Fireworks above the port in Marseille, France

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… the dark side ruled over a city on the coast of the Mediterranean. But that was a long time ago.

Redefining the Imaginary

Marseille has since rebelled, and its role as the European Capital of Culture has inspired a new hope. Despite also being a cultural and economic event, Marseille Provence 2013 was above all a popular event that was unmarked by the typical clichés attached to the Phoenician city. The street corners were free of both sleaziness and heaps of litter. Instead, 515,000 people came out to participate during the opening and closing nights. They did so readily, and without even needing to wear Olympique de Marseille football jerseys. People came out for the mere pleasure of meeting up and taking a walk. The more curious visitors climbed up to the Saint-Laurent Church or enjoyed themselves at the top of the MUCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations). Whether barefoot or with their feet up, people got lost looking out into the Mediterranean. Above the Vieux-Port, a pleasant surprise awaited the onlookers. The fresh ocean air was right under their noses, and the cultural and touristic opportunities were exceptional.

Through decompartmentalizing physically and mentally inaccessible spaces, the event rebuilt the fundamental link that ties inhabitants to their city, and the city to its environment. The image of Marseille, capital of the South of France, was also redefined. Let them proclaim it from La Criée or from the Champs-Élysées traffic circle: Marseille has made a great leap forward.

The MUCEM of Marseille, France

Of course, economic inequality remains, and Mikhail Kalashnikov’s unfortunate invention still haunts newspaper pages. Similarly, the celebrations also experienced some failures such as an inadequate media campaign and an art exposition, le Grand Atelier du Midi, which has already been forgotten. But let’s consider the progress that has been made. Marseille Provence 2013 gave a boost to urban projects already underway, and also facilitated the relaunching of architectural projects that had been pending. The event reminded us that the city can be a tool for social cohesion and an excellent grounds for experimentation. “Here together, we are dreaming up the city” notes Nathalie Cabrera, who was in charge of the Atelier du large art exhibit. And doesn’t a creative city also make for an attractive city? Such a city is a living, breathing space that is apt to create the unexpected and to generate memorable and poetic situations.

“And what now?” they are asking. Now, it is time to say goodbye to festive events and time to make room for the Aix-Marseille metropole. It is time to make way for a shared future that develops naturally, while building upon the heritage of Marseille Provence 2013. The metropolitan area is now a united entity that is open to Northern Europe and still serves as the Mediterranean’s great port. Lastly, let’s hope that local authorities keep up with the dynamic spirit started by the recent special events, and that they strive for a more exciting future than inviting David Guetta to a new arena.

After waiting, hope has returned to Marseille. It is a rather fragile hope, but it is hope nonetheless. It is no small achievement to experience “good times” during our bleak day and age.

In which other cities have cultural events had a profound impact on residents while also leading to concrete action in the domain of architecture and building?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.