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Neighbourhoods and Employment between Spatial and Social Aspects. Cross Reflections on France, Italy and Québec

La question de l'emploi dans les espaces urbains. Un regard croisé en France, Italie et Québec
Marco Alberio


Au cours des dernières années, le concept de voisinage a été l’objet de débats importants et l’analyse empirique de divers quartiers a suscité de nombreux travaux. Cet article analyse ce concept d’un point de vue théorique, s’intéressant à la fois à la dimension physique (le quartier comme espace) et à la dimension relationnelle. Il est important de définir le concept pour réaliser des analyses pertinentes, mais ce concept n’a toutefois pas fait l’objet de tant de travaux théoriques (Lupton, 2003; Siorda et Saenz, 2013; Moore et al., 2016). Nous définissons donc le concept et déterminons ensuite dans quelle mesure les réalités et les caractéristiques des ‘quartiers ouvriers’ se distinguent en Italie, en France et au Québec. Cela nous conduit ensuite à une comparaison des interventions urbaines et sociales à l'échelle locale, comparaison entre deux pays européens et un contexte nord-américain, visant à déterminer comment elles se rapprochent ou se distinguent.

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1. Introduction: the ascendancy of the neighbourhood

1The concept of neighbourhood has been the subject of debate and the empirical analysis of various neighbourhoods has also attracted attention over recent years.

2This article aims to analyse this concept from a theoretical perspective, focusing on both the physical (neighbourhood as a space) and relational dimensions. In fact, a precise conceptualization is extremely important for any analysis. However, neighbourhoods have not often been conceptualized in detail in the research dealing with the city and its neighbourhoods (Lupton, 2003; Siorda and Saenz, 2013; Moore et al., 2016).

3We will thus analyse the concept of the neighbourhood and try to establish to what extent the realities and characteristics of the “working-class neighbourhood” differ in Italy, France and Quebec. This will lead to an analysis of urban and local social interventions in these countries in order to determine to what extent and for which aspects these contexts are similar or different. We will thus proceed with a cross reflection between two European countries and a North American context.

4The concept of neighbourhood has fostered a lot of interest, especially since levels and modes of local governance have turned to the neighbourhood as an important unit for explaining urban situations and as a more adequate level for local intervention.

5In many countries, in Europe as in North America, the neighbourhood has become an important social object for both academics and policy makers.

6This interest for the neighbourhood first appeared after World War II in the US at the same time as interest rose for social and urban phenomena such as segregation, involving in particular the Afro-American population. In the American debate, the concept of neighbourhood is very much associated and often confused with the one of Ghetto, the underclass and their socio-political construction. For all these reasons, in the US, the neighborhood was a topic of interest for both researchers and policy makers as of very early on. Sometimes, this has been done in interaction, within a framework of research/action/intervention, as is the case of the MTO – Moving To Opportunity program, experimented by the Department of Housing in five big American cities: Boston, Baltimore, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. This program is the extension of a previous one, the Gautreaux Program, tested during the seventies in Chicago (Rosenbaum, 1995). The MTO was designed to determine whether moving families from poor neighbourhoods in the inner city to richer and low-poverty areas could improve people`s opportunities, as was evidenced by the Gautreaux Program. Our objective here is not to go into the details of these experiments and of the neighbourhood effects studied, but to underline how the neighbourhood has progressively become an important research and policy object. At the same time, from a sociological perspective, we would also like to underline the American tradition in the study of urban and neighbourhood contexts, in particular the Chicago school, which played an influential role all around the world.

7As far as Europe is concerned, the United Kingdom, through the social policies of the “New Labour” government led by Tony Blair, brought new attention to the local context and neighbourhood in the last fifteen years. A number of Local Strategic Partnerships have been implemented in order to develop integrated local strategies for neighbourhood renewal, supported by a Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. More generally, in Great Britain, there has been an increase in Area Based Initiatives (ABIs), Action Zones for health, employment and education and area-targeted programs (Lupton, 2003; Dyson, 2012). Some important investments also came from the European Union through, for example, the Urban II program.

8For all these reasons, despite some new tendencies and different priorities set in the current political situation dominated by the debate on the “Brexit” strategy, the neighbourhood has experienced a sort of ascendancy in British social research in the last two decades. Much research has been carried out at the neighbourhood level and a good number of studies have also been published in recent years. The importance of the neighbourhood as a unit of analysis is also confirmed by the fact that the British Office for National Statistics established a Neighbourhood Statistics Service.

2. The neighbourhood in France, Italy and Quebec

9In France, interest for the neighbourhood began with a more social view, in the sense that it emerged with important social events, such as urban riots involving youth. One of the first episodes was registered in 1981 in Lyon, and this was repeated over time in 1987, 2005 and 2007.

10As we will observe in the following sections, following these events, the socialist government of François Mitterand started to focus on the city and the neighbourhood as units for social policies and interventions. The urban riots were quite immediately recognized as a social (and not only political) phenomenon connected with the social conditions of a part of the French population, especially young people of immigrant origin and living in the Banlieues, working-class neighbourhoods on the outskirts of French cities.

11Compared to France, the neighbourhood in Italy has traditionally represented less of an issue for politicians and decision makers. This is mainly because the configuration of phenomena such as poverty is different in Italy from that in France for instance. Poverty and social disadvantage in Italy seems to be less concentrated and therefore, the academic and political debate has less focused on the “Ghetto rhetoric”. Of course, this does not mean that structured spatial inequalities have never been an issue for Italian cities, since many working-class neighbourhoods of the big (post) industrial centres such as Milan and Turin have experienced spatial inequality. However, we can state that from a political and academic point of view the attention has been traditionally extended to the whole Italian territory, focusing on the big macro dualism between the North and the South of Italy.

  • 1 Italy, indeed, has traditionally been a country of migration, and only in the last two decades has (...)

12In addition, this recent attention to the neighbourhood may also be determined by the “new” phenomenon of immigration1, which has contributed to a transformation of Italian cities and of their neighbourhoods, or at least to the priority they should receive.

  • 2 “The period was also marked by intense social change. In the 1960’s, Quebec, indeed the world, was (...)

13As far as the third context of our observations is concerned, in Quebec, as in Europe, the focus of the neighbourhood seems to be something recent. Although neighbourhoods have always been quite dynamic contexts, with an important presence of associations and civic participation, in particular during the sixties and the so-called “Quite Revolution”2, in the eighties a kind of “neighbourhood issue” started to emerge. This was mainly due to a first decline of local industries and an increase of middle class migration from many inner-city neighbourhoods, for example in Montreal and Quebec (Morin and Deschenaux, 2016), towards more residential areas in the suburbs - a process which is quite the opposite compared to France and Italy. Therefore, some neighbourhoods of the inner city, such as Saint Roch in Quebec City, or others more on the outskirts of the city, such as Montréal-Nord and Saint-Michel, have attracted low income and immigrant households.

14In Quebec, during the seventies and eighties, there was also a more visible presence of the State and public actors (municipalities and “arrondissements”) having gradually replaced, or at least tried to replace, a more spontaneous grassroots solidarity of the community and associative networks. However, in the following years : “(…) l’État a délaissé en partie sa fonction d’architecte du développement économique (planifications, nationalisations, gestion de grandes entreprises publiques). Puis, il a accentué son rôle d’architecte de compromis sociaux. D’autre part, les mouvements sociaux et les communautés ont aussi beaucoup changé : il n’y a plus d’acteur principal autour duquel se soudaient – à des degrés divers – d’autres acteurs sociaux, c’est-à-dire un mouvement ouvrier qui, pendant plus d’un siècle, a constitué ce mouvement social autour de trois grandes organisations que sont le syndicalisme, le mouvement coopératif et les partis politiques de gauche” (Favreau, 2010).

15This cross reflection among the French, Italian and Quebec cases is in our opinion relevant in order to observe the social configuration of working class areas in the city despite social, political, economic and geographic differences, such as the presence of some working-class neighbourhoods in the inner city of Montreal or Quebec. Beside this, the choice of comparing these three contexts is also justified by the authors’ research experience in these three countries. Despite the fact that this article does not directly mobilize any empirical data, our observations are based on research conducted in working-class neighbourhoods in France, Italy and Quebec (Alberio 2012; Alberio 2014; Alberio and Tremblay 2013; Alberio and Tremblay 2014).

3. Neighbourhood: an initial definition

16In defining the neighbourhood, we are compelled to give two – interconnected – definitions. The first concerns its spatial dimension, as a physical entity consisting of buildings, boundaries and limits, while the second concerns the individuals and their relations. For a matter of clarity, we will treat these two dimensions separately, although they are interconnected.

17As far as the spatial definition is concerned, it is of central importance to define the neighbourhood and its borders, in order to choose a precise territorial unit. However, as Galster (2001) recognized, even when a space is clearly identified, a spatial ambiguity may persist. In fact, neighbourhood boundaries may also go beyond those officially defined.

18Moving from Suttles’ (1972) idea of multi-level space, Galster identifies a first level of the neighbourhood: the “block face”, the area closest to homes, where people generally feel safer. This level, also categorized as the “defended neighbourhood” defines itself in opposition to other external spaces. Inhabitants tend to defend such space individually or collectively from specific internal or external populations such as youth (sometimes identified as deviant), tourists, homeless people and so on.

19In some cases, conflict may arise over the allocation of specific areas to different populations. Furthermore, neighbourhoods are not static and their spatial boundaries can also change over time.

20The second level, the so-called “community of limited liability” has a limited and voluntary involvement of its residents, who invest time, resources and emotions in their neighbourhood. These areas usually have named boundaries, which are also recognized by the municipal government. The issue of boundaries can also be observed in the fact that often, municipal governance tends to define “official” neighbourhoods, which do not necessarily coincide with the “natural” neighbourhoods as assumed by residents.

  • 3 A decision partially reversed in 2006. (...)

21In 2002 for example, the province of Quebec merged all (formerly independent) towns on the Island of Montreal into a single municipality3. A similar process took place in various French and Italian cities (Paris and Milan) although at a different time; in particular between 1950 and 1960.

22The last geographical scale of the neighbourhood: the “expanded community of limited liability” is seen as a whole sector of the city (North, Southwest, etc.) as it is the case for Milan, Paris and Montreal, where several neighbourhoods go under a unique geographical category, becoming a sort of neighbourhood themselves : Montréal Nord , Sud-Ouest, Milano Ovest, etc.

  • 4 This is the case for an instance of the new Griffintown project in Montreal (http://districtgriffin (...)
  • 5 « C'est‑à-dire issus de grandes opérations immobilières – d'arasement, de reconstruction, et de rep (...)

23A fourth and last level is the “contrived community” (Galster, 2001), referring to an area artificially created by real estate and other investors4. This last typology is less spontaneous than the previous ones. However, it does not mean that a community can’t arise here, as it is for instance the case of the so-called “refounded neighbourhoods” or “quartier de refondation5” (Paugam et al. 2017; Cousin 2016).

24In much the same way, studies conducted by Birch (1979) shared some basis with Suttles’ model. In particular, this scholar showed how residents have a perception of four spatial levels of the neighbourhood, seen as clusters of neighbourhood attributes, which vary on the same scale across somehow congruent spaces (Galster, 2001).

25Considering the neighbourhood more broadly, we could use the definition proposed by Lancaster (1966), as a bundle of spatially based attributes associated with clusters of residences, sometimes in conjunction with other (social and economic) land uses (Galster, 2001, p. 2112).

26In this vision, the spatially based attributes composing the neighbourhood consist of different characteristics (Galster, 2001), such as: structural characteristics of the residential and non-residential buildings; socio-economic elements; infrastructural characteristics; demographic characteristics of the resident population; class status characteristics of the resident population; public service characteristics; environmental characteristics; proximity to services and facilities; political characteristics; social interaction characteristics; and sentimental characteristics.

27All these attributes are present in almost all neighbourhoods. What differentiates one neighbourhood from another is the quantity and quality of these elements.

28Beyond the spatial issues, as we have observed in Galster’s definition, neighbourhoods are also determined by the people living or acting there. Therefore, social relations play a fundamental role. This connection between the neighbourhood as a physical space and individuals is essential in neighbourhood studies, especially when dealing with concepts such as social disadvantage, exclusion and poverty. The link between physical and social spaces also matters when dealing with initiatives aimed at correcting social problems and boosting inclusion. This relational dimension has such relevance that some scholars also perceive the neighbourhood as a “Black Box” (Germain 2005): something in transition, whose nature, effects and role of policies are sometimes difficult to define. Following these authors, there isn’t a dimension of the neighbourhood which is completely independent from social relations.

29However, in our approach, keeping into account all these factors, we decided to consider the neighbourhood as the outcome of mixing space and local social practices (Cremaschi, 2007)

30As acknowledged by several scholars (Tosi, 2001; Cremaschi, 1994), it is through modern urban studies that we observe the emergence of the concept of neighbourhood and its increasing relevance in the urban and local political dimensions.

31The neighbourhood has been traditionally associated with the idea of community and the working class as a sort of static object. In the sociological, urban and political perspective, neighbourhoods have coincided with the working-class community (Cremaschi, 2007; Topalov, 2003). These industrial neighbourhoods were characterized by intense social relations, with precise boundaries identifying their limits - all elements that have been investigated in depth in the sociological tradition, and in particular by the Chicago school. The cohesion of these neighbourhoods, based on the community and social class awareness, has been historically very important. However, it has been too often taken for granted, without paying attention to the concrete processes.

32Ellen and Turner (1997) recognized that these representations have not always corresponded to social reality. They argued that neither the social class cohesion nor the local dimension has been able to guarantee social homogeneity and collective action. In fact, sometimes nationality or religion may prove stronger elements than identification with a social class and, at the same time, the local dimension seems to be weaker than other levels of action. Therefore, an important transformation concerns the nature of the neighbourhood and the overlapping of different social networks, compared to the traditional and more homogeneous structure of the community. The concept of network rather than the homogeneous community informs us better on the transformations involving the neighbourhood and the important role that negotiations and strategies may have in this process. It is therefore important to rethink the neighbourhood as the outcome of negotiation of locally defined social relations (Cremaschi, 2007). This is even more important if we perceive the neighbourhood as the micro and local unit at which the city structures and shapes itself.

33In terms of social relation, another important conceptualization of the neighbourhood is the one of commodity. Like other commodities, it can be used and consumed. This is why we can identify different neighbourhoods and city users (Martinotti, 1993). These users and consumers are households, businesses, property owners and local governments. First of all, households consume neighbourhoods. They reside there and live in its public and private spaces (homes). Together with other actors, households determine the housing and residential market. Businesses and firms occupy a place in the neighbourhood, and benefit in terms of revenue to be ‘exchanged’ for the provision of services/goods. The last two important actors worth being mentioned are property owners and local governments. Owners profit from the rents of buildings and properties, while local governments receive taxes, which should/could be, ideally, internally redistributed. In this perspective, the neighbourhood as a local space is the result of the interaction of various habitats which may also, in some cases, create conflicts. Conflicts may arise when different “actors” share the same area. Therefore, there might be conflicts between residents - young people versus adults, “new” versus “old” residents, immigrants versus nationals; between businesses and residents, due for instance to the use and allocation of specific areas; between businesses and local governments or between the local government and residents. This is the case when, for example, a local government decides to establish some infrastructures, which benefit the whole city but could have negative effects on the life and health of local inhabitants, as is the case for landfill sites, for example.

34To conclude this part, all relational aspects are decisive when studying neighbourhoods and the impact they have on people’s lives and opportunities. In fact, living in a neighbourhood does not only imply the residence itself but also a sense of belonging, which contributes to the construction of an individual and collective identity.

35The perception that outsiders and even residents themselves have of the neighbourhood is often related to the so-called feeling of insecurity, used (and abused) in the political debate, both in Europe and in North America. This symbolic dimension of the neighbourhood (in particular its stigmatization) can be a decisive factor of exclusion, but may on the contrary in certain areas also create inclusion, reinforcing the city’s general competitiveness.

36Mc All et al. (2001) show that in the case of Montreal the negative image that residents have may reinforce their feeling of disqualification. Moreover, the neighbourhood's negative reputation can also cause discrimination in access to employment (Atkinson and Kintrea, 2001; Forrest and Kearns, 2001) and education (Alberio 2012), as well as in relations with institutional authorities such as the police.

37These are all elements to take into account as they can influence people’s situation, in particular that of youth. The interconnection between belonging in and possessing the neighbourhood is therefore determined by all local elements such as services, structures, local initiatives and social relations.

4. The neighbourhood and urban changes

  • 6 A concept that could be translated into English as “Society out of order”.

38In the last few decades, urban and social research investigating the contemporary city has focused on the changes and transformations affecting cities and neighbourhoods, and in particular from the point of view of social relations and local societies. According to these theories, the traditional model of the city and neighbourhoods has experienced a forced reshaping, both in economic, political and social terms. As argued by Arnaldo Bagnasco (2003) who introduced the concept of “Società Fuori Squadra”6, there has been an important change concerning States, societies and in particular cities and urban areas.

  • 7 Translated by the authors.

39“More than a city, the local clusters typical of the industrial phase, the so-called industrial cities, in their purest form are similar to large factories. Their social structure is simplified by a schematic work organization, which mainly requires unskilled workers. The consequent social conflict tends here to be radical, without any form of mediations or negotiation. Referring to politics and culture, we could say that the big industrial city is exactly the opposite of the "polis". Things change with the end of the industrial society and the emergence of a "new economy" driven by the production of intangible goods. In a narrow sense, this "new economy" refers to the field of information technology and communication. In a broader sense, it also concerns the application of these technologies to the production of goods and services (…). The attempt to refocus the social organization made by the city, has therefore strong determinations. Favoured by the weakness and confusion of other higher political powers, cities found new incentives to structure themselves as social units in the new forms of the economy. Cities are once again fundamental actors, although they are much more exposed to a mutual competitiveness and to all the subsequent risks. Furthermore, the rescaling of the State’s functions brings other problems at the sub-level. At this point, strategies of territorial compensation become much more difficult to implement. The trend towards a deregulated "new economy" and the emergence of social inequality are evident everywhere, in different shapes and in different spatial problems: the underdevelopment of the big cities has not apparently been completely improved by globalization and their persistent inability to achieve an effective rescaling represent, exasperatedly, the other side of the return of the city.” (Bagnasco 2003 p. 16)7

40Although these phenomena take place in almost every context, they seem to be more visible in big international, cosmopolitan cities, which have also been defined as global cities (Sassen, 1991). According to this approach, the city loses its main historical function and ceases to play a decisive role in social integration. As suggested by some leading authors (Castells, Sassen and Soja), post-industrial cities and neighbourhoods can lose their ability to construct citizenship and more generally undergo a redefinition of their social identity and roles.

41Although this approach has sometimes been criticized for overemphasising the urban crisis rhetoric, we believe its observations are generally valid. Among other authors, Beauregard (2003) is very critical towards a part of urban studies and sociology of the city. He recognizes for example how these authors rightly denounce the dangers of income disparities, the mistreatment of immigrants, the increasing criminality and also the increasing ideology of security that pushes towards the multiplication of gated communities, fortress commercial architecture, privatized security systems in public spaces, etc. At the same time, Beauregard presents strong critiques to these authors, accusing them of over emphasising the situation and neglecting the objectivity which is expected of social scientists:

42"Contemporary urban theorists are less likely than their pre-1970s counterparts to shield readers from moral disapproval of injustice, exploitation, and marginalization. Such a critical stance, however, is not the same as being self-critical, that is, critical concerning the form and rhetorical construction of one’s arguments. Traditionally, self-criticism in the social sciences has rested on the prohibition against losing objectivity, that is, against abandoning some semblance of critical distance. Involvement and detachment are central tenets" (Beauregard, 2003, p. 193).

43In this perspective, the city and its neighbourhoods seem to remain midway between two paradigms, which may be true and false and the same time. The first is a representation of the city as a response to a growing interest, an approach that may also have transformed the city into a “fashionable object”, used in specific ways by urban planners, businesses and policy makers, but also by theorists. For all these reasons, this approach has often been accused of adopting a neo-liberal perspective.

44By contrast, the opposite vision of the city and neighbourhoods represents them, in particular with regard to the most peripheral areas, as places of poverty, relegation and segregation, characterized by a serious lack of social cohesion and social relations.

45Moving from our research experience in Milan, Paris and Montreal, as well as from a wide literature review, we reject this extreme conceptualization, although we recognize the presence of important phenomena such as poverty and exclusion. In fact, the majority of neighbourhoods including those mostly populated by a low-income working class and disadvantaged population cannot be confined to such representations. Despite the many social problems affecting a large part of the population, namely young people (whom we made the focus of our observations in our research) we cannot neglect the existence of intense social relations, which may in many cases also have positive effects.

  • 8 This has to be simply considered as the product of isolation and not as a culture of isolation itse (...)

46This is why we should pay attention to some major obstacles when dealing with the city and neighbourhoods. The main one is the risk of considering “neighbourhood effects” only from a negative point of view. Of course, we can point to the existence of precise mechanisms reinforcing and reproducing social inequality, poverty and disadvantage due to a spatial concentration of social difficulties (Wilson, 1987; Alberio, 2014). Indeed, the fact that they are “trapped” in their neighbourhoods might drive inhabitants, in particular young people, towards attitudes and behaviours of self-segregation, making them part of a so-called ghetto culture8 (Alberio, 2014). At the same time, although this vision is to a certain extent true, we cannot limit our conception of the neighbourhood to these negative aspects. Otherwise, we would fail to take into account the wider social reality represented by these neighbourhoods, which are also made up of positive social relations, social capital, solidarity and local social initiatives.

47In many cases indeed, the neighbourhood and its social relations can be a resource, supporting the inhabitants financially or psychologically. This is emblematic in the case of young immigrant origin people (in all the three contexts), for whom the neighbourhood represents a decisive reference in the construction of identity and citizenship.

  • 9 Translated by the authors.

48As argued by Avenel: “This form of sociability, similar to the one observed in the poorest social housing projects, is characterized by ambivalence: in a situation of economic and spatial segregation it is positively experienced as a coping strategy. At the same time, it also takes the form of a conflict. In fact, the neighbourhood network (characterized by significant exchange and support) might create a feeling of dependency, causing also other forms of disagreement”9 (Avenel, 2006 p. 45).

  • 10 Translated by the authors.

49To conclude, even if we recognize the existence of important processes of transformation affecting urban areas, in particular through deindustrialization, we should not assume that they are so rapid as to change completely, within a few decades, all the social forms consolidated over the years in the industrial city. In fact, as it is true for the general process of post industrialization, we cannot assume that these transformations have an immediate and total effect. “(...) It is important to recognize that these processes are quite slow and although some consolidated social forms might change, this does not happen too quickly or easily.”10 (Cremaschi 2007, p.9)

5. Banlieues, Periferie and Quartiers populaires des centres villes

50The following section does not aim at defining all the differences and similarities existing between the French Banlieues, the Italian Periferie and the Quartiers populaires des centres-villes in Quebec. However, we want to highlight similarities and differences on a few points, which we believe are essential to our analysis. As far as the reasons for these differences, we can only address them superficially because of the descriptive nature and objective of this article. Although we acknowledge this choice, we also recognize that it is a potential limitation of our contribution and we commit to overcome this limit in the near future, with another paper analysing in depth the history and origins of these differences.

5.1 A multiplicity of objects and meanings

51First, we begin with the assumption that it is incorrect to consider these terms as single social objects, because of their nature, which is complex and multiple.

52In the case of France and Italy, these terms identify suburbs and peripheral urban areas, with a population which is generally composed of the working class and, very often, also immigrants; something which is historically true for France, but has started to be an issue for Italy as well.

53On the contrary, as far as Quebec is concerned, and more generally North America, these types of neighbourhoods with a specific social composition, associated with phenomena such as poverty and social exclusion, are more centrally located, compared to the majority of European cities.

54In this respect, it is interesting to notice that the same word of Banlieue has a different meaning in France and Quebec. In Europe, it identifies highly decentralized neighbourhoods, often disconnected from the city centre, with a lower quality of public services and transportation and a higher concentration of “vulnerable profile households”.

55On the contrary, in Quebec, the term Banlieue refers to residential areas, which are relatively far from the city centre, but well equipped in terms of services and public transportation, as is the American suburb. “The suburbs of the 1950s and 1960s were notorious for their functional, residential and demographic homogeneity. Since that time, suburbs have become more complex with the decentralization of workplaces, retail facilities and higher education, as well as with the densification of the built environment and graying of the population. (Morin, Fortin and Després, 2000, p. 1)

56It is important to note the existence of considerable differences concerning, for example, the history, the structure and the social and economic characteristics: all these elements exert a particular influence on the way neighbourhoods are structured.

57Concerning the configuration and structure of its neighbourhoods, Italy seems to differ particularly from France, but also from Quebec. Phenomena such as poverty and social disadvantage are generally more diffuse and less concentrated in specific areas and among very precise social groups. However, this does not mean that Italian suburbs do not exhibit any signs of social homogeneity, segregation and concentration of disadvantage. We do not argue that Italian neighbourhoods are better, have better quality housing projects or provide better services for their inhabitants. Sometimes it is exactly the opposite. However, rather than being completely segregated areas, Italian neighbourhoods seem to show signs of micro segregation (Zajczick, 2003). Nevertheless, despite being generally less segregated than, for example, French neighbourhoods, their configuration is far from being easy to manage and also leads to important social problems.

58As for Quebec, our observations in Montreal lead us to think that the situation might be in between that of France and Italy. Despite some areas of great poverty, which are very homogeneous from an ethnic point of view, such as the case of Montréal-Nord, Montreal neighbourhoods seem to be generally less segregated and less homogeneous than the French Banlieues. In addition, but this seems to be true in all three contexts, these areas are experiencing an ongoing process of transformation, both from an urban and socio-economic perspective, with a consequent process of gentrification occurring at different levels.

5.2 Segregation or integration?

  • 11 There are 4 million public housing apartments in France, 1 million in Italy and less than 90.000 in (...)

59Compared to France, Quebec and Italy have less Public Housing Projects11, which might also be, in a way, a determinant for the concentration of vulnerable households, due to the lack of low cost accommodations. In fact, as some scholars have noted, a great percentage of Public Housing Projects in an area may paradoxically turn out to be a negative element. There might be indeed a risk of concentration of poverty. However, saying this, we should avoid any ideological "neo liberal rhetoric" perceiving any type of public intervention, especially inside the market economy and the real estate market, as an element pushing inevitably towards segregation. Scholars have shown how some (negative) attributes of the French Banlieues (Rivière and Tissot, 2012) are a construction of the media and political discourse.

60In Quebec, and in particular in the neighbourhood of Montréal-Nord, some events, in a way comparable to the French urban riots, took place in 1993 and 2008-2009.

61There is no space in this article to analyse in detail all the differences and similarities of these events. However, we may quickly argue how in both contexts, these facts have a strong social meaning and are connected to the right to citizenship and equality. In France the emphasis was on the republican values of equality and there has traditionally been a quite silent but strong pact between the State and its citizens to assure everybody the so-called "intégration républicaine". However, mainly due to the transformations of the current socio-economic cycle and to the end of the "Golden Age of the Welfare State" all this has been more difficult to guarantee; especially in the case of immigrant origin (young) people, whose profile was less and less homogeneous and therefore difficult to tackle.

62In Quebec, on the other hand, there is a quite different attitude towards the role of the State and involvement of local communities, including the immigrant ones. Sometimes, as will be observed in the following sections, local communities have traditionally been able to develop and exert their role in integration at a local level.

63Another important difference among neighbourhoods in France, Quebec and Italy concerns immigration. The immigration process in Italian cities is much more recent than in France and Quebec, where immigration has already been an issue for many years. France and Quebec had already experienced immigration, in particular from Southern Europe: Italy, Portugal and Greece (mainly in Quebec). This phenomenon was different from recent immigration, which mainly concerns people and families coming from so-called developing countries and implies therefore even stronger cultural differences.

64As far as Italy is concerned, before the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties, immigration was mainly an internal process from Southern to Northern Italy. However, this process has not been easy or without any consequences. Its signs have remained in the Italian society and may still be discernable today both at the local and national levels. First, we should consider that the so-called "Questione Meridionale", the strong inequality between Northern and Southern Italy, is still unresolved.

65Indeed, the consequences of this internal immigration are still visible in many cities of Northern Italy such as Turin and Milan, where a high presence of poor households of Southern Italian origin is still visible (Alberio, 2011, 2014). For all these reasons, it seems to be a phenomenon and process that is far from being finished. It is still active and working today. This internal migration and international immigration meet, at the spatial level, in a very specific and sometimes conflictual way.

66As for France and Quebec, despite their historical experience with international immigration, there is however a significant difference in the attitude towards it and towards local communities more generally.

  • 12 Translated by the authors.

67“(...)Beyond the major national political conflicts, France shows a weakness in democratic life. The latter aspect differs a lot from North America (United States, Canada and Quebec) and the United Kingdom, where strategies of neighbourhood transformation integrate the immigrant issue and more in general the socio-economic revitalization of these places. In North America the notion of "citizenship" is indeed historically mixed with the organization of local communities (based on a specific territory). This attachment to the area and neighbourhood community often seems to be more important than the one associated to work (the firm).” (Favreau, 1993, p. 235)12

68In Italy, the debate on neighbourhoods and their local communities is mostly connected to immigration and it is therefore quite recent, despite a traditionally strong local presence of associations and cooperatives. These associations, as for instance the Case del Popolo or Circoli Proletari, were connected to political (left) parties and were locally very strong, mainly due to their role in the construction sector, facilitating access to property ownership for many working-class households. As in France, Italian urban issues have been for a long time considered, especially by Marxist sociology and politics, of secondary importance compared to the working issue and the relationship between workers and capital (factories).

5.3 The neighbourhood between past, present and future

69As pointed out in the beginning, compared to the past, today all the three forms considered - Periferie, Banlieues and Quartiers populaires - are more complex objects, difficult to identify due to their heterogeneous characteristics and the changes they experienced. Nowadays, peripheral areas are containers, so to speak, of much more complex phenomena and populations, and the social relations taking place there are more complex and less structured than those of the industrial city.

  • 13 Please, see Olvier Masclet (2005): La gauche et les cités.

70For instance, the difficulties faced by left wing parties13 in these neighbourhoods, both in Italy and France and by the Parti Québécois in Quebec are some of the outcomes of a big transformation affecting the concept and nature of the working class - all issues extensively reported in the sociological and political science literature - and a social reconfiguration of these neighbourhoods.

71Alongside the transformation of the social character of peripheral neighbourhoods, it is important to look at what these neighbourhoods used to represent and what they represent today. They were places of empowerment and life improvement for many people coming from the countryside (Cremaschi, 2007). As underlined by Donzelot (2007), most of these observations could be extended to the French case. Both Periferie and Banlieues were conceived as a tool of modernization and emancipation for the working class. However, in their conception, there was no real bottom up process. Urban planners and politicians designed them as the answer to the increasing process of urbanization. In the everyday life of inhabitants, compared to the countryside, these agglomerations represented a sort of advancement in terms of comfort and services. Something different from today’s perception of these places.

72Therefore, both Italy and France saw a decisive mobilization of the State as the main actor of these processes, which despite the many changes in action, seems to be today still stronger and more resistant in France. As underlined by Paquot (2007) at the basis of the French term aménagement, used for describing the governance and regulation of the city and neighbourhoods, there is an idea of strong control and order exerted by the public actor: mainly the State but also municipalities, through some policy sets such as the Politiques de la Ville. In opposition to this "hard" and "normative" approach, Paquot suggests the "lighter" concept of ménage which refers more to the idea of house and family care and which seems to be more in line with a city competitiveness perspective, where different actors (including the real estate market) should also have a significant role.

73In this approach, the public actor could and should better renegotiate his role. In fact, as underlined by Jacques Donzelot, in the past two decades we can observe in France an attempt to move from "consultation" to "implication", something which should not be taken for granted. Continuing from this thesis, this shift may be controversial and needs democratic legitimation in order to develop self-determination of individuals and community entities. This shift has become reality in recent years, but it may bring negative consequences due to communities’ having too many responsibilities. In particular for the most vulnerable ones.

74In the case of Quebec, as we will argue in a further section, the role of the State and public actor has been traditionally different and presents a tendency, which is quite opposite to the one observed in France.

75During the 1940s, 50s and 60s the Quartiers Populaires des centres-villes were neighbourhoods characterized by a presence of strong social working class communities, in connection with factories, very much present in these areas, in particular in Montreal.

76There was a community organization built around a certain working class culture kept together by a strong social class identity. Associations, trade unions and the Catholic Church were the main actors developing initiatives and actions to meet the needs and problems of the population living in these neighbourhoods. However, due to the industrial decline and the subsequent changes affecting the working class, there has also been a change in the relationship between the neighbourhood, its inhabitants and the factory.

  • 14 Translated by the authors.

77“In the after war, these communities solved their problems (with the help of the municipality). Over time, this auto-organization and the support of the Church was replaced by the Welfare State, with its centralized institutions and professional services (except for the CLSCs). Today, with the decline of the traditional organization of these communities […], this is where the imperative of new social and economic revitalization strategies stems from, among which that of Community Economic Development.” (Doucet 2006 p. 3)14

6. Urban and Local Policies in Italy, France and Quebec

78In this section, we analyse the urban and local policies in Italy, France and Quebec.

6.1 Italy

79Unlike Quebec and, in particular, France, Italy shows a somehow restricted field of socio-urban policies. First, this is due to the fact that, as already underlined, the problems of segregation and poverty concentration seem to be less an issue on the Italian political agenda, in part because of the difference in the concrete spatial configuration of the city.

80Despite some important interventions in the area of Public Social Housing (Edilizia Popolare) developed in particular during the sixties, in Italy there has been traditionally a lack of urban policies: a series of organic initiatives, such as integrated intervention plans, urban requalification programs, institutionalized presence of neighbourhood contracts, etc. Some of these tools have been introduced in the last ten, fifteen years, based mainly on the French and British examples, but not homogeneously over the entire national territory (Mubi Brighenti, 2010). A problem for Italy is indeed the high presence of institutional fragmentation and a less developed framework for local social policies (Saraceno 1994; Mingione 1997; Bifulco 2008; Alberio 2011). This institutional fragmentation and the redistribution of responsibilities among different political administrative levels (State, regions and municipalities), as well as a Welfare State traditionally characterized by weak and often discretional money transfers impeding the development of services to support family responsibilities, may explain the lack of a unique and coherent policy setting.

  • 15 “Riforma del titolo V della Costituzione” approved in 2001 which increases the power of regions, de (...)

81The reform15 implemented in the last two decades has also created a mix of the levels of political intervention, introducing a subsidiary model through which non-profit organizations, cooperatives and associations may compete in the provision of local services, including in the area of social policies.

82All these elements contribute thus to the reinforcement of the already mentioned policy fragmentation and weak presence of the State (Bifulco, 2008).

83In this scenario, an example of local and territorial policies is provided by the so-called Contratti di quartiere. These initiatives introduced in 1998, aimed at the requalification of housing projects neighbourhoods. In part, these initiatives are based on the condition of social disadvantage, which is one of the criteria to be followed for implementation, although they are not specifically aimed at tackling specific social problems, aiming, rather, to enhance social participation.

84On the other hand, they seem to respond to a logic of activation and competition among different neighbourhoods aspiring to receive these allocations in order to be included in larger requalification projects (Bricocoli, 2005; 2007; Bifulco, 2008).

85Unlike the French Contrats Urbains de Cohésion Sociale, in Italy these tools are based more on public-private partnerships and seem to be less regulated by the State and local political institutions. This is mainly due to a change in the program, made in at least two phases. The current phase concerns more the regional level, sharing together with the central government, more financial powers. In addition, regions can define all the criteria for admission and policy evaluation (Bifulco, 2008). The transfer of powers from municipalities to the regional level also increased the area of intervention, which isn’t limited anymore to social housing neighbourhoods but "difficult" neighbourhoods more in general. Focusing also more on the socio-economic objectives and empowering the role of citizens in the definition of these neighbourhood contracts (Bifulco, 2008). Despite some concrete effects, the implementation process has been extremely long and is only now coming to an end, although the Ministry of infrastructures has tried relaunching them in 2014. The implementation process has been very slow and has required the intervention of the Corte dei Conti, an administrative tribunal in charge of the public administration’s acts, in order to push for an implementation of these neighbourhoods’ contracts combining infrastructural and social interventions.

6.2 France

86As already mentioned, one of the main differences between France and Italy concerns the role of the State, which is also clear when tackling the issues of urban and local policies. Regarding local social policies in France, the starting point for local and territorial interventions has been the Habitat et vie Sociale program of 1977 – one of the first initiatives aiming an intervention in and the requalification of peripheral neighbourhoods, from both the social and spatial points of view. However, the real beginning of the so-called Politique de la ville took place in 1981 with the creation of the Commission Nationale pour le Développement Social des quartiers: a political response to the urban riots occurring in Lyon the same year.

87As underlined by Dubet (1995), this initiative has succeeded in placing at the same level social and urban issues, which had traditionally been tackled separately.

88One of the main objectives of the Politique de la Ville was also to integrate several institutional actors for the implementation of actions in the fields of urban and social requalification, economic and employment development, education (with the implementation of ZEP – Zones Education Prioritaires) and security.

89For this purpose, the actions are coordinated by a very high number of ministries, at least attempting a coordination among different institutional levels, at both the national and local levels:

  • 16 Translated by the authors.

90“The modes of intervention taken in this direction register a great use of inter-institutional relations based on the contractual level (in particular Contrats de Ville) and stopped limiting their intervention to disadvantaged areas, in favour of the whole city and the wider area of agglomeration.”16 (Bifulco, 2008 p.72)

91Despite the fact that this set of policies has succeeded in bringing together the urban and social dimension, we can still register a sort of imbalance starting from the so-called Loi Borloo, emphasizing the role of urban reconstruction and requalification of the city, while neglecting or at least underestimating the issues of social integration and participation (Donzelot 2006). Something which also applies to the cases of Italy and Quebec (Klein and Tremblay, 2010b; Tavano Blessi et al., 2012).

92In general, even if these policies seem to be more consistent and better structured than in Italy, some incongruences still appear as limits to the implementation of socio-urban local policies in France.

93As argued by some French scholars (De Maillard 2004, 2007), the budget for these policies is not always sufficient to address the challenges and social problems in the cities and neighbourhoods. Even if the Politique de la ville has received a lot of attention in the media and in political debate, it still appears as a second level policy, in particular as far as the national budget is concerned.

94Then, as underlined by Patrick Le Galès (1995), the role of several public actors, as well as the one of the private sector remain unclear and can cause some contradictions.

  • 17 Translated by the authors.

95“By using this term (Politique de la ville), we insist on phenomena of transfer, imitation, arrangements with public policy, public incapacity, privatization of public action and the importance of mechanisms of coordination and control.”17 (Le Galès 1995, p. 60)

96This is why the Politique de la Ville, with all its subsequent transformations, presents at the same time some positive and negative aspects. It is simultaneously global, fragmented and bureaucratic. Global, because it is based on a global diagnosis of the neighbourhood and local context. However, we observe a fragmentation in public service provision and social, cultural and economic interventions

97To conclude with the case of France, even if it is an innovative policy, able to activate important partnerships and knowledge sharing, the Politique de la Ville is also extremely bureaucratic. Every activation of specific policies at the neighbourhood level also implies heavy administrative procedures. All this requires a lot of bureaucratic documentation, from the local to the central institution and back – a transmission process which can also prove to be very long depending on the policy concerned, and generally has negative consequences on the activation and involvement of local institutions and neighbourhoods and, of course, on the citizens’ participation.

6.3 Quebec

98As far as Quebec is concerned, as of the 1980s, the State’s intervention in the area of local socio-economic development has been deeply changing (Fontan, 2003; Favreau, 2010; Klein and Champagne, 2010, Fortin and Chiasson, 2015; Alberio, 2015).

99Over the last twenty years, in particular on issues of employment and collective services, we observe important changes, such as a slow process of decentralization of public services (Côté, 1999, cited in Fontan, 2003) and a new set of reforms and local initiatives, in particular, in partnership with the social economy and associative sector.

100In Quebec, there is a traditional mix of economic and social interventions. We have often observed forms of hybridization between economic and social activities, although this has required a lot of effort to determine the "right" balance between both (Alberio and Tremblay, 2014).

101In 1996, the provincial government introduced important measures of decentralization for local socio-economic interventions: a reform aiming at bringing together different actors and tools, such as providers and users of social and economic services, local development and other interventions.

102Over the years, reforms have integrated all the urban local development organizations, financed by the provincial, federal and municipal governments, into one network. This is the case of the Sociétés d’aide au développement des collectivités (SADC) and the Centres locaux de développement (CLD). In this same framework, the Centres locaux de l’emploi (CLE) have also been created to support the local needs of inhabitants and create a point of convergence between the local offer and demand of work.

103The strategy of Développement Économique Communautaire (DÉC) has thus gained momentum in the Quebec context, with the Community Economic Development Corporations (CEDCs). These organizations imposed a new way of doing economic development through a model strongly embedded in the community and very much preoccupied with social integration, as is the case for Social Working Enterprises (Alberio, Tremblay 2014). Many CEDCs in Montreal had also received from the provincial government the mandate of CLD - Centre local de développement, something that has legitimated their action, giving them new tools to intervene in local social and economic development and favour the integration of people from the various neighbourhoods. (Tremblay, Klein and Fontan, 2009; Klein and Tremblay, 2010; Klein et al. 2010).

104Over the years, a series of new resources have been developed, but also a specific approach to local development and to the integration of populations. There has been an offer of "proximity services" (services de proximité) to facilitate and support the development of socio-economic projects and to reduce the difficulties that are faced by various groups when it comes to integrating the labour market (Fontan, 2003; Tremblay, Klein and Fontan, 2009, 2016).

105As far as the areas of intervention are concerned, over the last twenty years, we can observe at least three types of local socio-economic development initiatives (Favreau, 2005) which became part of the public service provision: community actions (action communautaire), local development and the social economy. Social and economic interventions were connected in this framework, including also the local initiatives fighting poverty and exclusion (Klein and Champagne, 2011).

106Next to the economic and general social characterization, these policies are, from a more micro perspective, very much focused on the social and democratic participation at a local level. It means that other decisive issues such as citizenship, participation and involvement of local communities are considered important in these initiatives. This participatory or inclusive dimension has clearly been something that differentiates the Quebec experience from other contexts in North America: Ontario and the United States (Fontan, Klein and Tremblay, 2005; Favreau, 2005) but also from France and Italy.

  • 18 The already mentioned Contratti di quartiere.

107In France, although some recent important changes have occurred, the State does not seem to be ready to step back, moving from "consultation" to "implication" (Donzelot, 1995). As far as Italy is concerned, despite some significant but non-homogeneous initiatives at the territorial level18, some problems such as the weaker role of the State and some strong regional differences (mainly between Northern and Southern Italy) do not allow the public actor to play a similar role as that of consultation traditionally observed in Quebec. In Quebec, we find a combination of local bottom-up initiatives and public policies supporting these initiatives that really set Quebec apart, and the institutionalization of these organizations and policies make it an important innovation in the field of local socio-economic development (Favreau, 2005; Tremblay, Klein and Fontan, 2016, 2009, Alberio and Tremblay, 2014).

108In Montreal, among other initiatives, socio-economic interventions took the form of Technopole Angus, an urban renewal project based on a declared mission of sustainable development. This urban project implemented by a corporation (Angus Corporation) put together in a former working class and industrial neighbourhood several players such as private firms, social economy actors and cooperatives, public institutions, private real estate developers, as well as Public Housing Projects and housing cooperatives.

109Despite the fact that they received public funding through agreements (for service provision) with the provincial government, local development in Quebec has been for many years formally in the hands of various associative structures, such as the already mentioned Community Economic Development Corporations (CEDCs) and the Local centre for Development (CLD) (Fontan, 2003; Tremblay, Klein and Fontan, 2009, 2016). After the budget compressions of the Liberal government in 2014 and 2015, some important changes occurred in territorial and local development in Quebec, in particular in the community sector’s capacity to intervene (Alberio, 2016).

110In Montreal, as in some other cities, these corporations (CEDC and CLD) have been transformed and are now directly controlled by the municipal government through Concertation Montreal and PME Montreal, which represent and offer services to the small and medium sized firms of the Montreal region. Despitethe fact that these new organizations are under the direct control of the city, this change represents in our opinion a clear shift towards a business orientated development. We therefore question the place of social development in these renewed tools, although we acknowledge the existence and importance of consultation at the local level.

7. Conclusion

111This paper has highlighted the various definitions and meanings of what can be called the neighbourhood and its potential effects on several issues such as the labour market, local economic development and social integration. We have observed how various concepts have been put forward to define the different meanings, and highlight some particular situations in specific countries. Indeed, concepts such as Banlieues, Quartiers sensibles, Periferie or Quartiers populaires take on specific meanings.

112France appears to be the country where this debate has fueled the most interest, possibly because of social events such as the urban riots, but also because of a strong state intervention in local policy, known as the "Politique de la ville".

113As far as the role and conceptualization of the neighbourhood as a social problem is concerned, it has very clearly appeared in France as of 1970. In Italy and Quebec, this seems to be less of an issue. In Italy, some phenomena have only recently appeared in relation to a first wave of immigration; while in Quebec the issue mainly concerns the integration of second and third generation immigrants. For instance, the urban riots of 2008, 2009 in Montréal-Nord has recently opened the debate by bringing to light this problem, although it has never reached the same levels and tones of urgency as in France.

114As stated above, despite the many similarities, and the interest to compare these three contexts at various levels, due to the similarity of the processes, our analysis also underlines how these differences should not be underestimated.

115This paper has also shown how interventions and local policies at the neighbourhood level may vary from one context to another. In a context where cities are in competition with one another from the point of view of business and population attractiveness, the policies put in place to revitalize the city neighbourhoods play an increasingly important role. This comparison has also shown the diversity of strategies in these countries.

  • 19 We should consider the great role played by the family and other informal actors at an informal lev (...)

116France appears to have a very structured and very top-down approach. Italy has a more diffuse and ambiguous19 mode of intervention, while Quebec appears to be an intermediary model. One of the main characteristics of the Quebec intervention model is its strong base in Community Economic Development, its public support for local initiatives, the social economy and community interventions aimed at facilitating or supporting labour market integration, but also local development aimed at local communities. However, it is extremely important to underline how this “Québec model” is also at stake and is experiencing a transition.

117In this article, our aim was not to present all the details of the intervention policies. Our objective was twofold: to offer a better understanding of the concept of neighbourhood, of its role and effects, and to give some elements of comparison for the types of policies contributing to the city’s well-being.

118In future research, it would be interesting to pursue our analysis and reflect on the policies developed in the UK and in the US, two countries presenting other forms of intervention, and where the concepts of neighbourhood and community may also take on different meanings.

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1 Italy, indeed, has traditionally been a country of migration, and only in the last two decades has it become more and more a destination for immigrants.

2 “The period was also marked by intense social change. In the 1960’s, Quebec, indeed the world, was agitated by powerful currents of change. Liberal and leftist forces everywhere questioned the social order that had been accepted for so long. The current of decolonisation and the movement for civil rights made social and national inequities increasingly difficult to accept. Objectives of democratisation of the political system or of the educational network, equal and adequate accessibility for classes and regions to educational and social services, economic well-being for all, and the establishment of a social safety net were voiced and pursued strongly here, as they were in many other places. The province that had so frequently opposed change before the 1960’s now welcomed it and spearheaded the movement in Canada.”. (

3 A decision partially reversed in 2006. Image 100002000000000100000001520944A3.png
P. F. Trent (2012), The Merger Delusion. How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal.

4 This is the case for an instance of the new Griffintown project in Montreal ( or Milano 2, realized during the eighties in Italy.

5 « C'est‑à-dire issus de grandes opérations immobilières – d'arasement, de reconstruction, et de repeuplement par des classes supérieures – effaçant totalement la mémoire ouvrière et industrielle des lieux antérieurs » (Cousin 2016, p. 81, note de bas de page numéro 8.)

6 A concept that could be translated into English as “Society out of order”.

7 Translated by the authors.

8 This has to be simply considered as the product of isolation and not as a culture of isolation itself. Otherwise we risk falling back into the attitude of “blaming the victim”.

9 Translated by the authors.

10 Translated by the authors.

11 There are 4 million public housing apartments in France, 1 million in Italy and less than 90.000 in Quebec. We should, first of all, recognize, in particular for Quebec, a difference in population size (only 8 million inhabitants), but also the presence of other programs involving housing and living conditions for poor households.

12 Translated by the authors.

13 Please, see Olvier Masclet (2005): La gauche et les cités.

14 Translated by the authors.

15 “Riforma del titolo V della Costituzione” approved in 2001 which increases the power of regions, determining possible regional and territorial disparities.

16 Translated by the authors.

17 Translated by the authors.

18 The already mentioned Contratti di quartiere.

19 We should consider the great role played by the family and other informal actors at an informal level. This is for example the case of parishes and other associations, whose local action is not always officially recognized by the State and other public actors such as municipalities.

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Marco Alberio, « Neighbourhoods and Employment between Spatial and Social Aspects. Cross Reflections on France, Italy and Québec »Revue Interventions économiques [En ligne], 60 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2018, consulté le 26 juin 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Marco Alberio

Chaire de recherche du Canada en innovation sociale et développement des territoires, Université du Québec à Rimouski

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