What is a city on a human scale?

Welcome to “a city on a human scale”. This Friday, November 26, in the village hall of Biganos (Gironde), the mayor Bruno Lafon (without label) welcomes the new inhabitants of the city located between Bordeaux and Arcachon. Population: 11,000 people. At the same time, on its website, Lyon, with 513,000 inhabitants, is presented as ” a metropolis on a human scale “. Who to believe? Two equally dissimilar municipalities, with the same dimension suitable to satisfy human beings?

The program for December 16 “What is a city on a human scale? “: A” Le Monde Cities “conference in Paris

The least we can say is that the “human size” of a city, if it implies well-being, remains a vague notion. However, the expression is flourishing. The human scale is declined in ranking of “cities where it is good to live”, in classification of those “where one lives the best” and, from now on, of “cities most pleasant for teleworkers”.

Behind these seductive titles, “human size” often implies a reference to mobility, ease of movement, alongside the other essential indicator that is the price of real estate. ” The city on a human scale can be explored in half an hour by bike », Says a resident of Vincennes (Val-de-Marne), on the edge of Paris. For others, it takes the form of a bus that runs regularly to the city center, or the use of the car without unforeseeable traffic jams.

What matters is the possibility of reaching shops, services, medical offices, but also nature without hindrance. From the center of Aurillac, you just have to walk twenty minutes to find yourself on a hill, in the middle of the fields. From the rooftops of Auxerre, you can see the countryside, accessible, so close. In contrast, very large cities appear colossal, sprawling, too large and difficult to navigate.

For two years, confinements, empty streets, the suspension of urban pleasures have exacerbated the opposition between mega-cities and smaller cities. The ” city ​​on a human scale »Would she have been born with the Covid-19? It is not so.

“The average city is human”

« The concept is much older ”, observes Achille Warnant, doctoral student in geography at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). The researcher underlines that in 1977, already, a document of Annals of Geography, entitled “Medium-sized towns, medium-sized towns”, ensured that “ the big city is scary “, whereas ” the average city is human ». The author, Michel Michel, then an assistant professor at the University of Paris-I, relied on travel to clarify his thoughts: ” The average city would be the one where you can still walk on foot, the one where you can easily reach the center from anywhere. “He also noted that” one of the major problems that the leaders of these communities are trying to solve concerns their adaptation to the individual car, which prevails in medium-sized cities as elsewhere ».

Things haven’t changed. Admittedly, the heart of a medium-sized city is easily traversed on foot in half an hour, but the possession and the use of the car are much higher there than in a metropolis. One of the reasons for this paradox is explained by urban sprawl.

« No city can claim the title of a city on a human scale when part of the population has to drive an hour and a quarter to go to work. », Assures Boris Ravignon, mayor (LR) of Charleville-Mézières. The chosen one advocates ” a tightening of activities and places of life. We can no longer develop urbanization over square kilometers, in places far from the centers of activity. It’s bad for the climate and for purchasing power ».

A few years ago, Boris Ravignon supported the establishment of a Leclerc shopping center in Warcq, a town adjacent to Charleville-Mézières. ” I wouldn’t make this mistake again », He pleads today. Now, the elected official is fighting against the local management of Lidl, ” who wants to move a store located in a popular district to a plot located near a highway interchange. This would make households more dependent on the car. We don’t have the right to let that happen! He exclaims.

At the other end of the country, Annecy regularly tops the rankings of cities “on a human scale”. Marion Lafarie, assistant (EELV) for roads and active mobility, also insists on proximity. ” Public transport and cycling should make it easier to get around, but the aim is also for people to be able to live in their neighborhood. Every day we receive letters from residents asking us to lower the speed of vehicles passing in their street. »

Nestled between lake and mountains, the prefecture of Haute-Savoie continues to attract newcomers. In 2016, it merged with five municipalities on its outskirts and is now approaching 130,000 inhabitants. On November 18, the council of Grand Annecy, 210,000 inhabitants, voted, with one vote more than for arrangements for buses, the construction of a future tramway. An attribute generally associated with large cities.

This article was produced as part of the conference The World Cities « What is a city on a human scale? »Organized by The world with the support of Enedis, Toyota and the Veolia Institute

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