People may soon be yelling “Everyone to Saint-Charles!” in the Old Port of Marseille, which is the city’s main port and current cultural center. A utopian idea for some, and an unlikely fantasy or electoral promise for others, this call could one day become part of the city’s vocabulary. Indeed, under Frédéric Cuvillier, the Secretary of Transports, Sea, and Fishing, the French government has just confirmed its ambition to relieve traffic at Marseille’s railway junction. Along with the arrival of the new high-speed railway, the LGV PACA, there is an excellent opportunity for urban renewal: transforming the railway station’s neighborhood into the city’s urban and metropolitan center. Installing railways and setting down new foundation stones will make for an area with unexploited possibilities.
The Sky's the Limit
In Marseille, the city of eternal becoming, the potential is right there beneath our feet. Saint-Charles falls within the perimeter of the Euroméditerranée urban renewal project, and it also sits next to universities and the cultural hub of La Belle de Mai. It is home to a historic building (the Caserne du Muy), and it is seen as a strategic node in the heart of the Phoenician city. The metro, bus, tramway, regional TRE rail, high-speed TGV rail, international vehicles, and airport shuttles all have a presence in the area, which therefore puts it in contact with the surrounding region on all scales. In addition to that, the area’s real estate activity is in full swing. But today, the rail network has reached a saturation point (11,500 travelers in 2013), and this unfortunate neighborhood is still waiting for its large urban project. Without any plans, Saint-Charles, once home to the city’s main cemetery, will definitively bury hopes for a plural metropolis, and a destiny within easy reach.
For an economically fragile city, the necessary transformation of the train station embodies a unique chance to breath life into the city’s heart. Living, working, strolling, eating, sleeping, getting around, studying, and flirting are just some of the activities to come. Because it is part of the city with living inhabitants, the matter goes beyond the future underground railway and railway coverage. The most important concerns include a possible north/south urban unification that would connect the neighborhoods of Belle-de-Mai/Saint-Mauront to Grand Longchamp. Or, increasing the attractiveness of the location by making it easier to access the train station from different areas of the city. Or another idea is to bring the cultural center of La Friche, along with its artists, theaters, and multimedia center, out of its current isolation in order for it to be established as a cultural facility for all of Marseille.
For the metropolitan area, the new Euroméditerranée line is also seen as an indispensable asset for the new relationship between the station and the surrounding region. The station should transform and symbolize the entryway to France’s second city. As a metropolitan and mixed-modal hub, the station is designed to offer services to individuals who are no longer just travelers. Its new duty will be to evolve into an exceptional place suitable for meetings between business partners or even lovers. Its role will be to usher in the region’s future with its urban, metropolitan, and Mediterranean influence.
Today, Marseille’s Saint-Charles is at a crossroads. Let us not neglect it so that it can become a success story. And soon, people will be yelling “everyone to Saint-Charles!” in the Old Port.
What is required of citizens in order for a neighborhood to experience a renewal and become more prominent within a city?
Original article, originally published in French, can be found here.
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