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The Calanques National Park, between environmental effort and urban effort

Cécilia Claeys, Arlette Hérat, Carole Barthélémy and Valérie Deldrève


Since 2008, our research has involved sociological monitoring of the political construction of the Calanques National Park, its social uses and the environmental controversy that has arisen. We have addressed these issues in the context of their interaction with urban policies. This article analyses the interactions between the Calanques National Park and the city of Marseille through the analytical framework of environmental effort. Environmental effort can be defined as the socially differentiated and potentially unequal contribution of social actors to public environmental protection policies. First, we show how the territorial make-up of Marseille has always involved a great deal of crossover between the city, the countryside and nature. Second, we examine the boundaries between the city and nature today, a result of convergence between a prevailing naturalist vision that dominated the creation of the Calanques National Park and the city’s urbanism strategy. Third, we show how the environmental effort required of the population in some districts to protect the Calanques in the context of park policy is compounded by an additional urban environmental effort required of inhabitants to support the transformations imposed on their immediate environment.

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1Policies aimed at the creation of protected natural areas have always had to contend with the inherent tension between protection and use. The goal of officially “protecting” a natural area is to improve the conservation of its environment. Such recognition also helps draw attention to the assets and attractions of a site, thus potentially appealing to more visitors and investors (Laslaz 2015). That is why identification and control of the perimeters around protected areas and their points of entry are always a major preoccupation for managers. Such tension is further exacerbated in the context of urban natural parks given the proximity of a high density human population and due to real estate pressure. This is true in the Calanques, recognized as one of fifteen urban parks at the global scale by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Calanques National Park was officially created on 18 April 2012. It is directly adjacent to a metropolis of 1.8 million inhabitants, including Marseille, the second largest city in France in terms of population size. The proximity of Marseille and the real or imagined implications in terms of use and real estate speculation were at the centre of the debates and controversy surrounding the creation of the National Park. The crux was to anticipate the pull effect that the park could have on new users and investors, but it was also vital to organize existing users and local inhabitants who predated the park’s creation. Indeed, the boundary between the Calanques massif and Marseille – a multi-ethnic city marked by strong social and spatial inequality (Roncayolo 1996; Donzel 1998; Peraldi et al. 2015) – has always been particularly porous (Barthélémy et al. 2015). This porosity is visible in the materiality of the land cover, in social practices and in the collective imagination. By no means recent, this crossover evolved alongside the history of the city and can be seen in fluctuations in the urban fringes, as well as in the rooting and renewed diversity of vernacular uses of the hills and sea. In this context, has the new Calanques National Park helped remodel the physical and symbolic boundaries between the city, hills and sea and, if so, how?

2This article will analyse the interactions between the Calanques National Park and the city of Marseille through the analytical framework of environmental effort. Environmental effort can be defined as the socially differentiated and potentially unequal contribution of social actors to public environmental protection policies (Deldrève and Candau 2015). In the context of the creation and management of protected areas, environmental effort may affect the different users, day visitors and local inhabitants, individuals and groups, professionals, as well as public and private property owners. It can be expressed, for example, in the form of restrictions on access, the regulation or banning of certain practices, or the implementation of entry fees.

3We will begin by presenting the theoretical and methodological frameworks used. Then we will analyse the interactions between the city and nature in three parts. First, we will show how the territorial make-up of Marseille resulted over the course of time in a great deal of crossover between the city, the countryside and nature, visible in both the structure of urbanization and in the legacy of many urban uses of nature. Then we will examine the boundary between the city and nature that exists today and argue that there has been a convergence between the prevailing naturalist vision that dominated the creation of the Calanques National Park – bolstered by “old” imagined fears of an influx of urban populations into the Calanques massif – and the municipal urbanism strategy. This process has encouraged the residential development of sectors on the outskirts of the massif, where the National Park has become both a “showcase” to speed up the gentrification process and an area to be protected. The final section will show how the (imposed or consensual) environmental effort required of the population in these districts to protect the Calanques in the context of park policy is compounded by an additional effort, that we will call an “urban effort”.

Theoretical framework: from environmental inequality to urban environmental effort

  • 1 These two forms of dependence and solidarity are not the same. “Communities of destiny” are born fr (...)

4Several theoretical approaches address the unequal relations between the inhabitants of cities and their environment. From an interdisciplinary perspective, the city is an observatory in which the approach of ecologists concerned about protecting local biodiversity converges with that of sociologists interested in who has access to such biodiversity. The city of Cape Town, South Africa, has as such been studied as an “Urban Ecology CityLab” (Anderson and Elmqvist 2012), notably at the scale of its outskirts which are both hot spots in terms of biodiversity and extremely poor districts (Graham and Ernstson 2012). Urban ecology brings a naturalist perspective to the examination of environmental inequalities. From a more sociological standpoint, the social and scientific Environmental Justice movement has largely addressed the issue of environmental inequality, which englobes both the overexposure of poor populations and people of colour to health risks, and their unequal access to natural resources and amenities. The first studies by the US-born Environmental Justice movement showed the degree to which urban planning and the racial (and broader social) segregation processes observed tend to concentrate at-risk and dangerous settlements – locally unwanted land uses (“LuLus”) – closest to the most vulnerable populations (Bullard 1990; Pulido 2000; Holifield 2001). Other research focused on access to nature has shown that the “authentic American” figure is constructed around a wilderness narrative that excludes women, people of colour and homosexuals, and that when such groups aspire to it, they expose themselves to various social sanctions when they do not auto-censure themselves (Evans 2008). Some groups as such appear less “deserving” than others of access to nature or a healthy and pleasant living environment (ibid). In the broadest sense, environmental inequalities also include the unequal capacity of certain groups or populations (e.g., at the scale of North-South relations) to act on the policies that affect their environment or to reap their benefits. Moreover, compounded and interconnected to other forms of economic and cultural inequality, environmental inequalities point up major issues surrounding the fairness of public policies. Indeed, not all groups benefit equally from them (Laurent, 2009). Some groups appear to be more solicited to contribute to such policies even though the ecological impact of their production and consumption patterns is largely inferior to other, wealthier groups (Pye et al. 2008). Those asked to contribute most are not those most able to do so, nor those who cause the most harm. They are not the ones who will reap the most benefit, either. This contribution – agreed to or imposed in the name of the environment – requires a financial effort (payment, loss of a more or less vital source of income), a physical effort (relinquishing the convenience of motorization, mechanization, etc.), or a moral effort (giving up places or practices to which people are attached, a certain freedom, etc.). The definition and distribution of this effort indeed touch on issues of environmental justice and social cohesion: despite growing concern in terms of global risk, the environmental inequalities outlined above produce a sense of belonging to a diverse set of “communities of hardship” more than to the same “community of destiny”1 (Rosanvallon, 2011; Deldrève and Candau, 2015). By concentrating our analysis on the notions of effort, inequality and justice, this article aims to move beyond interpretations based solely on the defence of private interests or Nimby (Not in My Back Yard) causes, to reinterpret the resistance and conflict that accompany the implementation of public environmental protection policies and, more specifically, in one of its oldest and most controversial forms (Larrère et al. 2009): national parks.

5The Calanques National Park is both a product of the reform to French national parks and a site located on an urban periphery. It as such clearly raises the question of the effort required of residents and users to protect the Calanques. Moreover, this example provides an opportunity to examine the different dimensions of the protection effort required – one that is both urban and environmental – given the interaction between nature and urban policies, and their obvious effects on the population of neighbourhoods situated at the gateway to the park.

6It is in this context that we propose the notion of “urban environmental effort”. It is a notion that, until now, has never been truly conceptualized. We offer it as an exploratory concept at the interface between the urban and environmental policy fields.

7We have constructed it based on the notion of “urban effort”, which, in the field of urbanism, describes the effort by public authorities put into financially accompanying the urban development in periods of growth (Vigreux, 2014) or renewal of poor outlying areas. Drawing on this notion, in resonance with that of “environmental effort”, leads to its extension to efforts made by other actors such as the inhabitants of a neighbourhood confronted with a new type of urbanization or with urban intensification (densification, traffic congestion). In this broader vision, “urban effort” can be assessed in more than purely financial terms and rather in terms of perceptions, representations and practices. For example, it can reflect a physical effort, i.e., with the development of enclaves that restrict mobility (Mangin, 2004; Dorier et al., 2012) or a moral effect, i.e., the sense that a neighbourhood is losing the essence of its soul.

  • 2 In France, it was the law on Solidarity and Urban Renewal of 13 July 2000 that provided a framework (...)

8This notion is different from the term "urban pressure", widely used in geography and urbanism, which focuses on land and the degree of artificialization of agricultural or natural areas (Decoupigny, Passel, 2017). “Urban effort” is mainly defined from the perspective of actors in reaction to the different contributions required in the name of a public urban development policy. With the sustainable turn in development,2 contemporary urban policy advocates for a densification of inhabited areas rather than urban sprawl in order to protect natural sites and agricultural zones (Mathieu, Guermond, 2005).

9Urban effort is potentially inegalitarian. It as such raises questions about gentrification processes defined as “poorer districts becoming specifically more middle class along with the transformation of their built environment and the neighbourhood in general” (Clerval, 2013, p.8, translated here). The neo-liberal approaches to urbanization observed in cities such as Paris (Clerval, 2013) and New-York (Brash, 2011) encourage the arrival of certain social groups and provide a corresponding urban offer. The desire to develop New York like a “luxury product” is based on ideological, political and economic complicity between the mayor, his team and elites from the “new managerial class” (Brash, op.cit.). In Paris, the development of a “middle class” with strong cultural capital has resulted in the gentrification of formerly working class neighbourhoods (Clerval, op.cit.). In the case of Swiss cities, Nahrath, Gerber, Knoepfel and Bréthaut have shown how the middle class has long influenced urban planning policy through its ability to hold a great deal of land and built environment. Social and symbolic capital are also used in the context of local political relations (Nahrath, Gerber, Knoepfel, Bréthaut, 2012).

10In zones on the urban outskirts – at the interface of the city and nature – the articulation of two policies, one environmental and the other urban, is particularly visible and observable. It is what allowed to conceive of the notion of “urban environmental effort”. Firstly, the notion of “urban environmental effort” renders the ability of environmental policies to “make their way” into the city. Indeed, these interfaces are a hub for multiple issues for the managers of natural areas: e.g., the issue of managing flows and traffic (tied to the touristic appeal of a protected natural area); the issue of biodiversity (protecting the National Park from invasive plant species); landscaping issues (organizing transitions); and the issue of land (in delimiting specific zones). It also underscores how such interactions have an unequal impact on the populations who live in these interface zones and who will be affected by new traffic and property regulations and with access to natural areas.

11The notion of “urban environmental effort” further describes what environmental policies “do” to cities, since urban policies must also now work with them. The strategies adopted to address demographic and economic trends through land, regulatory and morphological policies have an impact on the transformation of the built environment, real estate markets and sociability.

Methodological framework

12Since 2008, we have been sociologically monitoring the political construction of the Calanques National Park, its social uses, the related environmental controversies, and their interaction with urban policies. Our research began within two research programmes, one focused on the consultation process aimed at the creation of the Calanques National Park (Deldrève and Deboudt 2012); and the other (FHUVEL) focused on land- and marine-based use of the territory of the future National Park (Tatoni et al. 2013). This research is still ongoing via a third programme which focuses on “Environmental EFFort as Inequality: Justice and Iniquity in the name of the Environment” (EFFIJIE – EFFort environnemental comme Inégalité: Justice et Iniquité au nom de l'Environnement) (Candau and Deldrève 2014). The research conducted in the context of the CDE and FHUVEL programmes took place between 2008 and 2012, during the consultation and preparation phases of the Calanques National Park. The research conducted in the context of the EFFIJIE programme has focused on the implementation phase of the new National Park.

13In the context of the CDE (2008-2011), thirty-two consultation workshops and social mobilizations were observed and one hundred and fifteen interviews were conducted with managers and users, including participants and non-participants in the consultation process. The sociological surveys conducted in the context of the FHUVEL programme (2010-2013) focused on several entry points from Marseille into the territory of the future national park. The corpus of sociological data is comprised of one hundred and twenty-five semi-structured interviews conducted on-site with both land and sea-based users (e.g., walkers, swimmers, fishers; boaters, divers).

14Lastly, the ongoing EFFIJIE programme is based on a qualitative approach that combines semi-structured interviews with managers, institutional figures and actors from the non-profit sector, as well as users and local inhabitants of the Calanques National Park, with direct observation, an inventory of the local media and analysis of urban planning projects and documents. In the context of this article, our focus is on the initial findings related to a zone at the interface between districts in the south of the city of Marseille and the Calanques National Park ranging from La Cayolle to Madrague de Montredon (figure 1) on the one hand and, on the other hand, the effects that the creation of the National Park have had on leisure fishing and underwater fishing.

Figure 1 – The Calanques National Park: localisation, landscape and users

Figure 1 – The Calanques National Park: localisation, landscape and users

Creation Coloco (carte – octobre 2016) and A. Hérat (photos)

15Marseille and the Calanques, a legacy of crossover between the city and nature

16In 1919, the first city-wide planning scheme designed by Bouches-du-Rhône departmental architect Gaston Castel already referred to the southern sector of the city as “Marseille-Calanques”. It defined the area’s residential and recreational vocation based on the natural amenities of the coast and Calanques massif. While a label that combined the two terms may have reflected the crossover between city and nature inherited from the landscape around Marseille over the course of centuries, it actually predated the “colonization” of urban space over natural and agricultural land – a process that expanded continually over the course of the 20th century.

17The vast territory of Marseille is comprised of 24 000 hectares within a closed amphitheatre built into a hill separating the city from Provence and looking outward to the sea. While the city remained confined to the northern shore of the Lacydon Calanque (the current Old Port) from its founding in antiquity to the expansion ordered by Louis XIV in 1666, the surrounding land was gradually occupied by the establishment of small hamlets and the implantation of “bastides”, large traditional Provençal properties upon which people farmed and lived. It is as such that a dispersed city formed – and even earned the description of “largest city in the world” on the map established by Pierre Chevallier de Soissons in the early 18th century. Research into urbanization in Marseille has underscored the uniqueness of this “city in the countryside” (Roncayolo 1996; Donzel 1998). It is as such that, even today, reference is made the “city of 111 villages” – represented by the city’s administrative division into one hundred and eleven districts – which accurately showcases how the municipal landscape was shaped by the area’s urbanization. With the arrival of new infrastructure (canal, railroads and then the tramway network), the area became shared between residential accommodation, agriculture and industry in the 19th century. The drivers of this extensive urban grown were based above all on a local government that encouraged individual enterprise and liberalism over the promotion of large-scale public projects. The subsequent urbanization resulted in a spatial layout based on an urban road system that was a mix of old rural routes and boulevard-promenades, rounded out by a dense network of streets leading right to the city limits. The combination of a topographical landscape marked by numerous folds alongside such dispersed, low-density urbanism created breaks between the built/non-built landscape and more broadly between impermeable/permeable land, and thus encouraged great overlap between the city and nature (figure 2).

Figure 2 – The extensive urbanization of Marseille

Figure 2 – The extensive urbanization of Marseille

Source: Bdortho® 2010, ©IGN
Creation J. Autran Project[s] – June 2016

18The outlying agricultural district, locally referred to as the “terradou”, remained important until after the World War II. It was long devoted to dry farming (grapevines, olive trees and cereals) but was converted to vegetable and livestock farming with the completion of the Canal de Marseille in 1849. The local landscape and practices still bear the traces of this now defunct agricultural legacy. While most large agricultural properties were divided up for urbanization purposes, a few were donated to the municipality and transformed into public parks; others were snatched up to become private family gardens; and fallow lands became destined for informal uses (e.g., olive and fruit picking). The division into private plots also resulted in the creation of private gardens. Alongside this intra-urban nature were the massifs, which also had many different uses. The population of Marseille had indeed long used the Calanques massif and its archipelagos as a ground for foraging and/or leisure activities (Massena-Gourc 1994). Both on land and at sea, urban use of the Calanques was initially part of a domestic economy in search of direct food supplements or additional income via the more or less legal re-sale of food. Non-professional foraging, hunting and fishing were as such mainly undertaken by low-income populations for whom the boundary between the city and hills was as permeable as that between self-consumption and illegal hunting (Bromberger and Dufour 1982; Faget 2011). On land and at sea, the shift from foraging for sustenance to leisure activity was gradual and once again had blurry boundaries. It is indeed important not to minimize the pure enjoyment of even the poorest fishers in the past, nor to overlook the self-consumption of even the wealthiest present-day recreational fishers. The boundary is clearer between foraging practices and sporting and/or contemplative uses, although it is not entirely airtight, either. On land, the elitist practices of the Club Alpin Français gradually gained in popularity and were embraced by the educated middle classes who share the same appreciation for physical activity and undisrupted nature (Massena-Gourc 1994). And yet, many families and groups of hikers nonetheless pick a few sprigs of rosemary or shoots of wild asparagus while out walking. The leisure boats at sea can be distinguished from fishing boats by the priority given to navigating and relaxing. And yet, in Marseille, very few leisure boats are without a couple of fishing hooks, hand lines or even a spear gun.

19The impact of such urban foraging on the natural environment is a longstanding topic of debate. Starting in the middle ages, firewood collection and estovers were regulated throughout France (Chalvet 2011). Debate over this topic was particularly heated in peri-urban areas where demographic pressure was palpable – and Marseille was no exception to this (Delauge et al. 2008). Concern over the right to collect wood nevertheless became secondary in the 19th century given the development of new energy forms. The debate shifted almost seamlessly towards the issue of forest fires. By the 20th century, the latter were a prime concern and were associated with leisure use of the massif and urban sprawl (Chalvet 2011). With regard to the maritime environment, however, the terms of the debate have not varied substantially, with the impact of fishing on fish stocks at the forefront of concern since the 18th century. While professional fishing is the main target, historian Daniel Faget (2011) has also underscored the long history of urban food collection in the marine environment around Marseille. After seashore fishing for sustenance and then for leisure purposes, on-board leisure fishing became increasingly popular among the expanding middle class which began to acquire small seagoing boats. Faget has underscored how difficult it was to quantify the impact of such fishing at the time. New methods for oceanological measuring were not always able to differentiate between “natural” fluctuations and anthropic disturbances – and despite the great evolution in measuring techniques, the age-old controversy they sparked persists today (Deldrève 2010). Finally, as many historians have noted, while we cannot ignore the role of urban food collection in the decline of land and sea-based resources, it is important not to downplay or overlook the impact of industry around Marseille which began dumping pollutants into the sea and on land starting in the late 18th century and especially in the early 19th century (Faget 2011, 2015; Centemeri and Daumalin 2015), notably from tartaric acid-, lead- and silver factories and, since 1966, the alumina factory in Gardanne, which dumps its “red mud” into the sea off the coast of Cassis.

20The porosity between the city and nature in Marseille is age-old and has been perpetually renewed alongside historical transformations to the urban fabric, production and recreational activities in the area. It is one factor that made the process of creating a national park long and particularly controversial. In 1972, the ministerial rejection of the request by the municipality of Marseille for the creation of a National Park was due to the nature of the massif and archipelagos deemed to be too peri-urban (Deldrève and Deboudt 2012). The former legal framework regulating national parks in France was indeed based on a strong distinction between “wild nature” that needed protecting and anthropized spaces. It was not until the legal reform to national parks on 14 April 2006 that this distinction was toned down. Following the reform, the idea of a peri-urban national park was no longer rejected on principle and could even be embraced for its trailblazing nature at the national level. But the route from acceptance by lawmakers to implementation in the field was not always a smooth ride.

How does a National Park draw a boundary between the city and nature?

21The first institutional move to concretize the desire to create a Calanques National Park (a first decree in 2008) led to establishing its perimeters: the core land and marine areas on the one hand, and the ideal peripheral area and adjacent marine area on the other hand. With regard to the territory around Marseille, the core perimeter of the park was for the most part the same as the “conservation area” defined in 1975 under the law of 2 May 1930 protecting natural sites, but the ideal peripheral area was substantially smaller. This is due to a view of the environmental qualities of the peripheral area that excludes most of the urbanized areas on the outskirts of the conservation site. This delimitation created a real boundary between the core of the park and the city, expressed through different regulations and public management practices on both sides. Alongside the edification of this boundary, our observations during the consultation phase preceding the creation of a charter pointed up the primacy of naturalist issues in guiding debate over the degree to which urban and economic questions should be considered (Deldrève and Hérat 2012). Our field research in sectors on the outskirts of the Calanques National Park has underscored an urban intensification that, beyond greater densification, has resulted in a tangible weakening in the porosity and, in its social form, in a gentrification process. This urbanization at the foot of the hills and edges of the city is connected to the boom in private real-estate underway since the municipality’s upturn in demographic growth in the first decade of the 21st century. Its framework is based on urbanism documents that were drafted at the same time as the National Park was being created: the creation of a Territorial Coherence Plan for 2005 to 2012 and a review of the Land Use Plan for 2009 to 2013.

22Given this, a boundary between the city and nature was gradually erected in the context of a two-pronged strategy: the protection of natural areas on the one hand, and a desire to urbanize on the other hand – without really considering the specificity of the zone at the interface of this double influence. It was only with the Landscape Plan (“Plan paysage”) co-initiated by the Urbanism Agency for the Agglomeration of Marseille and the Calanques National Park in 2015 that this issue truly came to the forefront: “The limits of the park have padlocked urban expansion but encourage densification in the peripheral area” (working document submitted for consultation before validation by the board of directors of the Calanques National Park, April 2016, p.99). Based on a participative dynamic connected to a strong in-field presence, this approach resulted in the view that outlying areas need to be at the “centre of the project” (ibid. 29). The document is in the process of being approved; it remains to be seen how it will be translated into regulation and its influence on the private real estate market.

23The Calanques National Park is also affected by choices made by the city of Marseille regarding its demographic and economic development and their effects on the territory. The Aix-Marseille Provence metropolis was officially launched in January 2016 and changed the role of the second largest city in France. The metropolis aims to be the gateway to a territory that will urbanize on its outskirts while concentrating the assets of a vibrant and touristic city on its seafront. The construction of emblematic buildings such as the CMA-CGM tower (maritime transportation company) and the MUCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations), and planning and economic development operations (Euromed 1 and 2) have worked to rehabilitate the seafront. This has been done with the aim of attracting new, wealthier populations and tourists. In this context, the Park tends to be presented by local elected officials as an additional facet of the “new” Marseille, a potential attraction for executives passing through the city or tourists whose cruise ships are docked in the port. This perspective reinforces the boundary between the city and the Park, which remains immobile in its role as a straight man for a city still struggling to change its image. The explicit position adopted by local elected officials is part of a two-sided paradox. The first such paradox involves the leveraging of a naturalist initiative and its use as a tool for economic promotion. Such market-based logic rests on the hypothesis that the creation of the National Park will have a pull effect that attracts new users from elsewhere – which in turn raises the question of the place of local users in this showcase for the city. The second paradox, then, is that local elected officials are now torn between the desire to improve the touristic appeal of the city and their obligations as local notables. Beyond the traditional tension between locals and foreigners – which is a nearly unanimous cause uniting all users from Marseille against “outsiders”, of which Parisians are the archetype – (Claeys 2014), there are nevertheless major differences between local users. Some local uses can indeed be more easily showcased in a “sustainable display”.

24Research into the creation process behind the Calanques National Park offers insight into the differentiated construction of legitimate uses. Assisted by their social capital as well as the way the consultation process was organized, cabin dwellers, hikers and climbers earned full legitimacy within the National Park for the “good use” of the Calanques they embody. Their use has been deemed “traditional” and “eco-compatible” (Ginelli et al., 2014).

25Characteristic of the middle and upper classes, such uses have not been greatly affected by the implementation of the Calanques National Park and do not require a great deal of environmental effort. Other users did not receive the same recognition when the National Park was created, however. Out of fear that the Calanques would be invaded by the urban masses, but also because of their limited social visibility and political influence, ordinary users of nearby nature were first left out and then delegitimized by the creation of the National Park. Future park managers and cabin dwellers met, for example, to limit access to the beach in the Sormiou Calanque: the former wanted to avoid overcrowding within the core perimeter of the park whereas the latter wanted to protect their tranquillity. The debates over this filtering excluded a portion of local inhabitants directly affected by the measure, however: the “bands” of multi-ethnic youth from the nearby La Cayolle public housing estates (Deldrève and Hérat 2012).

  • 3 This is also the case for professional fishers.

26Between these two extremes, certain other uses have intermediary status. Such is the case, for example, of recreational fishing and underwater fishing. There are two main profiles, here: the former tend to belong to the working class and do not have boats. They fish or dive from the shore and are not particularly organized. The latter belong to the middle class and have boats (that they either own or have access to). They fish or dive around the archipelagos and further off-shore. They are organized in clubs and associations. While the club and association networks made sure that these activities received some visibility during the creation of the National Park, they are nevertheless activities associated with disrupting nature, and, as such, they have struggled to be “eco-labelled”. Leisure and underwater fishers are subject to greater regulation and reduced zones in which to fish, thus clearly demanding greater environmental effort on their behalf. They have notably “lost” certain prime fishing zones, especially around archipelagos.3 One fisher in Morgiou who participated in the consultation meetings was upset by the ban on fishing in some of his favourite spots: I fish when I can because since the Park was signed, it’s a pain in the a… […] We did inventories, we explained, we were honest when we said where there were fish and where there weren’t any, where there were spawning grounds. And what did the Park do? They took all this information and they created reserves where we said there were fish. Obviously. And so we lost our fishing zones and underwater fishing zones. And we’re forced to go fish elsewhere.” In recent months, fishers have expressed increasing discontent, fuelled by the simultaneous advent of two emblematic and particularly controversial moves by the Park. Just as the Scientific Committee of the Park gave its approval to the Gardanne alumina factory for a six-year renewal regarding the dumping of its industrial wastewater, the “fishing” committee of the Park presented to the representatives of local fishing organizations a project that would restrict their practice even further, lowering fishing quotas and limiting access to fishing zones. After describing the pollution from the wastewater treatment plant for the city of Marseille that gets dumped into the core of the Park, one underwater fisher met in Pointe-Rouge continued, And then there’s the industrial red mud, too. And the Prefect just approved dumping for another six years. In a National Park! Enough is enough. That’s why we feel like they treat us like fools.” The fishers we met were even more reticent to accept the environmental effort required by the Calanques National Park given that they felt that their impact on the environment was insignificant compared to the waste from the treatment plant for the city of Marseille and the effluent from the alumina factory in Gardanne (figure 3).

Figure 3 – Non-fishing zones and pollutants dumped into the sea

Figure 3 – Non-fishing zones and pollutants dumped into the sea

Creation Calanques National Park, modified by A. Hérat – June 2016

27By demanding greater environmental effort from certain social actors over others, the creation of the Calanques National Park has bred a sense of injustice or at least of frustration in some users. When asked directly, at the end of the interview, one fisher in charge of a club answered as follows: - Interviewer: Do you feel a sense of injustice? - Oh yes, yes, yes! Absolutely. Absolutely! And I mean really, and I am certainly not the only one.” This underwater fisher was more nuanced when he said, “For me, injustice would be too serious. It is more a sense of frustration.”

28From this perspective, the (un)acceptance of environmental effort is closely tied to the sense of fairness or injustice it inspires. Such feelings tend to be bolstered in the context of a peri-urban national park given the spatial proximity between the city and the protected area. It is even more frustrating to have to change the way one uses a space when it is nearby and familiar. For some, this frustration is offset by their financial ability to escape to other less regulated zones in the Mediterranean or farther away, on vacation or for a weekend (e.g., Madagascar, Florida). For others, the restrictions are particularly frustrating since their economic status does not allow for any alternatives. This is more particularly the case of individuals from the working and middle classes who are both users and inhabitants of the Calanques National Park.

“Urban environmental effort”: a concept tested in the context of a peri-urban park

29The new regulations that came with the Calanques National Park, associated with the environmental effort required, have been compounded by an urban effort demanded of users who also live on the outskirts of the park. Our analysis has pointed up an “urban environmental effort” of which, so far, we have identified three main components: issues surrounding real estate, managing traffic between the city and natural areas, and the effects of practices on nature.

30Firstly, the potential urbanization of the outskirts needs to be considered. A preliminary study of the real estate market in certain southern districts of Marseille near the points of entry to the Calanques highlighted a similar and age-old trend of housing developments aimed primarily at individuals from the middle and upper classes located near zones of low-income housing. Real estate pressure has also been expressed through the purchase and renovation of working class homes. We met one young inhabitant of La Madrague who explained how he felt harassed by a real estate agent who wanted to “make him” sell his parents’ home.

31The latter zones are a legacy of the city’s urban history which saw polluting industrial activities flourish at the foot of the hills and along the coast after being pushed out of the city in the early 19th century. This movement was accompanied by housing for workers, in part self-built, of which the Legré-Mante factory and Madrague de Montredon district are emblematic. These outlying parts of the city were also attractive for the erection of cabins for recreational activities. When, in the 20th century, public authorities decided to distance certain publicly-owned facilities (like prisons and camps) from the city centre, urban outskirts were created like the La Cayolle district. In the last quarter of the 20th century, large-scale planning operations and a new economy based on the service-sector, shopping centres and tourism began to replace industry, and the city gradually expanded toward these outlying areas.

32With the new equation introduced by the creation of a National Park, how do these two districts at the interface of the city and nature showcase, albeit differently, the shift from being an urban fringe to becoming the gateway to a natural park? It was only after numerous reservations were expressed by the rapporteur of the public fact-finding commission exploring the creation of the National Park that one part of the La Cayolle district – the focus of an urban renewal project – was included in the park’s peripheral zone (figure 4). And yet this same report did not deem it necessary to include in the perimeter the site of the former Legré-Mante factory (which closed in 2009), despite the request from local inhabitants who are concerned about both traffic conditions in an area already over-congested in summer and over a property development project on the polluted brownfield. So, the municipal strategy aims to densify the amount of accommodation at the points of entry to the park (over 300 new dwellings for each of these sectors in the first drafts of the project) and this despite major problems in terms of access to these outlying areas.

Figure 4 – Excerpt from the La Soude/Les Hauts de Mazargue urban renewal project for the La Cayolle district (from 2013, a few modifications have since been proposed)

Figure 4 – Excerpt from the La Soude/Les Hauts de Mazargue urban renewal project for the La Cayolle district (from 2013, a few modifications have since been proposed)

Source: Marseille Rénovation Urbaine – 2013

33Another component of urban environmental effort is based on mastering traffic around the entry points to the Calanques Park, notably at weekends and during the holiday season. One recurrent argument from inhabitants who were opposed to the park before its creation was the increased traffic that would only aggravate a pre-existing problem. The presence of a National Park may as such ramp up the nuisance associated with transportation issues; this remains to be verified. According to the Marseille-Provence-Métropole territorial coherence plan, Madrague de Montredon is clearly identified as a major entry point to the Calanques National Park. A new traffic plan has been strongly criticized and was one of the main arguments behind a local protest movement made up of resident associations and environmental activists. To address the issue of road traffic congestion in this area, sea shuttles have recently been implemented during the summer season between the Pointe Rouge port and the Goudes Calanque. This move confirms the residential and touristic evolution of the southern coast, gradually erasing the traces of the area’s industrial and working class past. To protest against the obscuring of the area’s industrial history, a committee comprised of inhabitant groups and environmental and health associations has formed to advocate about the risks of pollution (as well as of depollution) around the Legré-Mante site in view of its urban development (figure 5).

Figure 5 – The village of Madrague de Montredon and the brownfields of the Legré-Mante factory from the core area of the Park

Figure 5 – The village of Madrague de Montredon and the brownfields of the Legré-Mante factory from the core area of the Park

Photo C. Paris – April 2015

34With regard to the La Cayolle district, its identification as a major point of entry (notably given its direct access to the Sormiou Calanque) has been less straightforward despite the largescale public urban renewal operation and the project to build a new throughway connected to the motorways. This point of entry is not included in the metropolitan territorial coherence plan: it is mentioned but was subject to conditions in the studies preceding the creation of the National Park and was rejected by a local elected official during a consultation workshop. All signs point to a temporary strategy on account of the social marginality of the sector and hinging its increased visibility on a social transformation of the population, an underlying goal of the urban renewal project in La Cayolle (Hérat 2012).

35The redevelopment plan for the district has targeted for demolition a few of the housing estates built in the 1980s to reduce the size of the slum that appeared in the aftermath of the transit camp. It also foresees a rearrangement of space according to the principle of “residentialization” based on a desire to break up and enclose open spaces. The plan aims for an overhaul of the popular uses built around the close relationships that inhabitants of the district’s public housing estates have with the hillside – and which are solidly rooted in their memories (Hérat 2016).

36Our observations illustrate the third aspect of urban environmental effort which rests on the close ties between outlying inhabitants and their surrounding natural environment. All our research shows that walking, foraging, hunting and fishing practices on the coast are central to living in these districts. According to one inhabitant, living conditions – being surrounded by the sea, hills and “countryside” – are also a broadly sought-after amenity by the local inhabitants of lower socio-economic status (essentially comprised of workers and unqualified employees). These inhabitants do not distinguish between the city and nature, their place of residence, the hills and the sea. This interconnection is largely underestimated by institutional actors who insist, on the contrary, on drawing a distinction between the city and natural environments. Urban environmental effort is a product of such institutionalized segmentation which, by regulating access to natural environments and their use, can jeopardize people’s living conditions.

37Regarding foraging, the park authorizes the picking of a few species in limited quantities (wild asparagus, thyme, rosemary and fennel) for “individual or family consumption” which means, concretely, limiting the amount picked to a “bouquet” that can be held between the index finger and thumb, which must touch. While such regulation does not sound particularly restrictive, accounts from inhabitants controlled by guards relate a profound discomfort about this surveillance. When it comes to fishing, as we saw above, the zones where fishing is prohibited have forced amateur fishers to move away from their usual spots. Conversely, other local inhabitants insist on the unclear nature of what is and is not allowed due to frequent changes to the regulations, thus justifying their maintenance of the status quo.

38At these interfaces between the city and nature, the urban dynamics associated with the new National Park regulations have given some inhabitants – notably those who have been there the longest – the sense that they have shifted from a state of abandonment, previously connected to their distance from the city centre and lack of infrastructure in the neighbourhood, to a state of dispossession tied to the restrictions on use and transformation of their living conditions.


39The historical porosity between the city of Marseille and “its” nature, hills and archipelagos has been challenged by the creation of the Calanques National Park. This compartmentalization process is both social and spatial. The creation of the National Park institutionalized one definition of the “good use of nature” which tends to legitimize types of uses more common among the middle and upper classes, and to delegitimize those of less prosperous contemporary urban inhabitants. This unequal regulatory recognition appears to have resulted in an unequal distribution of environmental effort, which weighs less on the former group and more heavily on the latter group. In the field, the criticism of users regarding the regulatory framework is mainly expressed in terms of a refusal to give up their types of use and a sense of injustice, or at last of frustration, with the latter exacerbating the former. The spatial proximity between the city and nature, as well as the familiarity of local users and inhabitants with the Calanques has further reinforced this sense of injustice.

40Another specificity tied to the peri-urban nature of the Calanques National Park is the management of its urban fringes. The gentrification and densification of the districts of Marseille near or built into the Calanques massif predate the creation of the National Park. It would as such be wrong to imply a direct correlation between these urban processes and the creation of the Park. To date, the park’s creation has not slowed down the densification of the urban fringes and may indeed, according to our preliminary findings, have actually increased it. But there has also and perhaps foremost been an increase in the gentrification process that has accompanied the fledgling park, with some of the last working class enclaves in the southern districts of Marseille now affected. From this perspective, the environmental effort required on the territory of the Calanques National Park goes hand in hand with an urban effort demanded of its neighbouring districts. This urban environmental effort is supported by local inhabitants of the urban fringes and affects their way of living. Placing these two notions side by side raises the question of the sites where environmental inequalities play out. It is perhaps as much – if not more so – in the urban zones at the edges of the park rather than inside the park itself that the compartmentalizing processes have affected popular practices that have always relied on the great crossover between urban and natural areas. Indeed, new property divisions that almost always involve residential enclosures have greatly curbed the possibilities for inhabitants to access natural areas.

41These analyses of a process underway need to be studied over the long term. If the current institutional trend moves towards socio-economic choices that disadvantage the poorer urban classes, then it will be necessary to take seriously the passive resistance of such groups – and, in Marseille, they know how to make an art form out of ordinary disobedience.

42Lastly, the urban environmental effort tied to the urban nature of the Calanques National Park probes the very foundation of nature protection. Indeed, the creation of protected natural areas was historically a response to urban ills that was based on a spatial duality opposing the artificial and nature, production and recreation, over-crowding and isolation, alienation and wellness. When a protected natural area becomes urban can it truly keep its historical status as the antithesis of the city? Should it not rather evolve towards a more integrated role that aims to assuage the ills of urbanity? Would labelling the Calanques National Park as “metropolitan” (rather than peri-urban) not push to the logical conclusion that the city and nature are interconnected and can mutually protect each other?

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1 These two forms of dependence and solidarity are not the same. “Communities of destiny” are born from a feeling of being “all in the same basket” with regard to the global nature of the environmental crisis. “Communities of hardship” are connected to the register of different experiences of environmental prejudice.

2 In France, it was the law on Solidarity and Urban Renewal of 13 July 2000 that provided a framework for this public strategy.

3 This is also the case for professional fishers.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1 – The Calanques National Park: localisation, landscape and users
Credits Creation Coloco (carte – octobre 2016) and A. Hérat (photos)
File image/jpeg, 2.0M
Title Figure 2 – The extensive urbanization of Marseille
Credits Source: Bdortho® 2010, ©IGNCreation J. Autran Project[s] – June 2016
File image/jpeg, 4.2M
Title Figure 3 – Non-fishing zones and pollutants dumped into the sea
Credits Creation Calanques National Park, modified by A. Hérat – June 2016
File image/jpeg, 912k
Title Figure 4 – Excerpt from the La Soude/Les Hauts de Mazargue urban renewal project for the La Cayolle district (from 2013, a few modifications have since been proposed)
Credits Source: Marseille Rénovation Urbaine – 2013
File image/jpeg, 2.9M
Title Figure 5 – The village of Madrague de Montredon and the brownfields of the Legré-Mante factory from the core area of the Park
Credits Photo C. Paris – April 2015
File image/jpeg, 4.0M
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Electronic reference

Cécilia Claeys, Arlette Hérat, Carole Barthélémy and Valérie Deldrève, « The Calanques National Park, between environmental effort and urban effort », Articulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 16 | 2017, Online since 30 November 2017, connection on 12 December 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/articulo.3252

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About the authors

Cécilia Claeys

Assistant Professor, Aix-Marseille University/IRD LPED, Saint Charles Campus, Box 10, 3 Place Victor Hugo,13331 Marseille Cedex 3, France. A sociologist of the environment and risk, she conducts her research on the Mediterranean coast and in the Caribbean. Her work addresses both the implementation of nature-protection policies and the connections and tension between managing health and environmental risks. Email:

Arlette Hérat

Assistant Professor at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Marseille, 184 avenue de Luminy, Box 924, 13288 Marseille Cedex 9, France. An urbanist and associate researcher with Aix-Marseille University/IRD LPED, her work focuses on processes of territorial definition and social recomposition sparked by publicly initiated projects. Her latest research addresses territories at the interface of cities and nature. Email:

Carole Barthélémy

Assistant Professor, Aix-Marseille University/IRD LPED, Saint Charles Campus, Box 10, 3 Place Victor Hugo,13331 Marseille Cedex 3, France. A sociologist of the environment, her research focuses on the interactions between nature and society in the context of the greening of nature in the city, the sustainable management of natural resources and redefinitions of use in the context of pollution. Email:

Valérie Deldrève

Director of research in sociology, Irstea, 850, avenue de Verdun 33 610 Cestas, France. A sociologist of the environment, her research focuses on nature-protection policies, the processes that create or reinforce environmental inequalities and the related legal challenges. Email:

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