“If you ever go to Marseille, watch out
… it’s Baghdad there!”
Zed (Paris, 2012)
This was a phrase often repeated by Zed, one of the protagonists of the story on the Paris suburbs I worked on over the past few years. He was presumably referring to the excess of violence that characterizes the city.
Although the comparison is exaggerated, the reality is that Marseille has experienced a long and profound economic and social crisis since the decline of its port activity, experiencing high crime rates, earning the unenviable record of being one of the poorest cities in France and with unemployment continually rising.
But Marseille is a city with enormous potential: it opens out onto the Mediterranean and it has the character of a cosmopolitan city with a young, multicultural population. This potential and the desire of the ruling class to give the city a new image, earned it the title of European Capital of Culture 2013. The message emitted by the political organizations was clear: The year 2014 is crucial for Marseille. This is its opportunity to rid itself of the stigma of violence and crime that has hung over it, to move on from the social violence that pervades its streets and the obvious economic inequality.
Under the label of “cultural capital”, earned after a financial investment of over 600 million euros, Marseille has experienced a huge urban transformation, with the main focus being the rehabilitation of the most emblematic areas and the creation of new cultural facilities in the old port.
Today, with the cranes gone and the construction finished, the inhabitants of Marseille wake up with a bittersweet sensation, aware of how, despite initial promises, financial resources have been used to beautify chosen areas and collectives, leaving the disadvantaged neighborhoods totally excluded and accentuating the economic and socio-cultural contrasts.