The Crisis of the Contemporary City:
Socio-Economic Effects of
and Mobility Changes
This study searches for French urban mobility practices with the dilemma of planned versus lived spaces as part of a wider research of gentrification and mobility in the developed and developing countries’ primary and secondary cities. The contradictory interplay of residential, commercial and transport-led mobility via the specific urban planning practice of pedestrianization will be studied in Paris through direct observation and secondary data.
The French (Paris) example will be analysed with the purpose of comparing its findings to the earlier Turkish (Samsun) and Japanese (Osaka) cases of shopping street revitalization and pedestrianization. These three case studies will be combined from the perspective of gentrification-induced and municipally-led mobility practices. Moreover, the possible impacts of the ongoing pandemic on this interplay of personal mobility, residential mobility and commercial mobility will be a major factor –a game changer– to be considered in the upcoming Paris study.
The study argues that depending on their way of implementation and nature, the mobility policy and practices can cause contradictory outcomes, such as involuntary moves of people and businesses (displacement) besides overplanned, dull, and more expensive cities. The overall research seeks to indicate the possibility that widely adopted urban discourses, such as pedestrianization, compact city or smart city might create just the opposite ends.
1. Research background
The background of this research rests on two previous works: a shopping street revitalization and neighbourhood change study in Osaka, Japan that was finalized in 2017 and a shopping street’s redevelopment study in Samsun, Turkey that finalized in 2020. The commercial leg of the Samsun project was about pedestrianization of urban retail spaces. In the Samsun project, change in cities’ shopping streets, pedestrianization processes in urban spaces, and pedestrianization’s socioeconomic effects on cities were examined through the case study of a local shopping street named Çiftlik Street (also known as İstiklal Street) in İlkadım District of central Samsun. Samsun as a hub of the Black Sea Region in Turkey is a secondary city of 1.348.542 people (Türkiye İstatistik Kurumu, 2019). Osaka City in the Osaka Prefecture as the location of the earlier Japanese study had a population of 2,691,185 in 2015 (Osaka Prefecture had a population of 8,813,000 in 2018) (e-Stat Portal Site of Official Statistics of Japan, 2020), whereas the city of Paris had a population of 2,187,526 and the total population of the Paris Region was 12,174,880 in 2017 (Wikipedia, 2020). In that sense, Samsun is a smaller city than the other two research locations.
Pedestrianization is first of all, about walking that is an action made for various purposes. For example, walking is associated with a democratic right, when it is made collectively as a march for a political purpose. Pedestrianization that seeks to enable personal mobility on foot on the city streets 2 also matters as part of the ecological turn in the twenty-first century because of the major global issues of climate change, environmental pollution, and large population movements that all influence both the current situation and the future of cities.
Pedestrianization as “conversion of a road to pedestrian use, often planted and provided with street furniture and amenities” or “removal of vehicular traffic to create a pedestrian zone or mall [US]” (Evert et.al, 2010) can also be approached more broadly within the academic realm of mobility. Goods, services, capital, and people live in a continuous state of flux (Bauman, 2000; Castells, Fernández-Ardèvol, Linchuan Qiu, and Sey, 2006) in the globalized world. This (hyper-)mobile condition in people’s living that was achieved largely by advanced technologies created both opportunities for them in terms of international relations, work, and culture, but it caused issues of socio-spatial disparities and global risks (Beck, 1992), such as health crisis as well. For example, the latest COVID-19 pandemic continues to infect thousands of people, cause many deaths, and it also limits to a large extent the daily personal mobility of millions of people around the world by captivating them into their homes.
Hence, mobility matters whether it is the direct mobility of people, money, goods, and services or the indirect mobility of viruses, financial crisis, and other global issues.
This study is about people’s mobility on foot versus automobility or public transport mobility in the contemporary, large and medium-sized cities from developed and developing countries. Mobility is a broad concept, including various types of mobility, such as personal mobility, residential mobility, and migration. Furthermore, Lefebvre and Harvey were telling about the capital mobility in their analyses of circuits of capital (Gottdiener, 1985). Mobility also concerns the issues of mobility-subjects, mobility-objects and mobility-scapes (Divall, 2014: 38). How different groups of people travel in the city to access to their work, homes, shopping and other personal services, education, health or cultural facilities, and recreational areas like public parks is a significant issue for their life qualities. People’s daily urban mobility resonates economically, socially, ecologically, and politically.
Transport mobility has become a major area of concern for local governments, particularly in the current context of the pandemic. For this reason, it is not surprising to see news such as, “Paris mayor unveils '15-minute city' plan in re-election campaign” in the Guardian (Willsher, 2020). Similar ideas emerge in academic vocabulary, such as compact city, smart city or the assertion that “Ideally, to satisfy everyday needs, you never have to leave your neighborhood.” (Zukin, Kasinitz, and Chen, 2016: 4) Yet, there are continuing inequalities in terms of people’s access to mobility –expressed as motility-- despite the “democratization of mobility” (Divall, 2014: 40) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
If there are the transnational, “kinetic” (Adey et.al, 2014: 14) or “hyper-mobile” (Sheller, 2014: 48) elites or the “mobility pioneers” (Kesselring and Vogl, 2008; Sheller, 2014: 49) that remind of gentrifiers on the one hand, we see the “nomadic movements, or the forced or semi-forced movements of people displaced by, for example, war, famine, religious persecution or economic circumstances” (Divall, 2014: 40) on the other. The mobility literature often quotes Doreen Massey’s concept of “power geometry” to refer to such social inequalities that were deepened by especially, the technologist understandings of mobility (Adey et.al, 2014: 11).
Kaufmann (2016) explains to us how the dominant model of aspiration in France, which is a combination of the use of automobile and single-family dwellings in the outer suburbs, has effects on the supply and demand of housing and public policy in general. Hence, such a social disposition that reinforces a dichotomous vision of the city as the historical centre versus the outer suburbs also curbs the possibilities for alternative lifestyle expectations, what Divall (2014) links to “counter-hegemonic or ‘subversive’ – systems” (39). In that sense, France seems to pursue the capitalist, autocentric transport regime that also leads to crisis, such as in the recent yellow vests movement.
Yet, this work aims to question the opposite end of the dichotomous city view based on the more currently dominant urban planning assumptions that promote living small in one’s neighbourhood with limited personal and transport mobility together with the idea of pedestrian as a consumer to assist the urban shopping streets in decline.
4. The interplay of gentrification and mobility
Gentrification as a post-industrial urban change process is usually explained by either rent gaps that happen in the neglected central urban areas or by people’s –the hyper-mobile elite or mobility pioneers–preferences to live in these central city areas. In the post-COVID World, the possible tendency of re-suburbanization’s (Tendil, 2020) bringing gentrification of the city centres to a halt is being debated among academic and other circles. If that actually happened, could it help to solve the issues of shrinking cities and retail decline in medium-sized cities of the developed countries, such as France and Japan? (Buhnik, 2018; Delage et.al, 2020) Or will people continue to seek after centrality in the city no matter what so that they can access conveniently to their work and urban amenities? Time will show.
This work is interested in a combination of the two classical and comprehensive types of residential and commercial gentrification and mobility, and what could be called transport-led gentrification with the support of the state. This is because these various gentrification forms at times overlap in single urban planning practices, such as pedestrianization.
4.1. Gentrification causing people’s and businesses’ voluntary or involuntary moves
Gentrification as an urban upgrading with various actors causes real estate and lease rights to change hands. Therefore, it results in either residential mobility or commercial mobility, and sometimes both in city neighbourhoods. Furthermore, these residential and commercial changes involve voluntary or involuntary moves of apartments’ or retail premises’ existing tenants. If the commercial mobility is voluntary as in the case of French shopkeepers that sell their lease rights for capital gain, it is referred to as replacement. If it is a forced residential or commercial mobility because the existing tenants cannot afford the increased rents after gentrification, urban scholars label this negative outcome as displacement (Mermet, 2017: 1171). Bantman-Masum (2019) showcases how displaced migrants became commercial gentrifiers where they settled in the West 11th district of Paris. The order of residential and commercial gentrification also depends on the type of neighbourhood. Finally, not only people or commercial establishments and brands move, but also the border of the gentrified area expands, and hence, “the gentrification frontier” (Smith, 1996) gets mobilized as a result of these changes.
4.2. Gentrification, transport initiatives, and pedestrianization: contradictory outcomes
The possible connection between gentrification and transport infrastructure developments in cities is analysed in various research (Doucet, 2019; Enright, 2013). While some work have a more positive approach to sustainable urban transport developments in collaboration of different levels of government in cities like Paris (Halpern and Le Galès, 2015), others warn against the negative gentrification effects of mass transport development projects, such as the Grand Paris Express (Enright, 2013).
A field of inquiry for this research arises from the possibility that public transport cannot be for the benefit of the general public. The question of whose personal mobility is targeted through urban planning activities like public transport improvements or pedestrianization matters. For example, a top-down pedestrianization, applied more as concretization to a shopping street or public square that is often the case in Turkish cities might create the opposite outcome of: not opening that place to the use of public, while producing instead, an overplanned and underused urban space.
Blomley (2014) criticizes the pedestrianist logic or pedestrianism with respect to the usage of sidewalks by giving references to Jacobs, Whyte, Goffman and de Certeau. He argues that this pedestrianist logic takes away from the sidewalks the civil humanist logic or the possibility of “mobile (social) encounters” (474) and other uses on them as public spheres. The city literature is full of examples of a mismatch between the planned and the actualized or lived urban spaces, because society does not always abide by the plan and most often creates its own uses as convenient (Lefebvre, 2014; Sennett, 2019).
Stavrides (2018) mentions “cities without qualities” that resulted from the modernist programs of separating pedestrian and vehicle uses of the city. Haussmann, Le Corbusier and others planned and established cities which became places without any contestations and unpredictable interactions or unregulated encounters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Stavrides, 2018: 134- 135). Jacobs (2017) criticizes the aforementioned orthodox city planners for their anti-urban, anti-street and anti-social policies that seek after solutions to the urban problems outside the city.
Similar contradictions in the planning history of Paris were acknowledged as follows: “The stated objectives have often been uncontroversial, relating to poor housing standards and to the need for greater provision of cheap accommodation, but the outcomes have involved considerable social change within many of the affected areas” (Carpenter, Chaviré, and White, 1994: 225). For example, the semi-pedestrianization by the Paris local authority seems to have fostered the commercial gentrification of rue des Rosiers in the Marais. Again, SEMAEST led to a similar local state-led gentrification effect, while it actually tried to protect the retail mix of the Beaubourg-Temple part of the Marais (Mermet, 2017: 1175).
The depiction of retail decline as a prominent cause of inner-city decay (Delage et.al, 2020) often leads to homogeneous state-led or supported efforts of revitalization and commercial gentrification. A few decades ago, the redevelopment of the Les Halles area in Paris created similar controversies of planned versus lived spaces. There were as usual supporters (Zetter, 1975) and critics like Guy Debord or Louis Chevalier (Merrifield, 2017: 88 and 212) of this redevelopment too.
5. Research objective and methods
In sum, any urban planning practice per se cannot always be only good for the city inhabitants, because it only sounds good or vice versa. For example, a “15-minute city” is definitely good, considering transport-related costs, including environmental costs and transport distress, especially after the ongoing COVID-19. Yet, such a minimized city also harbours the risk of captivating people’s lives to their vicinities and limiting surprise and chance or mobile encounters in the contemporary city.
Similarly, in some pedestrianization practices, social conflicts, such as displacement of the old tenants due to shop rents’ increases might occur, in addition to a change in the retail mix on the shopping street. That was for instance, what happened in Samsun’s Çiftlik Street. By looking at these urban dilemmas, this study aims to contribute to urban theory by showing the other side of the coin regarding the recent popular urban discourses, such as revitalization or pedestrianization that might also lead to an overplanned, dull, plus more expensive city.
The researcher will collect examples of French urban planning practices of mobility that contain the dilemma of planned versus lived spaces. In the France part of the research, data will be gathered on the contradictory cases of personal, residential, commercial, and transport-led mobility through direct observation and secondary data search of official and media documents, statistics, and academic reports. The study will seek to explain how these types of mobility help or undermine each other under different circumstances. Particular attention will also be given to the mobility dynamics that have been created by the ongoing pandemic. Overall, the France study will form a basis or reference point for comparison with the earlier gentrification and mobility research in Osaka and Samsun.
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