A Way of Life Fades
Leaving City Centers Behind
Northpamet New York 5 hours ago
Great article. The same thing happened in the USA. That's why I don't set foot in Wal-Mart, which sucks the life out of towns and puts former businesspeople on horrible wages without benefits. It's a cancer, fed by people who shop there to save $3 on a T-shirt. This is not prosperity. It is impoverishment, not just of character, but of people whose businesses are gone. (PS: Whatever you do, don't put in brick-paved pedestrian streets! That's an admission of death for a town.)
reader Chicago, IL 4 hours ago
The irony is that no one forced anyone to patronize these peripheral stores to the detriment of the central ones. It was a choice. It was a choice to put them there, yes, and it was also a choice to use them. They offer lower prices, but there is another cost as well. The same thing has happened in many places in the US, but there has also been a movement to reverse the trend in some places. I do think it's possible to change this, but you have to have a group of citizens that is committed to doing so. Articulating the loss is a step in the right direction, I think. I would just like to note also that in the US, many of the communities most trying to change this process and to engage with local businesses, farmers markets, etc, are progressive ones. The idea that only the right wing wants to preserve the beauty of some of our traditions - especially the ones worth keeping - is incorrect.
Frank Viviano Barga, Italy 5 hours ago
Very well done and profoundly sad. What makes it even sadder, in a broad sense, is that the same story is unfolding all over the traditional landscape of Europe. In Italy, there are towns and small cities like Albi at every turn, especially but not uniquely in the south. Travel to once-vital regional centers in Britain and the signs of rapid decline are equally palpable. By contrast, Rome, Paris and greater London are expanding ever further into what were once rural hinterlands. There are compelling economic and social explanations for this trend. But as Adam Nossiter observes, none of them measures the incalculable damage that desertion inflicts on a nation's soul and identity.
Dylan Janus Chicago 4 hours ago
Even France, champion of culture, is not impervious to the corrosive forces of corporate dominance and globalization that have hollowed out local economies. This is the way of commerce for nearly all of us here in the USA: big malls, big cars, big parking lots, even bigger people, all stocking up on goods made in slave conditions on the other side of the planet. I'm don't know how to fix any of this, but I suspect it will not end well. This reminds me, I need to go to Costco after work...
K. Herman Los Angeles 5 hours ago
I lived in Limoges in the late '90s and this trend was beginning there. The city center, a beautiful jumble of half-timber buildings, was emptying out while the shopping centers on the periphery attracted residents with convenience and lower prices. There was a melancholy to it and a sense of loss, which even I, a very young American, felt. But what the French have to ask themselves, as we are doing in America, is whether you can go back again, or whether facing an evolving country and culture with clarity and pragmatism is what's called for. The idea that "Frenchness," like American greatness, was static over centuries (or decades, for us) until relatively recently is a fallacy, obviously, and at any rate somehow setting back the clock to a "better" time is impossible. Hopefully, the French won't make the same mistake we made here.
rexl phoenix, az. 5 hours ago
This is extremely sad, where is the world going, are we all staying home to look at our "screens". I have heard similar stories from all over the world.
Eli Tiny Town, Idaho 4 hours ago
You could write this story about any number of small towns in the Midwest or The South.
For anybody that doesnt understand why so many people voted for Trump, it's a reaction against this same thing.
I drove cross country a year ago and there were a lot of places that had beautiful main streets completely devoid of life and activity. There'd be one maybe two fast food joints that kinda limped along, a gas station that seemed to double as a sorta groceries and sunderies store and that was about it.
People here in rural America are clamering to be heard that their towns are dying and that nobody seems to care.
4 hours ago
This isn't so much a story about "Frenchness" as it is about the effects of the economics of global trade on every town in the world.
What's the alternative in the face of the omnipresence of multi-national companies that offer cheap products that, ultimately, all local consumers, French or any other nationality, flock to in droves.
I suppose a government could rip up free trade agreements, and ban IKEA, Starbucks, McDonalds, H&M from opening stores, and risk economic retaliation from other countries, all in order to force its citizens to buy from locally owned neighborhood shops.
But the cost to local consumers would be so high that it'd quickly outpace the diminishing purchasing power of local citizens, not to speak of the effect on the GNP caused by closed borders.
The French love to mock cheap Made-in-China products and laud the superiority of locally made French products, but *somebody* in France is supporting this annual multi-billion euro market of these cheap imports. Hmmm, who could it possibly be in France???
Patrician New York 4 hours ago
The problem, decline in 'Frenchness', is a real one. It's also easy for demagogues like Marine LePen to capitalize on. But, when I read the situation specific to Albi (or other provincial capitals), to understand cause and effect, I don't buy what LePen is selling.
How is this situation caused by immigrants, or Muslims? As I understand from the article, what's happening is a confluence of two forces: first is that large scale hyperstores/shopping centers are taking market share away from small family owned/mom and pop stores. The driver for that is scale leads to lower prices. We've seen that at work in America for decades: Barnes and Noble (now facing Tech competition) driving out neighborhood book stores, Walmart doing the same to grocery stores. This often leads to decline in urban centers, which has lately for many American cities reverted due to urbanization.
The other factor seems to be a decline in economic growth and activity impacting salary and wage growth. I don't know, from the article, if there's also a migration towards larger cities creating a vicious cycle of decline.
So, yes. There may be some immigrant stores selling stuff not traditionally French, but that's not what contributing to the decline.
Any electorate must always ask of their politicians: HOW? How will you fix the problem? naming the problem is the easy part. Confusing cause and effect and putting the blame wrongly will just lead to suboptimal outcomes.
France: learn from our stupidity.
ake Texas 2 hours ago
So France is about 25 years behind the United States in the hollowing out of it's small city and town centers?
In about 10 years many places like Albi will start to slowly come back to life as younger people, lured by cheap rents and tiring of the big city life, move into these town centers and open up cafes, etc.
It is happening to many places in the USA - look no further than Detroit now Portland in the 90's, NYC in the 1980s ,etc.
This is part of the urban cycle.
Peter C New York 3 hours ago
What I find most disappointing in the information this article (and the photos) provide, is the unwillingness of town representatives to speak with the journalist and the willingness to blame the "whistle blower." This too is an example of Frenchness: deny the problem and point at the next guy. Such a beautiful old city demands a young eye and some entrepreneurial spirit, as well as government support in those areas. If rent is cheap in those beautiful buildings, then it is time to open up some night spots, to open bars and clubs, to open fashionable food shops and restaurants. "If you build it they will come." I believe that the young people of France and of all the industrialized nations whose souls are being ripped out by multinational conglomerates are clear eyed and aren't happy about corporate take overs of their histories, towns, patrimoine. They are seeking soul and heart and authenticity but don't know where to turn. This situation mustn't be seen solely as a negative, it is an opportunity to rebuild. I am just wondering why there is no "underground" culture that sees that its time has come.
Dan Morgan Florida 5 hours ago
France successfully combatted these outside of center malls and groceries for years until the unrelenting march of commerce overran the powers that be. This happened in most of America years ago now -- so much so that we don't even believe that our towns and small cities EVER had vibrant life. That's not the case.
In the USA the trap was cheap land and nearby competition. In France it's preservationism and the fact that most towns set up so-called industrial zones where more people work, and then later live. These zones were set up to prevent the town centers from becoming industrialized and the architecture destroyed. Try to preserve a town to this extent and it becomes a museum without daily life . . . !
Ruben Kincaid Brooklyn, NY 2 hours ago
Go to any small city on the planet that has a big-box store on the outskirts, and you will find something similar happening to its center. Wal-Mart destroyed many American towns over the past few decades. This is more about money than being French.
Bill New Zealand 3 hours ago
This is very sad, but I think we need to distinguish between globalization per se and corporate capitalism. Certainly free-trade agreements that privilege mega-corporations are wreaking havoc, but simply putting up trade barriers will also make it difficult for small businesses to sell abroad.
Global trade means Americans can get single malt Scotch. It means in turn that micro-distilleries in the US can sell their wares in boutique shops globally. It means access to French cheese, or Japanese anime. or fair trade coffee. As someone living in New Zealand, it means I can buy ski boots--since there are no local manufacturers--and in fact I did from a locally owned shop.
There is no reason small shops could not stock these items in town--along with, I might add, the products produced in France that will be sold anyway in those large malls.
What throws a huge wrench in the system are corporate economies of scale. Those small shops cannot compete because giant corporations--many domestic--have made it difficult for small businesses. It was not global trade that destroyed the independent bookstore in the US. It was Amazon and Borders.
I'd love to see new model of global trade that levels the field for small businesses.
Jean-Louis Lonne Belves France 4 hours ago
So true; I live near Castillon la Bataille. There is a LeClerc ( like a small Walmart)just outside of town. It cleaned out the small stores with cheap stuff, bad bread, bad meat, old veggies,- not much money in these items. The town is owned by drug dealers, pharmacies, and eye glasses stores , all profit items.
Nate CA 2 hours ago
I have seen so many of these “doomsday” articles about France and especially French Cuisine over the last few years.
If you were to believe all these articles you would think France has become an abandoned hollow shell, eating nothing but fast food burgers and buying nothing but pre-packaged convenience foods.
I finally had to go back last year and see for myself.
I visited over two dozen places, from large cities to tiny villages out in the middle of nowhere. I do not (and cannot) dispute the experience of the author in these specific places, but overall my experience was much, much different
While there are no doubt many towns in France with problems, just as there are many towns in rural America with problems, these examples are only one side of the coin.
It’s like taking Detroit or a small coal town in rural Kentucky and using them as an example of what is happening in the majority of America.
Yes, these problems exist, but they are only part of the truth.
RFC Santa Fe, NM 2 hours ago
It's easy to blame superstores and political neglect for the emptying of traditional French towns but there is also the issue of greatly declining birth rates and the emigration of young people to Paris -- they don't want to stay behind and run the family butcher shop or patisserie, or live in apartments where the toilet is in the courtyard. These changing demographics have been going on for decades. The superstores simply fill a need for residents of multiple nearby towns to buy everything they need at once -- even the French appreciate efficiency. Nostalgia for a city center of tiny shops is nostalgia for a time when women stayed home and spent the day planning and shopping for meals. Perhaps we should "blame" the demise of France's charming towns on feminism? There are obviously many factors at work.
fastfurious the new world 3 hours ago
When I visited my educated cultured politically left friends living in the old charming parts of Spanish cities, including Barcelona, I learned they did all their shopping at the big-box stores and groceries in the burbs.
You can't argue with that.
It's the end of an era. Those who want everyone to continue to patronize small shops and pay more aren't paying attention. People have less money. Shopping at larger cheaper stores is the result. Heraclitus indeed.