Prenant appui sur l'exemple du quartier Saint-Roch a Quebec, l'article analyse la rhetorique du discours urbanistique qui depuis une decennie environ justifie et programme la revitalisation des quartiers anciens en Amerique du Nord. L'objectif est de contribuer, sous l'angle de la geographie culturelle, a la comprehension de ce nouvel urbanisme qui semble avoir autant de succes dans l'opinion que dans la pratique. Il est d'abord montre que ce discours se construit essentiellement comme une autocritique puisque son premier ressort argumentatif est de reconnaitre l'echec de l'urbanisme qui, apres la Seconde Guerre mondiale, a voulu renover les quartiers anciens en recourant aux demolitions massives et a la reconstruction systematique. Il est ensuite explique que, sur cette base, se developpent des figures de rhetorique paradoxales capables de justifier : (1) la protection du patrimoine bati tout en le destinant a des usages innovateurs ; (2) la mixite des usages tout en ecartant rigoureusement certaines d'entre elles ; (3) la necessite de l'urbanisme participatiftout en reconnaissant l'impossibilite d'y inclure toutes les categories sociales.
Mots cles : Nouvel urbanisme, revitalisation urbaine, patrimoine urbain, democratie participative, Ville de Quebec, recit urbain
Key words: New urbanism, Urban renewal, Urban Heritage, Participative Democracy, Quebec City, Urbanistic narrative
Using the example of the Saint-Roch district in Quebec City (Canada), this paper is an analysis of the rhetoric of urban discourse which for the last decade or so has driven and justified the revitalization project of older urban areas in North American cities. The goal here is to add from a cultural geography perspective to the understanding of this so-called new urbanism which seems to have great success in both practice and public opinion. This paper will firstly demonstrate that this discourse is built essentially as a self-criticism, since its fundamental principle is to recognize the failure of post World War Il urbanism which favoured the renewal of older urban areas through large scale demolition and systematic reconstruction. Next, this paper explains that on this basis a set of figures has emerged which have paradoxically been used to justify: (1) the protection of built heritage while at the same time allowing for innovative uses of this heritage; (2) the diversity of uses of urban heritage while at the same time actively excluding certain options; (3) the necessity for participatory urbanism while at the same time acknowledging the impossibility of including certain social categories.
North American city centres have undergone major changes since the end of the Second World War. Formerly located at the heart of urban life, they first of all absorbed the shock of an exodus to the suburbs. Abandoned for the most part by industry, business and the middle class, whole neighbourhoods deteriorated and became havens for fringe groups. These circumstances tarnished the reputation of such neighbourhoods while at the same rime spawning ambitious projects to rebuild these inner-city areas. The areas were then subject to large demolition campaigns in an effort to radically modify their role and appearance. Such urban renewal, mainly geared toward restoring the service sector, gave rise to modern large-scale CBDs (Garvin 1996).
The optimism of the instigators of this movement was not, however, shared by all. Many lamented the disappearance of an urban landscape inherited from a time when the coexistence of industry, business and housing expressed the very purpose of a city. Some people were also worried about the lot of the captive population groups whose living conditions deteriorated as their neighbourhoods were modernized (Harvey 2000a).
This renewal-oriented urban planning (which was perhaps as much a victim of its own excessive nature as of the resistance it generated) did not always "deliver the goods," at times leaving the typical city with an unfinished appearance (Fishman 1987). Soon, however, an about-face, or at least an adjustment, took place: urban planners discovered that these areas, which, only yesterday, they sentenced to disappear, were still of considerable worth. And this is why today these older neighbourhoods are restored rather than demolished: their historic value--even if they are first and foremost remnants of the industrial era--as well as their essential social character are now fully recognized and appreciated (Harvey 2000b).
While the urban-renewal movement rejected the older neighbourhoods, the new urban planners built upon them, on their physical presence and on what they represent culturally, by starting new projects, bringing together residents and visitors, and channelling capital into these neighbourhoods. Given that this restoration process was to some extent based on the marketing of urban culture, it is not certain that it was in the best interests of the latter since the operation was above all else a strategy designed by the holders of capital to increase their grip (Zukin 1995). This strategy, which led to a confusion between culture and consumption, guaranteed these interested parties increased control, not only over the production of goods and services, but also over the production of urban space (Lefebvre 1974; Boyer 1994).
The role played by capital in the revival of older neighbourhoods has clearly been a significant one, and it must also be recognized that this revival has been accompanied in many cases by a certain reinforcing of grassroots democracy (Parenteau 1990). A strong democratic deficit was an outgrowth of the preceding era, whereas the emerging consensus today is that decisions concerning urban issues should reflect the will of the people (Mayer 2000), so much so that the current renewal of older neighbourhoods has become the main source of inspiration for participatory urban planning (Hamel 1999). In this case, we should probably talk about a convergence of interests between holders of capital and local society, or at least a significant segment of the latter (Morin 1998). This convergence, if confirmed, would mean that the movement has come to reflect, more fundamentally, a genuine cultural reorientation. And this new cultural keynote, expressed in a restored urban lifestyle, would in turn signal both the development of more complex market-economy relations and a diversification of social and political institutions (Cybriwsky et al. 1986; Smith 1986, 1996; Simard 1999).
The Example of Quebec City
It is of course much easier to advance the hypothesis of a new North American urban culture given the support provided by the current discourse in urban planning where it has been raised to the level of a leitmotif. (1) It is also difficult to grasp the true significance of this new urban culture since both public and private bodies, realizing that a successful renewal of older neighbourhoods is in their best interests, are constantly reiterating that its arrival is at hand--as a justification for their own actions. Hence any analysis has to take this ideology of urban cultural renewal into account. But how does one stake out new ground?
The Saint-Roch area of Quebec City, where the new urban planning displays its proudest face, would seem fertile ground for examining such a question. This densely populated lower Quebec City neighbourhood (an area which was for a long time prosperous due to the industrial and business activities that were centred there) was once a worthy rival of the traditional downtown core, located just above the cliff, where the city's main institutions, including the provincial parliament, were clustered (figure 1). However, like so many other central city areas in North America, Saint-Roch experienced a precipitous decline from the time of the Second World War (Trotier 1962-63; Blanchet 1987). The situation became so critical that Quebec City's urban-planning department admitted in 1990 that Saint-Roch "[had become], over the years, a neighbourhood that, in spite of significant public efforts in recent years, [had] not yet managed to develop its own self-renewal dynamic." The incapacity of this "forgotten neighbourhood" to "generate its own renewal" stemmed--or so it was contended--from "a complete lack of interest in Saint-Roch." Moreover, to nobody's surprise, this part of the city had come to offer"nearly insurmountable resistance" to political voluntarism (City of Quebec 1990: 1-2).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Now, thirteen years later, the situation has completely changed. Today's Saint-Roch is a veritable standard bearer for urban renewal: its main routes have undergone a complete face-lift and a number of old buildings have found a new vocation as locations for institutions, organizations or businesses, while others have been converted into apartments. As well, vacant lots, once numerous and sometimes quite extensive, are gradually disappearing beneath new residential, commercial or institutional complexes. Especially noteworthy is the proliferation in the area of public and private buildings designed for the arts, education, entertainment, innovation and recreation …