“A peri-urban civilization has emerged, with its housing estates, roundabouts, shopping areas and Amazon warehouses”

Jérôme Fourquet, winner with Jean-Laurent Cassely of the 2021 Economics Book Prize for France before our eyes Economy, landscapes, new ways of life (Seuil, 496 p., 23 euros) looks back on the transformations of the economy and of society which explain the French frustrations and the new political divisions which are imposed today.

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How to characterize the spectacular change in French society over the past forty years?

If a symbolic moment had to be found, it would be spring 1992. On March 31 of this year, the Renault plant in Boulogne-Billancourt closed its doors. An industrial world is dying. Two weeks later, on April 12, the Eurodisney Park was inaugurated with great fanfare. A striking telescoping which tells of the shift from an industrial and agricultural France towards an economy of consumption, tourism and leisure. At that time, the factories closed at the same rate as the Intermarché or Leclerc stores opened. In the early 1990s, there were two Intermarché per week in France. Today there are over 1,800.

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A new economy has emerged which has redefined not only jobs but also the landscapes, lifestyles and town planning of our country. Because in the wake of the hypermarkets of the periphery were then established countless franchised stores, then multiplex cinemas, restaurants, bowling alleys and other “laser games”. These shopping areas have thus also become places of entertainment and the beating heart of our society, instead of city centers. A peri-urban civilization has emerged, with its housing estates, roundabouts, shopping areas and Amazon warehouses.

And then there was this craze for single-family homes …

We called it “the majority Plaza ideal”, in reference to the famous M6 real estate agent, Stéphane Plaza. This dream of the pavilion, with its garden, barbecue, kitchen with central island, corresponds to an ideal of life, of aspiration to independence and freedom, also very influenced by American culture. My house, my private car.

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From the end of the 1970s, the public authorities greatly encouraged this home ownership and broke with the policy of building large suburban housing estates which were beginning to be criticized. The massive production of housing estates has also made it possible to support the construction industry, a major provider of jobs that cannot be relocated. Decentralization laws, by giving mayors more latitude for the attribution of building permits, encouraged this phenomenon overwhelmingly supported by the French. Today more than one in two French people live in single-family homes. To achieve this, it was necessary to build roads, public facilities, build an electrical infrastructure, install businesses outside the cities. An entire industrial sector has been nourished by this enthusiasm.

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