Rurbanisation: The Example Of Metz, France (2/2)

In this mechanism of progressive gentrification of the villages located around the main French cities, including Metz, these rural territories reveal their wealth but also the potential risks that are inherent to this new type of development, at local or regional scale. So, in front of this craze for the city in the countryside – a reminiscence of the Garden of Eden? – how to approach the question?

(Cover photo: modern houses installed along the east-west axis (from left to right on the image): the D3a local road, respectively rue du Queulot and rue de Villers-l’Orme, in the village of Failly, East of Metz. This urban development, mainly inhabited by households working in the Greater Metz area, is progressing along the valley while keeping some distance from the river below. BdF, August 24th, 2019, from the old layout of the German railway line).

What kind of solutions?

What should be done? Should we increase the densification of the already urbanized areas of metropolises? But in this case, how to meet the wishes of many households to own a house with a garden: to force them to park in neighbourhoods where otherwise they would not want to settle and therefore cause daily tensions in an already densely populated compared to a rural area? And in this case, would this type of obligation be compatible with our democratic legal framework? Will a young household of executives want to move to the Borny deprived social housing neighbourhood? Let’s remember that the latter was classified as a ZEP  or Zone d’Education prioritaire in French, (i.e. an area which receives special public help for Education) in 1982 and a part of this district, the Plateau des Hauts de Blémont, was declared a Sensitive Urban Area in 1996 [1]Often, when a neighbourhood or part of a neighborhood is declared as ZEP, the first reflex from the parents, who can do it, is to change their children’s school. So, what was designed to be a public aid to a given territory becomes a public discrimination and an – involuntary? – encouragement to concentrate households in socio-economic deprived areas and to scare the middle classes from them. Yet when it was created in 1960, the architect Jean Dubuisson, posing as one of Le Corbusier’s disciples [2]MERLIN Pierre, Les grands ensembles, Paris, La Documentation française, 2010, p59 and influenced by the Charter of Athens ideas((This charter, published in 1941 by Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, known also as Le Corbusier, is based essentially on the notion of functionalism, that is to say the theory in which space must be divided according to four major functions: to live, to work, to circulate and to get entertainment (to recreate body and mind). Housing is provided by the social housing estates (Borny project in this case), the jobs are proposed by the industrial zones (Citroën factory settled in the same district in 1968), mobility was given thanks to the urban (high)ways (encouraged by the former French President Georges Pompidou) )) which had become dominant[3]MERLIN Pierre, Les grands ensembles, Paris, La Documentation française, 2010, p59, had built, as for most of new French social housing projects, dwellings with a high level of comfort with central heating, hot water, a bathroom and toilets (only 2% of all homes in France had this kind of comfort in 1945). Similarly, the percentage of executives in these new neighbourhoods in the 1950s and 1960s was above the national average. In Borny, including in the early 1970s, middle-class workers, notably teachers, settled there… before finally leaving the neighbourhood, without being replaced by other members of the same socio-professional category.

Should young households be encouraged to settle only in the rural areas surrounding the city, like those who bought their homes in the villages of Nouilly or Failly, east of Metz? But in this case, other challenges come into play as seen in the first part of this article [4]de FOUCAULD Bertrand, The agglomeration of Metz: why so many assets so little exploited?, August 13 2019, Available at: pollution, risks of flooding, but also the reduction of arable land which may ultimately raise the issue of food self-sufficiency.

Economic growth makes it possible to support a territory although the socio-political (inequalities of growth between territories) and environmental challenges it also brings. Some intellectuals have proposed not to strive for an increase in economic output, but rather to aim for a stable equilibrium, zero growth[5]Meadows report or “Stop the growth” (French translation) published in 1971. But at this School of thought, I ask the question: who pays? The national demonstrations of the Yellow Jackets (Gilets Jaunes) in 2019, which sometimes showed a violence comparable to that of a riot or an insurrection, demonstrated that the territories – in this case the Forgotten Areas (les Zones Oubliées), that is to say peri-urban or rural, when they declined, created misery. A slowdown in industrial and tertiary production leads to unemployment and thus a decrease in both private and public incomes (taxes). So, the local population, for the households who can do it, will seek to leave this Forgotten Area in order to settle near the regional metropolis, such as Metz for example, or even to move to Ile-de-France (greater Paris Region).

A classic solution rather consists in informing and supporting households in their decisions regarding their residential pathways. Whether it’s a couple who decides to start a family in a peri-urban or rural area, a student who goes to university downtown, or a young retiree who decides to go to the countryside or even an elderly widow who moves into a home in an urban district, local authorities, particularly in a democratic system, have an interest in understanding and trying to anticipate, or at least accompany, their inhabitants’ needs and dreams, including their constituents. For example, the population of the metropolis of Metz decreased by 1.8% between 2006 and 2011 according to Metz-Métropole and by 0.3% per year between 2010 and 2015 according to INSEE (French Statistics Institute). The lack of housing is not the main cause of this demographic decline because their occupancy rate has dropped. The cause is neither really the cost of housing in the city center: if municipalities like Nouilly have seen their population increase by 6.5% annually over the period 2010-2015, that of Châtel Saint-Germain has seen hers decrease by 4.4% annually.

New housing estate in Nouilly (district of Rupt de Vau). Left picture: shot from the Plateau of Ouvray (Nouilly), south of Rupt de Vau, across the Quarante Creek. Photo on the right taken from the route of the old German railway line. Nouilly has seen its population increase since 2010 (while that of the metropolis has declined). These new urban neighborhoods allow solvent households to realize their dream: to acquire a house with garden, in a pleasant setting, not too far from the workplace, that is to say in the city. Some families, well established in the building sector, often of foreign origin, especially Turkish (we are not far from Germany), acquire land and build their own houses. Photos: BdF, August 24th, 2019.

At the same time, as indicated in the article about the city of Metz [6]de FOUCAULD Bertrand, The agglomeration of Metz: why so many assets so little exploited, August 13, 2019. Available on:, the GDP not of the metropolis of Metz but that of the whole Grand-Est Region represented, in 2015, only 7% of the national wealth, compared with the 30% of the Paris Region. This percentage of the Paris Region was 20% by 2010. The share of the main French metropolis continues to grow and to take in the activities of other regional capitals. This kind of hyper-centralization, also called Colbertism[7]according to Colbert, the minister of king Louis XIV ‘s who reigned over France during the XVIIth century is not without posing huge social and environmental issues.

As already mentioned in my previous article about Jouy-en-Josas, Paris Region[8]de FOUCAULD Bertrand, Risks and assets of Jouy-en-Josas (Ile-de-France), July 2, 2019. Available at:, the separation of economic and political powers, in two different cities, would help to balance the tensions from the demands of (peri) urban and rural inhabitants, not only at the regional level as in Metz, but also at that of France and Europe. Favouring the economic development of Metz would allow the Messins[9]Inhabitants of Metz to stay in their region and their place of residence, whether the latter is in town, in the suburbs or in the countryside, and not to find themselves obliged to leave the hills and rivers of their lovely country (In the local sense of the term : a homogeneous living territory that can, in addition to the national scale, apply to a region or even a town.) )) to go piling up in tiny dwellings or in crowded Parisian trains, not counting the days of strike[10]As a reminder, the main regional line, the East-West line, a.k. as RER A, is the most saturated in the world and the last strike, when this article was published, was only three days old.

Additional bibliography :

[11]Pierre, “Ma croisière en bateau solaire sur la Moselle à Metz” in Mon Grand-Est, [vu le 16 septembre 2019]. Disponible sur : ((GITES DE FRANCE-LORRAINE, Le Pays de Metz, [vu le 16 septembre 2019]. Disponible sur : ((INSEE, Arrondissement de Metz (579), [vu le 16 septembre 2019]. Disponible sur :

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