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Reinventing the attractiveness of borders in the French Alps: the challenge of access to lodging in a tourist context

Peer-reviewed article
Anne Barrioz
Traduction de Nelson Graburn
Cet article est une traduction de :
Réinventer l’attractivité de confins dans les Alpes françaises : le défi de l’accès au logement en contexte touristique [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Attraktivität der Gebiete am Rande der französischen Alpen neu erfinden: Zugang zu Wohnraum als Herausforderung im touristischen Kontext [de]

Résumé

This article seeks to understand how relatively isolated French Alpine valleys are influenced by economic (tourism, real estate market, etc.) and demographic (in settling inhabitants, gentrification, etc.) dynamics which can act in contradictory ways, both as development factors and as obstacles to the sustainability of the settlement of pleasure migrants. The objective of this article is to examine precisely the difficulties of access to housing and the different characteristics of the phenomenon of rural gentrification in the context of the high alpine valleys (profiles of new arrivals, co-presence of users). It is a question of understanding the complexity of the phenomenon through the analysis of the real estate market and of identifying the difficulties in terms of socio-spatial inequalities specific to these territories. This article proposes to analyze the impact of tourism activity according to the settlement of inhabitants and through the prism of the long-term attractiveness of the regions.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 The results of this article come from a PhD thesis in geography dealing with migratory dynamics in (...)

1This article focuses on the evolution of French high alpine valleys, influenced by the presence of tourists and second homes, with regard to the existence of a complex rural gentrification due to the co-presence of different users, to the saturation of the real estate market and the regulatory difficulties faced by these phenomena1. The concept of rural gentrification (Phillips, 1993, 2004; Richard et al., 2014) is an original entry in this problem to understand the reinvention of these mountain regions. In rural areas, this process concerns the arrival of new inhabitants whose social, economic, cultural and environmental capital differentiates them from the populations previously present. Motivated to settle in a living environment that they find pleasant more than by direct economic objectives (changes of job, populations pushed to the periphery, etc.), they participate in the demographic, social, political and spatial transformation of the places where they invest (ibid.). Thus, they are at the heart of the risks to the attractiveness of these regions just as much as they help to slow down certain dynamics because of their potential status as gentrifiers (obstacles to access to affordable housing for local young people; sometimes critical maintaining traditional uses - presence of cows with bells - noise of church bells, etc.). However, these new arrivals are not the only or even the main players in the gentrification of these valleys. Their presence, coupled with those of tourists (independent or arriving in large groups), secondary residents and previously settled populations reinforces the complexity of the phenomenon. The latter differs from classic gentrification, whether urban or rural (defined by the arrival of new inhabitants with strong economic and cultural capital, in a rural area where the economic activity primarily concerns crafts, agriculture, services, etc.). This distinction is made in particular by the influence of tourist activity (mainly in winter, revolving around the practice of winter sports and / or mountains in general) and by the existence of differentiated uses of space (second homes, interest in the mountain environment, etc.) This gentrification can be observed in certain valleys of the Italian, Swiss and French Alps.

2The valleys studied here concern the French Alps. They are in a marginal situation, that is to say they are located at the end of the road or on a single road (and not a crossroads). This kind of route requires a round trip out of the valley, at least for half the year. These frontier locations are more than fifteen minutes minimum from the nearest urban center, on average about thirty minutes, and sometimes more than an hour. While it may exist, the question of urban influence is not central here. It is therefore excluded from this consideration. Indeed, the high French valleys studied are away from major flows, even if most remain under the influence, for example, of tourism. The real estate market is influenced in large part by the ancillary hotel industry (holiday rental accommodation in particular). Strong demand by tourists and secondary residents is a central issue for most of the small towns in these areas where second homes and in demand tourist beds occupy a large part of the resort villages. The tourist activity on which these territories depend requires the presence of an active workforce that faces the challenge of finding accommodation, through rental or purchase. In the valleys studied, seasonal workers do not necessarily follow the profile of the large neighboring resorts but rather that of the Austrian Alps. There is often a local, regional or even national workforce that has few foreigners. The sustainability of life throughout the year is therefore called into question when the conditions that attracted the immigrants provide them with satisfaction and which still remain when they live there. Researching the phenomenon of rural gentrification in a context under the influence of secondary residents and tourists was born from an inductive approach base to large extent on fieldwork. This approach leads to a reconsideration of the influence of tourism in these territories and to questioning the ability of decision-makers to promote long-term attractiveness for the population. We hypothesize that the gentrification present in the high alpine valleys, characterized by certain kinds of tourist activity, is an impediment to the sustainability of new arrivals. It is therefore a question of understanding how small Alpine territories are influenced by economic (tourism, real estate market, etc.) and demographic (settlement of inhabitants, gentrification, etc.) dynamics which can act in a contradictory manner, both as development factors and as obstacles to the sustainability of the inhabitants. The objective is to examine the different characteristics of the phenomenon of rural gentrification in the context of the high alpine valleys (profiles of new arrivals, co-presence of users), to understand the complexity of the phenomenon through the analysis of the real estate market and to identify difficulties in regulating access to housing. How does access to housing in these high valleys attest to the existence of a particular form of rural gentrification? This article therefore examines new ways of considering tourist activity and the settlement of inhabitants through the prism of the long-term attractiveness of territories.

3The first part of this article presents a brief state of the art on issues of attractiveness with regard to the migration of inhabitants and access to housing in the Alps (I). The second and third parts are devoted to the research methodology, and particularly to the selection of the study sites (II) and the sample of actors encountered (III). This is followed by the presentation of the results (IV) and a discussion about the existence of socio-spatial inequalities and in particular the phenomenon of gentrification in the face of access to housing in mountainous and tourist contexts (V).

I. Attractiveness with regard to migration and access to housing in the Alps: the state of the art

4After a massive rural exodus and then a period 1968-1975 marked by a demographic upturn (Bros-Clergue, 2007; Pistre, 2012), the attractiveness of rural areas, both in France and abroad, has since been widely demonstrated in the early 2000s (Phillips, 1993, 2004; Cognard, 2010, 2011; Pistre, 2012; Richard et al. 2014). Alpine areas like the high French Alpine valleys were not spared by this phenomenon. This attractiveness has been manifested by numerous migrations in the Alps, documented by research concerning, in particular, Switzerland (Amrein, 2014; Petite, 2014; Camenisch and Debarbieux, 2011; Löffler et al. 2014a), France (Martin , 2013; Barrioz, 2019; Martin et al., 2012; Löffler et al., 2014b) and Italy (Löffler et al., 2016).

5The choices made by these migrants (Aubert, 2010; Thomas and Pattaroni, 2012; Petite and Debarbieux, 2013) refer directly to the notion of pleasure migration, studied in particular by Moss (1994, 2006, dir., 2008) and Cognard (2010, 2011). These pleasure migrations “refer to the movement of people […] who settle permanently or partially [in a place] because of its real or perceived environmental qualities and its cultural distinction” (Moss, 1994, p. 1). They have been the subject of research in the Alps (Bachimon et al., 2014; Bourdeau, 2009a, 2009b; Martin, 2012; Martin et al, dir., 2012). However, these studies mainly focus on analyzes of the phenomenon of the proximity to major cities such as Grenoble (Bachimon et al., 2014; Jean in Martin et al., 2012), Geneva and Lausanne (Petite and Debarbieux, 2013; Petite, 2014) or Zurich (Perlik, 2011). Other studies concern a few more “distant” areas such as the Massif Central, the Pyrenees and Pelion (France) (Desmichel in Martin et al., 2012), Limousin and Sierra de Albarracin (Spain) (Tommasi in Martin et al., 2012) or even the “isolated rural environment” (Daller in Martin et al., 2012). Finally, Austrian researchers from the University of Innsbruck and Italian researchers from Bolzano and Turin set out to understand the phenomenon of amenity migration across the Alps (Perlik, 2011; Bender and Kanitscheider, 2012; Löffler et al. ., 2014a; Löffler et al., 2016), the Italian Alps (Membretti and Viazzo, 2017) and the Western Alps with a French case study (Löffler et al., 2014b).

6More specifically, the search for pleasure often materializes in an attraction to a certain kind of environment, which has been the subject of research in particular in the Alps (Savelli, 2012; Petite and Debarbieux, 2013) and in France (Aubert, 2010; Dodier et al., 2012; Richard et al., 2014). In addition to the cultural, economic and financial capital with which migrants arrive, a team of geographers from Limoges clarified the notion of environmental capital which influences pleasure migrations (Richard et al., 2017; Tommasi et al., 2017). This capital refers for them to "all the investments (socio-economic, ideological, emotional, political, artistic, etc.) in the environment made by actors according to their representations, interests and specific value systems" (Tommasi et al., 2017, p. 8). In this sense, if attractiveness depends on a series of factors that reflect individual aspirations (Bros-Clergue, 2007; Barrioz, 2019), we nevertheless distinguish similarities among what makes environmental capital among residents, as in what attracts tourists and secondary residents. The same setting and the same quality of life sought by these different people (tourists, secondary residents, pleasure migrants, natives, etc.) can then be sources of tension, due to the differentiated use they make of the space (leisure, residence, work, vacations, etc.).

7Several studies questioning after-tourism (Bourdeau, 2009a, 2009b; Martin, 2013; Bachimon et al., 2014) have initiated the superposition of different issues in small mountainous areas. In this article, one of these issues leads us to question the influence of tourism and second homes on the permanent establishment of residents throughout the year, particularly in terms of access to housing (Ortar, 2006; André-Poyaud et al., 2010; Bachimon et al., 2016). This issue then becomes central in terms of the dynamism of life throughout the year, since particular forms of rural gentrification (Perlik, 2011; Phillips, 1993, 2004; Richard et al., 2014, 2017) emerge. According to Tommasi (2018), gentrification refers to “the arrival of new inhabitants with strong economic or cultural capital, [which] has important effects on land prices, commercial supply, landscape transformation, [and] can lead to an increase in social inequalities and processes of exclusion”. This article examines precisely the impacts of this phenomenon in the eight high valleys studied where the demands of new inhabitants, owners of second homes, tourists and seasonal workers overlap with the needs of the inhabitants already settled there. Indeed, although away from the large flows linked to tourism, the eight high valleys studied live off this economy to a greater or lesser extent.

II. The study of eight high French alpine valleys

8The areas studied are high French alpine valleys, or borders, prone to demographic losses, despite a certain economic dynamism compared to other non-mountain or more traditional rural areas (Cognard, 2011). The high valleys studied are marked by gradients (altitude, rurality, attractiveness) and therefore by a tiered environment in which the population is established according to access to services, certain amenities, the presence of sunshine and a more open landscape, etc. As living spaces, before being considered as tourist areas, they also have social particularities (low population density, presence of a threshold accentuating remoteness, more or less dynamic economic activities) which attract more and more inhabitants. Without necessarily associating these high valleys with a phenomenon of urban exodus which would impact them in a significant way, they are subject to the arrival of new inhabitants and the return of people from the countryside, eager to get involved again.

9The term upper valley includes the “valley bottoms”, the most isolated inhabited areas, also called “ends of the world” or “telistokomes” (Laslaz, 2005, p. 229). These mountainous borders are often far from the main urban centers of the region. We prefer this term rather than periphery since it incorporates "ideas of proximity (of another territory) and of extremity (in relation to the center)" (Brunet et al., 1993, p. 22). Moreover, by taking into account the environment as a privileged living space and engine of migration and gentrification, the borders stand out from the margin which integrates a series of sub-spaces such as borders and hinterlands (Grésillon et al., 2016). The term confines is also less connoted, either negatively or positively.

10These high valleys of the French Alps (Haut-Giffre, Beaufortain, Haute-Maurienne, Valbonnais, Valgaudemar, Queyras, Haute-Ubaye, Haute-Tinée) (Figure 1), were chosen using around fifty criteria (demographic dynamics : change in population, density, etc.; altitude and in particular the average altitude of inhabitants per municipality; accessibility in terms of transport: distance to the nearest urban center for example; public services: number of shops and diversity, access to the closest doctor, etc.; isolation and representations, etc.). Three decisive selection criteria were used (Barrioz, 2019, p. 125): municipality falling within the “mountain” zoning, borderline situation and average time of access to services in the “everyday life basket”, defined by INSEE (Barbier et al., 2016). Two other criteria were defined as semi-decisive: average altitude of inhabitants per municipality above 1000 meters and proportion of principal residences in 2013. Finally, the presence of at least one valley, grouping together several municipalities, in each of the six Alpine departments appeared as a judicious diversity criterion.

11From the departments of Haute-Savoie to the Alpes-Maritimes, the high French alpine valleys are rural mountainous territories, five of which are located on the borders of French territory. Marked by great diversity, these borders attract new arrivals who give the regions a moderate residential dynamism, as is the case in Haut-Giffre and Haute-Tinée. Others show decreases in the population, due to negative migratory and natural balances, as in Valgaudemar (-20 inhabitants between 2010 and 2015, out of a total population of 101 inhabitants in 2015) and in Beaufortain (-96 inhabitants / 2088 on the same dates). Beyond the strong demand for local identities and a special relationship with central authorities, these territories often encounter internal difficulties (demographic decline despite the arrival of inhabitants, loss of economic dynamism, difficulties of diversification, etc.). The inhabitants build their lives there according to particular choices in terms of accessibility (for example, Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée is located about ninety kilometers from Nice), in relation to certain forms of isolation (serviceability of the roads, snow cover, accessibility by public transport, access to services etc.), as well as relations sensitive to space, affirming a particular aspiration to live in the mountains.

Figure 1: The research regions

Figure 1: The research regions

12The high French alpine valleys are also marked by local dynamics (social and associative) and by spatial characteristics which are the basis of their appeal for a large part of the inhabitants. From village life to the presence of emblematic mountain landscapes (traditional buildings, coniferous forests, grazed mountain pastures and snow-capped peaks ...), they are punctuated by the seasonality of more or less diversified economies. Tourism is often the origin of the discovery of these spaces and initiates the beginning of the phenomenon of gentrification. As part of this work, nearly 40% of the inhabitants questioned had visited the upper valley as tourists on one or more occasions before settling there. 35% knew it because they had already been there for the day for leisure and 6% for business trips. Among them are agents of the gentrification of these valleys.

III. Methodology: selection of the sample of respondants encountered

13Here we refer to as "new" residents those who have recently moved (less than a year), as more permanent (between 1 and 3 years) and as permanent (more than 3 years). This term is used in the broad sense, as defined by Tommasi (2018). It implies a temporal reference "in relation" to people settled since their birth who have never left the valley. The majority of the inhabitants discovered these territories and some inhabitants returned after having left for a few years. They all come directly from a space other than the upper valley. The distance (kilometre) to the residential spaces left was not retained as a relevant criterion. The relative isolation of the high valleys and their representations indeed presuppose some distance from other lived spaces. These people who are helping to reinvent the high valleys come from other places in the same department, or from another department or another country.

14In order to understand how these new inhabitants fit into these territories, the methodology was based on semi-structured interviews lasting an average of one hour. They dealt with the residential trajectories of the inhabitants, their settling and their integration. When the inhabitants we met expressed their interest in this research work and when their profile made it possible to broaden the diversity of the elements analyzed, these interviews were sometimes supplemented by second meetings taking the form of "comprehensive interviews", aimed in particular at supplementing residential trajectories in the form of diagrams with more substantiated life stories (Feildel, 2010).

15The significant sample (Figure 2) was constituted using the “snowball” technique, that is to say by using the networks of the people surveyed and by preselecting the new inhabitants, based on several criteria. :

16- the settlement had to be the result of an individual or conjugal choice in order to exclude collective influences (criterion which excludes children who have followed their parents, persons under guardianship and / or dependents, etc.);

17- the dates of settling from a few months ago to several decades in order to consider sustainability. Some had already lived in the valley before leaving and coming back.

18No criteria of age, sex, socio-professional profile, etc., have been defined in order to open up the panel of inhabitants as widely as possible.

19In addition to the 71 inhabitants encountered (60 new, secondary residents and a few inhabitants settled since their birth), 75 interviews with various institutional and socio-professional actors (elected officials, associations, real estate agents, etc.) were conducted in order to complete the research. About fifty informal meetings were added because they are considered to be essential moments in this research. Indeed, the information and discussions that took place in this context were often rich and (more) open.

Figure 2: Breakdown of the number of interviews conducted by field

Upper valley

Haut-Giffre

Beaufor-tain

Haute-Maurienne

Valbon-nais

Valgaude-mar

Queyras

Haute-Ubaye

Haute-Tinée

Alps*

Total

Inhabitants

17

24

13

0

0

9

7

1

/

71

Elected

1

4

6

5

3

8

5

2

/

34

Institutional (excluding elected officials)

0

0

1

1

1

5

1

3

2

14

Economy

3

1

1

0

0

1

4

0

0

10

Associations

1

3

2

0

1

1

1

0

1

10

Real estate agents

1

4

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

7

Total

23

36

25

6

5

24

18

6

3

146

Informal meetings

50 (approximately)

A. Barrioz, 2018

20The sample includes a majority of French people whose age was between 23 and 70 years old. They came from various departments (Aveyron, Bouches-du-Rhône, Essonne, Ain, Savoie, etc.) or even from abroad (of French nationality or not). They generally arrived with social, financial, cultural and / or environmental capital (Tommasi et al., 2017; Richard et al., 2017) that differed from populations previously settled. Classic indicators such as socio-professional categories and level of training are the first elements of analysis. It emerges that a third of the inhabitants questioned belong to the category "executives and higher intellectual professions" (Figure 3) and of these 60% are on permanent contracts. Of the employees, 50% are seasonal. In total, more than 70% have a stable professional situation if we take into account the renewal of these seasonal contracts from one year to the next. On average, and in view of the high proportion of higher intellectual professions, these inhabitants stand out from the populations already present (farmers, artisans, employees, etc.), which helps the consideration of some of them as potential gentrifiers.

Figure 3: Distribution (in %) of newcomers constituting this sample, according to their socio-professional category

Figure 3: Distribution (in %) of newcomers constituting this sample, according to their socio-professional category

A. Barrioz, 2018 (données INSEE, 2018)

21In addition, when comparing fields of initial training and current fields of employment, more than 53% are not engaged in work that follows from their education, level of training and / or previous job. Often, these people work in fields that are completely different: a landscaper (Bac +3) became a carpenter when arriving in the upper valley, a resident who studied geography (Bac +5) is an educational assistant in college, another trained in electronics and IT (Bac +3) is a real estate agent, a newcomer who was an engineer (Bac +5) has taken over a bed and breakfast, etc. These are usually people who have lived abroad and who arrive with a decent income, in addition to the retirees who usually arrive with more financial capital. This retraining should be weighed against their desire to benefit from living in an environment to which they aspire, rather than migrating based on a job (Moss, 1994, 2006; Barrioz, 2019).

IV. Difficulties in accessing housing in the upper valley: a barrier to long-term residence

22The mountain environment is an element of motivation common to the various users of these s regions (inhabitants, second home residents and occasional or regular tourists) but their desire to frequent these valleys for shorter or longer terms, with differing uses of the space, reinforces the potential tensions that exist in tourist areas in terms of access to housing.

A. Situation of the real estate market in the studied areas

23Of the inhabitants questioned in these high French alpine valleys, half were owners of their accommodation and half were tenants. Most live in an apartment (39%) or in a house (37%). The rest live in terraced houses or in “alternative” accommodations (Pruvost, 2013), such as buses. Beyond these few general figures, it is the situations facing newcomers that are rather interesting to present here.

24The first difficulty encountered by residents when looking for accommodation in the upper valleys concerns the availability of rentals. The rental market is generally well supplied but the share of housing offered to residents throughout the year is often reduced, for various reasons (e.g. non-rented social housing, reserved for the hypothetical arrival of families with very modest incomes relating to urban criteria, distant and not very responsive social landlords, seasonal / tourist accommodation not suitable for year-round living, competition between the year-round real estate market and the tourist market, etc.). Indeed, a large part of the rentals are generally not rented to permanent staff but to tourists, for reasons of profitability. It happens that young locals seek accommodation and are confronted with owners, including family, who prefer to rent their property by the week. The availability of rentals is therefore a major issue in these territories, which are seeing their real estate pressure increase as the tourist economy grows, as new inhabitants settle down, as do secondary residents.

25The second difficulty concerns the purchase of a property, whether it is on arrival in these limited areas, or wanting to settle permanently a few years later. The inhabitants we met often expressed their difficulties in "finding the pearl" to their taste and especially, at the top of their financial means. It is often young single people, young couples, in their thirties, with or without children, who report this obstacle to settling in. Some even plan to leave the territory to settle in the outskirts of the nearest town, as is the case with this informant (man, 32 years old, territorial engineer, married, 1 child): “it is clear that what could make us leave Beaufortain, it is this real estate aspect [...], in spite its quality of life, the fact that one feels well there ... There ... if you want to 'investing in real estate, in villages on the slopes of Albertville [the nearest town, 20-25 minutes from the town center of the upper valley] it is cheaper. It is clear that there is a real question to be asked and it has already been asked”. These young couples are, however, the guarantors of services such as school, nurseries and participate fully in local life, socially and commercially, etc.

26In view of these difficulties of access (availability, finances), one should remember that accommodations meeting year-round living criteria are distinguished from tourist accommodations by their functional characteristics (e.g. a kitchen and not kitchenette, a separate bedroom and not bunk beds in a hallway, etc.). The goal is for them to be relatively close to places of services and shops as well as to the workplace, which is often located in the resort. Thus, real estate pressure and market saturation encourage inflation in real estate prices.

B. Real estate inflation, a brake on long-term residence.

27In a context where the tourist economy is growing, in tandem with the housing allocated to it, the arrival of people with a strong purchasing power only reinforces the difficulties of access to housing through quite marked real estate inflation. This rise in prices per/m² is particularly noticeable in the Northern Alps (Val Cenis, Bessans, Bonneval-sur-Arc, Hauteluce) but also in Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Average price per square metre of an apartment in 62 communes in the French Alps.

Figure 4: Average price per square metre of an apartment in 62 communes in the French Alps.

28Thus, in many municipalities, the price of an average m² of an apartment exceeds 4000 euros. Maurienne has averages above the average prices for Nice, Bordeaux and Lyon but was below Paris (market price at the start of 2019). This inflation of real estate prices is not only due to the arrival of permanent residents, since the presence of other users such as developers and secondary residents also accentuates these issues through their superior economic and financial capital. This extract from the life story of a resident (woman, 36 years old, engineer, civil union, childless) reveals these difficulties as well as the concessions that some residents have to make:

29[…] Back in the Lyon region, they [the resident and her spouse] go through the offers on the websites of Beaufortain estate agencies and "there, we were disillusioned. Barns to be completely rehabilitated at 350,000 € with a view of Mont Blanc. It was not financially possible. We took the map again and in May 2013, we came to Arêches [to look around - one of the most distant hamlets in the valley, also a village-resort]”. They wanted to find something affordable to pay without credit to "pursue our lifestyles" [alternating business and personal travel in France and abroad]. By discovering Arêches, they are “even happier. In addition to the landscapes, there is a beautiful atmosphere that emerges: small open shops, a warm welcome at the newspaper shop, at the cheese dairy, at the Sports Café… ”. They then approach the real estate agency, which shows them around several properties, including an alpine chalet with which they "fell in love". It is located above Boudin, is 80 m² for 280,000 €. The price would require a credit and the problem of access itself is too great (at the end of road that is not cleared of snow in winter and is exposed to avalanches; a place too remote to develop a social life). The 40 m² accommodation costs over € 120,000 and are often designed for holidaymakers (a living room-kitchen that opens onto a balcony and a "mountain corner" at the back, without lights). This does not suit them as they are looking for something where M. can possibly work from his home. They finally opt for an apartment, in co-ownership, of 25 m² at 72,000 € excluding notary fees, north slope, one kilometer from the center of the village of Arêches but on one level: “good, 25 m² for two people is not very big, but it's a good compromise […]. In the spring of 2018, the couple finally made the decision to leave for a few years. The situation of their condominium apartment and the tensions between the different users were a factor triggering their departure. They go back to Belgium. In order to come back as soon as possible to live in Beaufortain, their base camp becomes a second home, not a rental ".

30Thus, the inventory of the real estate market in the high alpine valleys of France reveals the difficulties of access to year-round housing for rather young pleasure migrants. On the other hand, people who arrive with more capital, and particularly secondary residents, reinforce price inflation in a market already under real estate pressure and a degree of saturation. In this context, it seems interesting to us to discuss the existence of a kind of rural gentrification specific to these spaces under the influence of tourism dominated by the presence of holiday rental accommodation and second homes.

V. The existence of rural gentrification under the influence of tourism across the Alps

31Already revealed by the arrival of populations with more capitals from those already present, the phenomenon of gentrification in these high valleys is marked by the influence of specific kinds of tourism (winter, focused on winter and mountain sports, the presence of second homes, a side-hotel, etc.), the co-presence of different users, and real estate inflation which slows down the permanent establishment of the residents and the year-round dynamism of these areas. It is characterized by the existence of an altitudinal gradient linked to differentiated access to space according to user status (tourists, residents, etc.) and their financial capacity to invest in the most popular spaces (at altitude, in the sun, with a panorama, etc.).

A. The co-presence of users as a factor aggravating inequalities in access to housing

32The difficulties of access to housing are accentuated by the co-presence of different users (tourists, secondary residents, new inhabitants and a local population already present) living in territories where real estate pressure is found both on the rental market and on the market for purchase. Due to this competition between users and the low proportion of housing available to residents year-round, this difficulty is found mainly in the valleys where winter tourism is more present (Haut-Giffre, Beaufortain, Haute-Maurienne, Haute-Tinée). In these areas, pleasure is the main factor behind the movement of a large part of the users who come mainly to take advantage of the amenities offered by the area (tourists, secondary residents) and/or to participate in developing them (local or seasonal residents). Among the pleasure migrants interviewed, 27% placed leisure as one of the three reasons that led them to come to the upper valley. Among them are secondary residents. Indeed, while the national average is 9.4% (Christofle and Hélion in Crozat and Alves, 2018, p. 95), the share of second homes in the municipalities in the sites studied appears to be much higher. Some municipalities like Queige (Beaufortain) have rates below 30%. However, most of the municipalities have a share of second homes greater than half of the housing stock. In most municipalities supporting ski resorts second homes exceed 60%. This is the case for Hauteluce (support of the Saisies ski resort; Beaufortain with a rate of 89.7%, is the highest of the municipalities studied), Bessans, Bonneval-sur-Arc (Haute-Maurienne), Arvieux, Ceillac, Molines-en-Queyras (Queyras), Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye, Val d'Oronaye (Haute-Ubaye) and Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée (support of the Auron ski station; Haute-Tinée).

33In Switzerland, "the burden of second homes is a problem for small mountain villages and their management, which affects the price of real estate and accentuates the phenomenon known as “cold beds", that is to say of housing unoccupied for a large part of the year, giving the impression of a ghost village” (Duchêne-Lacroix et al., 2013, p. 74). To face the “crisis of second homes [which] suffocates the valley of Illiez [Swiss Valais]” (Lambiel, 2017a), found in contexts similar to the valleys studied here, the Swiss voted for the implementation of a limitation of second homes to 20% of the housing stock at the initiative of the writer and journalist Franz Weber, (Schuler and Dessemontet, 2013). Behind the objective of regulating real estate is the problem of maintaining employment and economic dynamism. This popular federal initiative does not appear in hindsight, for some In Valais, to be the miracle solution since urbanization has been slowed down, as has activity in the building sector (Lambiel, 2017b). Thus, in addition to the risk of cold beds resulting from little used secondary housing, demographic and ethical issues emerge. The observation that user competition in the real estate market is a brake on the permanence of new residents in these small territories is not new and does not only concern these mountain valleys, and yet it continues.

34Thus, the real estate field is reduced for these categories of people who generally do not capitalized enough to invest in local heritage at high prices, as is the case with retirees and/or secondary residents. This is undoubtedly true throughout the Alpine valleys. In France, this extract from an interview with an inhabitant of Queyras (man, 37 years old, peasant-craftsman, civil union, 1 child) attests to this: “There are newcomers who settle at the age of fifty in beautiful housing because they have the means to pay but the residence for families is difficult ... There was also housing for young seasonal workers but they were eliminated because the elected officials were afraid that they would become squats… […]. It’s the seniors here. The people who have access to property are old, close to retirement. They spend ten years and then leave to go to the hospital ... There are many houses less and less occupied by secondary residents. The populations are aging but the young are not coming back”.

35The real estate logic is therefore reversed compared to residential areas on the outskirts of urban areas. Year-round housing requests and buying opportunities often depend on availability, which fluctuates with tourist activity. For a real estate agent we met in Samoëns (Haut Giffre), this situation is partly due to the construction of new housing primarily as leisure property and because “since 2000, the municipalities have started to focus only on tourist residences, for questions of tax exemption”. In France, through the Censi-Bouvard law of December 30, 2017 (law n ° 2017-1837, art. 78 (V)), the State authorizes the reduction of taxes up to 11% of the value of property to promote investment in leisure real estate. A lessor who rents a second home bought new or rehabilitated for fifteen years maximum can benefit from this tax advantage, as well as from LMP (Professional Furnished Rental) or LMNP (Non Professional Furnished Rental) contracts. In the case of these contracts, a year-round resident cannot rent or even buy a property to make it a primary residence. Many new constructions, most of which were recently built tourist residences, are reserved for the tourist economy by these measures. The role of players at different levels, from the State to the real estate agent, obviously including the municipality, does indeed appear to be a fundamental factor in the dynamism of the residential market throughout the year. This poses a number of questions in political terms. The State would thus be more inclined to favor these tax loopholes (Fablet, 2013), rather than to limit price increases and to encourage the numerical balance of year-round vs. tourist accommodation. As document No 5 shows, the encouragement of the "mass" tourist economy can help to short-circuit residential dynamism, and ultimately lead to a loss of activity linked to recruitment and housing difficulties. This raises the question of an irreversible threshold influenced by a growing tourist economy.

Figure 5: the housing loop in two different contexts

Figure 5: the housing loop in two different contexts

36The high French Alpine valleys are therefore reinventing themselves in concert with the evolution of tourist activity and the arrival of new inhabitants and different users who contribute as much to complicating the management of the real estate market as to the reinforcement of certain forms of socio-spatial inequalities, linked to the existence of the phenomenon of gentrification.

B. From socio-environmental inequalities to the altitudinal gentrification gradient

37Beyond the difficulty of acquiring or renting accommodation, this article reveals the existence of socio-spatial inequalities in terms of access to space between, on the one hand, secondary residents whose access to Coteaux is facilitated by a high financial capital, and on the other hand, the inhabitants who, for lack of sufficient means to settle in these places, finally question the sustainability of their residence. For André-Poyaud et al., there is a “spectacular increase in the number of transactions and the prices per m² sensitive to altitudinal gradients” (2010, p. 5). This statement, which concerns the Pays du Mont Blanc, is found in certain other valleys studied such as Haut-Giffre and Beaufortain. In the latter, people working in tourist municipalities (Beaufort and Hauteluce) are pushed to the outskirts of these municipalities to live year round, or at the beginning of the season. They thus settle in neighboring municipalities (Villard-sur-Doron or Queige), and sometimes at the bottom of the valley as illustrated in Figure 6.

Figure 6: In the plain of Villard-sur-Doron (Beaufortain), a place of residence of three seasonal workers in shared accommodation for the 2017-2018 season.

Figure 6: In the plain of Villard-sur-Doron (Beaufortain), a place of residence of three seasonal workers in shared accommodation for the 2017-2018 season.

Very little sun in winter, the house is next to the road that connects Albertville to their workplace in Les Saisies, (25 minutes by car) (A. Barrioz, 22nd october 2018)

38In order to relate all of these characteristics that make this phenomenon complex, a model characterizing the existence of an altitudinal gentrification gradient is proposed (Figure 7). It was derived from the case of the Doron valley (Beaufortain). As these last two documents show, some newcomers, first and foremost young people and families with lower incomes, are pushed to the bottom of the valley, far from village centers, in areas with little sun and sometimes more prone to noise and atmospheric pollution that some newcomers nevertheless had hoped to avoid. Satisfied with having moved closer to the living conditions to which they aspire, some even feel themselves privileged to live in these places rather than victims of access to unequal space. This situation shows the existence of an altitudinal gentrification gradient in the sense that the highest areas, the sunniest, with wide panoramas, but also the less accessible and the furthest from urban centers, are more inclined to gentrification. The most modest populations are thus all the more forced back into the plains of the upper valley.

Figure 7: Rural gentrification in some high alpine valleys under tourist influence - model from the Doron valley (Beaufortain)

Figure 7: Rural gentrification in some high alpine valleys under tourist influence - model from the Doron valley (Beaufortain)

39Although concerning one valley in particular, this model can be applied to other valleys studied such as Haut-Giffre, Queyras, Haute-Ubaye and Haute Tinée in France. However, one wonders about the extent of the phenomenon which could undoubtedly be present in all the other countries of the Alpine arc. Even within these valleys and municipalities, land speculation and price increases are based in particular on the housing situation. Proximity to the center and access to services, as in the case of urban gentrification, are not the characteristics of this process of rural gentrification in a tourist context. These are more elements that go hand in hand with environmental capital, with the inhabitants' interest in the living environment and proximity to the mountain environment, that characterize this phenomenon here and contribute to the emergence of socio-economic inequalities, environmental issues, or even some forms of segregation. The different scales of the process are influenced by elements intrinsic to tourist areas (socio-economic dynamism in the resorts, access to shops and services, etc.) and by environmental factors, such as altitude, access to leisure activities, choice of lifestyle, etc.). By these different parameters, gentrification will not be the same as in a rural area where the influence of tourism is less.

Conclusion

40While for some (secondary residents, individuals who can afford to own property at high prices, etc.), housing appears to be a gateway to life in the upper valley, it remains a major barrier to residence and sustainability of the inhabitants in these territories. Faced with the economic and financial challenges linked to the development of tourist activity, especially in winter, the actors of these territories, on a very large scale (owners) or on a smaller scale (municipality for example) hardly attach importance to the access to year-round housing as a factor in the dynamism of the valley, whether for seasonal workers or for young inhabitants from the valley who wish to stay there. Raising awareness of these issues already appears to be a necessary first step in overcoming some of these difficulties. Developments in this direction appear from time to time in the territory of the French Alps, but when stakeholders become aware of these issues, in particular elected officials, they are faced with realities on the ground which are often difficult to influence (sale of property to private individuals at high prices, arrival of large groups from the hotel industry, expatriate owners, etc.). The presence of a phenomenon of rural and altitudinal gentrification generally aggravates the lack of housing dedicated to residents, whether or not such housing is suitable for year round living. Finally, the difficulty of finding accommodation and, in particular, a property to buy ultimately constitutes a factor in the departure from the upper valley, primarily by young active couples with young children who, if they stayed, would participate in the dynamism of these small towns. The major paradox is therefore based on the fact that an economy based on the leisure economy on which the municipalities depend, weakens the migratory and territorial dynamic, more or less for the long term.

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Notes

1 The results of this article come from a PhD thesis in geography dealing with migratory dynamics in mountain areas under the influence of tourism and the public policies carried out in favor of welcoming and maintaining inhabitants.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: The research regions
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/6011/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,9M
Titre Figure 3: Distribution (in %) of newcomers constituting this sample, according to their socio-professional category
Crédits A. Barrioz, 2018 (données INSEE, 2018)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/6011/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 16k
Titre Figure 4: Average price per square metre of an apartment in 62 communes in the French Alps.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/6011/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 936k
Titre Figure 5: the housing loop in two different contexts
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/6011/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 1,7M
Titre Figure 6: In the plain of Villard-sur-Doron (Beaufortain), a place of residence of three seasonal workers in shared accommodation for the 2017-2018 season.
Légende Very little sun in winter, the house is next to the road that connects Albertville to their workplace in Les Saisies, (25 minutes by car) (A. Barrioz, 22nd october 2018)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/6011/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,9M
Titre Figure 7: Rural gentrification in some high alpine valleys under tourist influence - model from the Doron valley (Beaufortain)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/docannexe/image/6011/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 3,0M
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Référence électronique

Anne Barrioz, « Reinventing the attractiveness of borders in the French Alps: the challenge of access to lodging in a tourist context », Via [En ligne], 18 | 2020, mis en ligne le 27 décembre 2020, consulté le 22 juin 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/6011 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/viatourism.6011

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Auteur

Anne Barrioz

Associate and doctorate in geography, researcher associated with the EDYTEM Laboratory (UMR 5204 CNRS)

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Traducteur

Nelson Graburn

University of California, Berkeley

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Via Tourism Review est mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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