Euralille as node and place

5.3.1 The node

Euralille is a development centred on a complex transport interchange that includes two railway stations: Lille-Flandres (currently with TGV services to Paris and regional trains) and Lille-Europe (with international HST services). In the transport node, the following converge: high-speed lines (in the three directions of Brussels, Paris and London), conventional trains, the underground, rapid trams, buses, through roads, and a motorway bypass (Figure 5.2).

Fig. 5.2 Euralille, the transportation node. (Source: Euralille)

Thanks to the TGV, Lille is just 1 hour from Paris (53 minutes from Roissy Airport), and will be 25 minutes from Brussels and 2 hours from London. Before the TGV these times were 2 hours 7 minutes, 1 hour 30 minutes, and 4 hours 45 minutes respectively. In 1995, 70 000 passengers a day passed through Lille Flandres and 8000 through Lille-Europe. In the first quarter of 1997, on an average weekday, 45 000 passengers used the TER (Train Express Regional) and 13500 the TG

The transport infrastructure that had to be built (a programme now virtually completed) included the new TGV line and station, a new metro underground line and station, a new rapid-tram stop, the reconstruction of the motorway bypass next to the TGV line, a new road viaduct, and underground parking providing a total of 6100 places

The place

The development site of Euralille lies in between peripheral, lower-density neighbourhoods and the historical centre of Lille (Figure 5.3). Lille itself is a city of just 168 000 inhabitants, but it is also the core of a truly polycentric metropolitan area, where a total of 1 100 000 people live, not counting the 500 000 inhabitants of the adjoining Belgian municipalities.

The location of Euralille is unusual. Because of military rights, there was a vast amount of unbuilt, underused land next to the existing station of Lille-Flandres. That vacant land lay between the city centre and the bundle of rail and road infrastructure separating it from the surrounding municipalities. When Euralille was conceived, the station neighbourhood was that of a typical obsolescent central station, with a mixture of shops, services, and housing of moderate quality. There was some tertiary development along its margins, but the general property dynamics were low, partly because of the many infrastructure barriers. The areas on the other side of the tracks and the motorway were essentially residential, and had little contact with the social and economic life of the city centre. The construction next to Lille-Flandres of the new TGV station, and especially of the tertiary complex of Euralille, was revolutionary. It had few, if any, antecedents in developments nearby. The scale of reference, here to a more extreme degree than in other station area projects, appears to be that of the faraway places brought closer by new and improved transport networks. The ambition of Euralille is to deal with the fact that the space of daily life will be at one time that of the immediate proximity, the territory contained in a radius of 30 km around the centre of Lille, and the triangle London-Paris-Brussels, of which Lille becomes a sort of epicentre. (Urbanisme, 1993, p.55)

However, as we shall see, integration of such distant realities raises many difficult issues.

5.3.3 The process

The story of Euralille is at one and the same time that of an extraordinary chain of events and that of the determination of the local élites to profit from emerging opportunities. In short, everything about this case is exceptional. Its position is exceptional, thanks to the location; it has become the hinge of the north European high-speed train system. The consequent increase in accessibility is unprecedented on the continent. The FAST study of the European Union (cited in Arenas et al., 1995) concluded that in 2020 Lille will be the most accessible city in

Euralille Before And After

Fig. 5.3 Euralille, the place. Lille-Flandres is at the bottom right of the picture, Lille-Europe at the top left. The city centre is at the bottom; peripheral residential neighbourhoods are at the top. Between the two stations is the new multifunctional complex of Euralille. Just outs the picture, at the top right, is the new event, congress and exhibition centre. (Source: Euralille. Photo: NAI)

Fig. 5.3 Euralille, the place. Lille-Flandres is at the bottom right of the picture, Lille-Europe at the top left. The city centre is at the bottom; peripheral residential neighbourhoods are at the top. Between the two stations is the new multifunctional complex of Euralille. Just outs the picture, at the top right, is the new event, congress and exhibition centre. (Source: Euralille. Photo: NAI)

Europe, up from eleventh place in 1991. Not just quantitative but also qualitative accessibility is important. Lying between London, Paris, and Brussels, Lille is within reach of some of the world's most densely populated and economically active regions. Exceptional also is the availability of ample reserves of virtually unbuilt land next to the station and the city centre, all in public hands. Exceptional is the personal leadership and political influence provided by Pierre Mauroy. He has been the mayor of Lille for 25 years, president of the Communauté Urbaine (the metropolitan government) since 1989, prime minister when the crucial decisions (Channel Tunnel, North European HST, HST through Lille) were taking shape, and well connected at all times. Exceptional too is the local economic context, and the magnitude both of the past crisis of the regional industrial economic base (textile, coal, metal), and of the present transition to a service and high-tech economy.

As a result of the accumulation of all the above, there is a 'sense of urgency, of inevitability' that in Lille 'generates an incredible dynamic' (de Volkskrant, 1994), and which has no equal elsewhere. Referring to the Euralille initiative, Mauroy admits:

We have been lucky, without a doubt, because if one of these conditions would not have been satisfied at the right moment, the project would probably not have seen the light of day. (Simon, 1993)

All of this has to be kept in mind when evaluating the case of Euralille, and when reviewing the three phases into which its story could be divided.

Phase 1: strategic decisions, 1986—1987

At the beginning of the 1980s, finally breaking centuries-long hesitations, the British and the French governments (Mauroy was then prime minister) decided that the two countries were to be linked by a tunnel under the Channel. The decision was formalized in January 1986. Car shuttles and high-speed trains were the transport means to run through the 'Chunnel'.

In 1987, another important step was taken. The transport ministers of France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands signed a treaty for the joint development of the north European high-speed train network. Meanwhile Mauroy, who had gone back full-time to his local responsibilities, took over the leadership of a broad regional coalition of public and private interests to lobby for changes in the HST route. They wanted it to run through the Nord-Pas de Calais region, not the Picardie; and they wanted it to run through the centre of the city of Lille, not on a peripheral course. Initially, SNCF (the French railways) did not agree with the idea. They found it too expensive. Moreover, the stop in Lille would mean a loss in time and thus in profitability. Later, however, a compensation for the increase in costs and the missed profits made SNCF change its mind. The extra Fr 800 million needed was contributed by the state (Fr 400 million, as a result of the mediation of Mauroy), the region Nord-Pas de Calais (Fr 264 million), and the city of Lille (Fr 136 million).

Not all the conflicts were resolved, though. Opposition to the route came also from the municipalities of Lille's hinterland, on whose territory the TGV would have to pass, and who feared they would get just the negative effects. Little by little, guarantees (mitigation of impacts) and compensations (redistribution of the advantages) induced them to change their opinion. Some of the other big projects started in other centres of the metropolitan area should be seen as part of the building of this consensus among municipalities (and, one could say, of the 'foundation' of the Lille metropolis). Examples include the Euroteleport in Roubaix, the multimodal transport platform in Roncq, the expansion of the airport of Lille-Lesquin, the technopole in Villeneuve d'Ascq, the graphic arts and packaging pole in Tourcoing, and the inclusion of a tertiary complex under construction in the bordering municipality of La Madeleine within the perimeter (and the sphere of influence) of Euralille. On a municipal level, an extensive renewal programme of the old city centre is also part of this list of complementary actions.

Phase 2: planning, 1988—1990

The regional mobilization and negotiations were successful: in December 1987, the decision to let the TGV stop in Lille was official. Immediately afterwards, in February 1988, the constitution of Euralille-Métropole was announced. It consisted of a public-private study partnership that was to evaluate the feasibility of urban development on the site of the TGV station. The partnership was presided over by Deflaisseux (former president of the Credit Lyonnais Bank, and old friend of Mauroy), directed by Baïetto (former director of the Société Centrale pour l'Equipement du Territoire), and had other influential members. A group of banks, SNCF, and the local chamber of commerce were convinced to take part in this exploratory venture and subscribe to the partnership.

The first decision of the study partnership was to construct a second station for the international TGVs, essentially for technical reasons. It was also decided to use the areas between the projected and the existing station to build the new 'citadel' of Lille. On the whole, the areas available for development were in excess of 100 ha: 70 ha immediately, 50 ha in the longer term. Virtually undeveloped because of pending military rights, the land was donated by the state to the city of Lille for the symbolic amount of one franc (here also, the influence of Mauroy was crucial). The new station was to be called Lille-Europe; the old was re-christened Lille-Flandres. Between the two stations—between the Flandres and Europe—an international business centre was to rise. To avoid 'a Défense between stations', a diversified programme was suggested, consisting of offices, services, shops, culture, housing, public facilities, and open spaces. On the basis of this programme, eight architects of international reputation were invited to present their ideas. They were asked to make an oral presentation. Thus it was not a design competition. In the words of Baïetto:

It is nonsense to try to achieve an urban project by means of a design competition: an urban project implies multiple aspects and actors, and thus you have to choose a person rather than a project. (Treiber, 1995)

The contest, held in the autumn of 1988, was won by Rem Koolhaas: 'He was chosen because he had a vision of the city, not just of a project' The key to his proposal is the notion of interconnectivity—functional, spatial, and visual.

From that point on, the story of the project, with the exception of a brief intermission for public consultations, could be described as an interplay between the mayor (Mauroy) and the master architect (Koolhaas), mediated by the executive director of Euralille (Baïetto). Each of the players was responsible for (including feedback into the project) a portion of relationships with the outside world: respectively political (both the institutions and the local population), technical (essentially the great number of consultants), and operational (investors, developers, and users). In the course of 1989, the exchanges between the three (and indirectly between the constituencies they each represented) became intense. The result was a simplification and clarification of the concept initially proposed by the architect. Streamlining was necessary in order to reduce costs and increase continuity between the new district and the existing city. In the meantime, Baïetto untiringly searched for investors for each element of the programme, one by one. The influence of Mauroy was repeatedly called into service. It was through his efforts that the personal support of President Mitterand was obtained for a European Foundation of the City and Architecture. Private investors, after some initial reluctance, were gradually drawn in. But they imposed certain conditions. For example, they asked for—and got —a reduction in the proportion of office space, which they felt would reduce risk.

In the second half of 1989, the project was presented in two rounds to the local council. At the end of the same year, a phase of public consultation was started. That phase was to end in April 1990 with an open discussion forum. The most important amendment to the original plan in this phase was reinforcement of the physical integration of the complex, both internal and with the surrounding area. After these changes, the positive results of opinion polls taken

Table 5.1 Euralille: summary of the main phases

Phase 1: strategic key decisions, 1986-1987 January 1986 Channel Tunnel

October 1987 North-European HST: regional mobilization

December 1987 HST stop in the centre of Lille

Phase 2: planning, 1988-1990 February 1988

Autumn 1988 1989


Establishment of the Euralille study partnership (local and regional governments, banks, SNCF, Chamber of Commerce); discussions; programme

Urban design competition (closed, oral). Rem Koolhaas wins

Three-way discussions: Koolhaas (technique), Baïetto (management), Mauroy (politics)

Public consultations and council votes; presentation to city council, districts and metropolitan government; public discussion forum, population poll, etc.

Phase 3: implementation, 1990-1995

June 1990

June 1991 23 May 1993 29 May 1994



Foundation of the Euralille SEM: local and regional governments 54%, banks 40%, SNCF 3%, Chamber of Commerce 3%

Start construction

First TGV Paris-Lille

First TGV Pari s-(Lille)-London

Opening of Lille-Europe station, Lille Grand Palais, Centre Euralille

Opening of office towers, Credit Lyonnais and World Trade Centre among the population were adduced as evidence that sufficient consensus had been reached. In the meantime, intense negotiations with and between different agencies (such as Euralille, SNCF, other transport companies, and the metropolitan government) were also undertaken and successfully completed. It should be noted that, because of the forming of a new governing coalition, in 1989 Mauroy also became president of the Communauté Urbaine.

On the whole, opposition to the project was weak. In Lille, it mostly coincided with right-wing political opposition to the mayor. The other key actors and the rest of the local population —when they were originally indifferent, sceptical and in a few cases explicitly hostile (notably among environmentalists and small retailers)—were gradually won over to support the initiative. The main themes of criticism by the political antagonists of Mauroy were doubts about the financial feasibility of the plan, and objections to the choice of an architectural style that departed with local tradition. However, a viable alternative—a study trip to the London

Docklands notwithstanding—did not arise. Criticism along different lines, and more consistent, was voiced by environmentalists and small retailers, but the argument put forward by the former that development would destroy an existing park was too weak. The existing park attracted few visitors, and a new 10 ha park was to be part of Euralille. The retailers of the city centre were afraid of competition from the new shopping centre. Euralille addressed their fears by reducing net shopping floor space (from 65 000 m2 to 31 000 m2). At the same time Euralille introduced measures to avoid direct competition between shops in the new complex and shops in the adjoining historical city centre (for example, orientation of Euralille on innovative, specialized products, and reservation of 37% of the shopping floor space as a second location for local businessmen).

Phase 3: implementation, 1990—1995

In June 1990, right after the plan was approved by the metropolitan government, the Euralille study partnership transformed itself into a public-private development partnership, a société d'économie mixte (SEM; see section 5.1), presided over by Mauroy and directed by Ba'ietto. The planning framework is provided by a special development zone known as a zone d'aménagement concerté (ZAC; see section 5.1). The SEM Euralille was granted authority in the ZAC by the Communauté Urbaine (the metropolitan government) for a 15-year period (until 2005). Construction was launched in June 1991. Since then, the progress of Euralille can be read through the succession of the opening dates of its various elements (Table 5.1). The most notable setbacks in this period were due to vicissitudes in the financing (both public and private) of single elements, which forced the project managers to delay the realization of some of them. The basic elements, however, were not affected.

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