The main driving force behind station area redevelopment initiatives in France in the last 15 years has been the gradual expansion of the high-speed TGV network, following the commercial success of the Paris-Lyon link completed in 1981-1983. In 1996, our literature survey turned up no less than 23 major station area projects spread across the TGV network (Figure 5.1).
Local governments have tended to see a connection to the TGV system as a boost to the local economy, and have accordingly lobbied intensively to obtain it. In combination with the highspeed connection, ambitious urban development schemes have been launched next to stations, often in partnership with private actors. Much has been written on the inflated hopes raised among municipalities by the coming of the TGV, on the importance of factors other than the TGV in realizing its development potential, and on the fact that economic growth has typically been redistributed rather than created (see, for instance, studies and experiences reviewed by Sands, 1993, and by Troin, 1995). In the end, the TGV proved to be no more—but also no less— than a catalyst for development when a lively local economy was already in place and a set of conditions was met. Furthermore, negative effects have been also underlined, such as increased inequalities in accessibility at the national, regional, and local levels.
Two contrasting developments have determined the actual connection of localities to the TGV network. On one side, the French railways (SNCF), guided by their own commercial
imperatives, were aiming at the fastest connections between the biggest traffic generators. In practice, they were set on connecting Paris with the main centres at the other ends of the lines. On the other side were local governments along the TGV network (city, metropolitan and regional authorities), often supported by local market partners (such as chambers of commerce and banks). These coalitions were trying to get the TGV to stop there, and possibly in the heart of the agglomeration. The implemented solutions are largely compromises between these two aims, and reflect the relative strengths of the players in each situation (Troin, 1995; Zembri, 1995). Interestingly, the direct role of the state has been rather weak in this respect. No national strategic guidance was provided, let alone promoted (Zembri, 1995). The same tendency appears to continue into the current effort to expand the TGV network in the southerly and easterly directions (Troin, 1995).
In practice, what have been the impacts of the TGV at the station level? Especially in the larger centres—for instance in Lyon-La Part-Dieu, or in Nantes—dramatically improved accessibility to Paris has given momentum to (often pre-existing) local development dynamics. However, in several cases—as in Mans, and most notably in Lille—the local authorities have had to fight hard to get a TGV station at the heart of the city instead of on the periphery, as was the original intention of SNCF. In many other cases the location of railway stations has not been able to escape the narrow logic of the transport operator. Some medium-sized localities have had no stop at all. Others just got an exurban 'desert station', with nominal TGV frequencies and poor connections to both the local transport networks and economic activity centres. Especially in this last category, urban development effects are still far below expectations, as in Vendome, Macon-Loche, Le Creusot or Haute-Picardie.
Railway stations in Paris constitute a special case. For those in the core, integration with ongoing urban development has been 'natural' but rather haphazard (Gare de Lyon, Montparnasse), while a more coordinated approach seems to be emerging (as at the Gare d'Austerlitz, and in the further development at the Gare de Lyon). Stations in the periphery (Massy, Marne-La Vallee-Chessy, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle) were essentially born out of technical considerations (the possibility of bypassing congested central Paris or interchanging with other transport modes). They have since been launched as anchors of edge city developments, but they have not yet entirely proved their worth in that respect. The airport station at Satolas, outside Lyon, has similar characteristics, though with more uncertain development prospects.
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