A street in Bordeaux, France.

New stores and bars are moving into Saint-James Street. The names of the new establishments leave little doubt about their target clientele. There is a clothing boutique called Vintage US, run by Christel, a woman in her forties, and to the store’s right, a bar named Vintage, which will open its doors soon. Take a few steps and you will find Books-coffee, “a concept that takes inspiration from the United States,” according to the manager.

As a new trendy spot, Saint-James Street is getting a facelift. A cafe with board games, a store with umbrella stands for bikes, stores are opening one after the other. The entrepreneurs are between 20 and 30 years old, and their target clientele is made up of young people with vintage tastes.

According to the manager, foreigners represent 50% of the clientele. “We have a lot of political science students and a lot of foreigners, mostly English-speakers.” Even the name of the street is pronounced as if it were English, “Saint James,” that sounds better.

Saint-James Street is Selling its Soul to the Devil

This renaissance is not making everyone happy. Benoit, president of Rhythme-tisse, a group that plays percussion instruments who have called the street home for 13 years, understands the process and is bothered by the mispronunciation of Saint-James.

“They will end this by making me realize that I am too invested in the neighborhood’s reputation” he conceded, adding “it is becoming less of a neighborhood of the people in favor of being a politically correct, dull, and bland place. There’s life here, and it is going to become really neat and proper, no waves will be made, perfect for cruise ships! But there will no longer be anything lively, emotional, or intense, or dicey for that matter.”

Construction in Bordeaux, France.

Incité at the Heart of the Restoration Project

Such statements contrast sharply with those made by Jean-Noël Morvan, general director of Incité. It is this joint enterprise that has been entrusted with the mission of “revitalizing the historic downtown” by the CUB (Urban Community of Bordeaux). He affirms that Incité is “a leader in keeping rent low and making satisfactory housing. We are preserving the social fabric through offering housing adapted to families.” The cluster of homes found between numbers 1 and 17 on the street are in the process of revitalization. Eighteen publicly subsidized homes will be offered, along with two stores.

Rent for the housing will be determined by decree as part of the subsidized housing program. This renovation was difficult to implement because Incité was required to buy the housing units one by one, a process that took several years.

Gentrification of the Neighborhood

The gentrification of the neighborhood has presented itself through an increase in rent. Organizations are finding it more and more difficult to remain there. It’s no problem for Alexandra, 23, manager of Edith Création, who opened a boutique for specially designed clothing and interior design at the end of Saint-James Street. Here, a backpack goes for about one hundred euros.

“Now is the time to invent new things, why not rent an apartment to start something, why not go explore some basements, of course this favors some areas and disfavors others.”

Little by little, the old Saint-James is giving way to the new “Saint-James.”

Are all revitalization efforts necessarily invitations for gentrification, or can neighborhoods retain their character while accommodating an influx of new residents and businesses? 

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.