New Orleans organised in 1984 its Louisiana World Exposition, Seville its World Exposition in 1992, and Marseilles has used its 2013 declaration as European Cultural Capital (in a joint declaration that also included Kosice, in Slovakia) to promote its urban regeneration projects.
Large international events (world fairs, Olympic games, or cultural capitals) are coming under scrutiny not just for their cost or their financial balance, but also taking into account their legacy. Legacy encompasses the investments that are made for a short period of time that can later find a use adapted to the real permanent needs of the citizens. Expect such debates to raise by summer this year as the Brazil World Cup becomes the season’s issue. From this point of view, the large events balance is varied, often just because socio-economic dynamics in these cities cannot absorb some uses.
1984 Exposition in New Orelans did not attain a financial balance. Its legacy includes the rehabilitation of the harbour front and some port buildings.
Expo 92 in Seville did not either get to an economic balanced result. A relevant surface of gardens was built, which created a problem of maintenance costs for the city, and a high speed train station was built to operate just for a few months. The urban conversion of the site and the theme parc that was created have only found a limited successs. But the large hydraulic works on the Guadalquivir river are still there.
Marseille’s project includes a relevant transformation of the seafront, with relevant projects as the European and Mediterranean Civilisations Museum of Norman Foster’s works on the Old Port. It is still to early to judge the results.
A mid-sized city can be such as a result of growth until reaching that status, or it can be the result of a certain downgrading from higher ranks. I am fully aware that some of the things I’m going to say could be unpleasant, but this is a long-term vision, and history is made every day, so nothing is unavoidable.
I’ve chosen four cities that, as in the first case, are seaports, but with quite different roles. They have been high places in the European colonial adventure (that could receive other names in different places). Seville as the main port in the first times of the Spanish empire, Marseilles as the French gate to the African and Asian empires, New Orleans as the gate to the Mississippi Valley, and Havana as the capital of the last jewel of the Spanish empire. These are by no means small cites, and they are rather relevant in their states, as to make many think that I’m not fair saying they are mid-sized cities; but they are no longer cities with a continental reach. They have sure gained population, but have lost rank.
Yet they are very interesting places. How does a city evolve when the technological- economical-social (you name the issue) wave that propelled it to its highest position disappears? The rise of these cities is linked to their network of relations in colonial worlds, and their evolution is related to the fact that new models appear that are more successful. There is a scent of Detroit here…
Too many things have been written about this building, that Le Corbusier presented as a prototype of a happy and modern life. 337 appartments built between 1945 and 1952 as a block on columns in Marseilles. It is as much one of the ancestors of stigmatized neighborhoods of public housing (that sometimes have even been destroyed by dynamite) as it predates some high luxury condos.
I will only say that maybe the main problem of its universal use as model is when the circulation spaces (inner streets) become spaces in which people stay for long periods (unemployment, marginality, or mere desperation and anguish) architecture can only go to a certain point. I have heard that, on the other side, such models have benefited of some success in countries such as Brasil, as they allow to use with some ease services into different parts of the building, as day care, without going through dangerous streets; this happens when the building is used by high revenue populations. So here we also have, to a certain extent, an ancestor of Gated Communities.
The pool atop the building, overlooking the city. The green trees promised in the scheme meant leisure…
The view from the swiming pool, with diverse building shapes.
The inner street on an upper level, by the cafe
The idea: you recover the space occupied by the building by having a green space on top (and cars park under the building)