there is a high dominance of an “out with the old, in with the new” approach.


Out with the old, In with the New

This approach may be considered highly successful for new nigh-income residents and investors alike, but its effects on the overall societal health of Marseille is what should be further analyzed by higher officials.  This element of displacement of less fortunate factions is what may alter the overall character of Marseille in the long run.  Some of this alteration may be acceptable and desirable, as French culture can continue in the bourgeois fashion.  However, to completely displace some of these lower-income factions, rather than integrating them in an effort to improve overall quality of life and to also encourage further integration, interaction, and “leveling of the playing field” so to speak, would be actions against societal sustainability in the long run.


In one final note, I would like to thank professors Hall, Hyra, and Dukes for extending their vast knowledge to the class, as well staff at the Villa Maderni for making our stay there as pleasant as it could have been.  Riva, I will miss you.  Arrivederci.

Last minute gift: Sketched from the Garden outside the Villa Maderni


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