The historic downtown of Bergerac, France

Since mid-December 2013, Saint James street has donned some new finery, worthy of the diversity of its architectural heritage. It shows with the new gateway to the historic downtown area, at the exit of the street and the Saint Jacques Church. Good taste is not necessarily unheard of as far as urban development is concerned. With its new pedestrian-friendly configuration, Saint James Street has grown in its grandeur and its quality as a public space due to recent developments. The street offers a seemingly natural transition between the Place Pélissière plaza and the adjacent street lined with fountains, whose renovation is today unanimously praised. The unveiling of the new Saint James street also held symbolic significance – of a social nature.

At one point destined for demolition, the old Bergerac was stigmatized by the socially privileged part of the city, which was thoroughly bourgeois and self-assured. The “lowly neighborhoods” were the refuge of the working classes, those who kicked off Bergerac’s industrialization through the sweat of their brows. These neighborhoods are still close to the hearts of Bergerac’s inhabitants as a nostalgic reminder of a past era where the neighborhoods’ solidarity won out over individualism. Today, with its mixture of social classes, the old Bergerac has established itself as a laboratory for urban coexistence. We should recognize the efforts made by social enterprises for having saved the neighborhood’s most culturally important buildings. Old Bergerac has become the setting for the majority of large protests in the city, like a modern agora that transcends social differences and gathers everyone through their shared love for the city. Unveiling the new Saint James Street is a wonderful revenge for the past residents of these “lowly” neighborhoods, and I wanted to share it.

A scenic view of old Bergerac, France

Saint James Street’s development is a new contribution to the urban renewal project in Bergerac’s historic heart. After the adoption of public sanitation measures at the end of the 70s, the street has remained in good condition. Making this part of the city pedestrian-friendly was the first effort towards cleaning up the neighborhoods. Long looked over by public policies, the old Bergerac was completely abandoned from 1995 to 2008. There were no renovations scheduled, and there was a lack of initiative to make it possible to pass heritage buildings over to public hands. For more than thirteen years the historic downtown was abandoned, demonstrating the unjust abandonment of these neighborhoods.

The unveiling of the new Saint James Street was full of symbols, such as a new found ambition, and the turning over of a new leaf in 2008. We’re rediscovering the pride of living in Bergerac. It is the revenge of the residents who inhabited what were called “lowly neighborhoods.” We dedicate this renewal to the countless generations who lived in the working class Bergerac made up of alleyways in the old part of the city. We dedicate the unveiling to those who lived with the social stigma of their neighborhood. It is wonderful to find ourselves united by this heritage. At one time, this part of Bergerac was a cornerstone of the city’s heritage. It transcends social origins. It is a promise of social inclusion and the right for everyone to live well, it is a protected space, and not to mention honored. Behind the revenge of these neighborhoods in Bergerac there is an entire city coming together.

How can developing or renovating historically important neighborhoods and buildings have an impact on the rest of a city?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.