Why haven’t our territories all “thought out” successive crises so well?

The periods of economic slowdown of 1993, 2008 or even 2020 had different territorial effects, both at national and local level. Although the explanatory factors of each of these crises are very different, they have contributed to a realignment of local development trajectories.

Faced with these shocks and the uncertainties for years to come, the concept of resilience has gradually infiltrated economic analysis to denote a system’s ability to absorb a shock from the past, present, or future. It is measured in terms of the cycle to account for variations in jobs or income, as well as the duration of the downturn, recovery or recovery phases.

Analyzed through the prism of these cycles, the study of the long-term resilience of French intermunicipal companies, which is the subject of our recent research paper published in the Regional and Urban Economy Magazine, reveals three important results. First, some areas have endured each crisis more than others for nearly thirty years. In terms of resilience, metropolises are not necessarily more effective than other areas. Finally, the 2020 crisis reveals the fragility of sectoral specialization dynamics.

​More resilience in the West and South

The analysis of the variations in employment observed since the early 1990s allows us to measure the long-term impact of the crises. At the level of the public institutions for intermunicipal cooperation (EPCI), five types of trajectories can be distinguished:

  • EPCIs in continuous growth from 1993 to 2020;
  • countercyclical EPCIs, ie in decline except in times of crisis;
  • EPCIs prone to crises but able to recover;
  • crisis-prone EPCIs, which are not experiencing a revival;
  • EPCIs are declining continuously from 1993 to 2020.

15% of French intermunicipal companies have experienced continuous employment growth for almost 30 years (from 1993 to 2019). If we include the shock of 2020, only 6% of EPCIs remain impervious to crises, whatever they may be.

Generally located in the southern regions of the country, these areas benefit from the dynamics of public redistribution, combined with mechanisms of residential and tourist attractiveness. For the time being, these areas benefit from their low exposure to external shocks and benefit from transfer revenues from national solidarity.

Without being totally saved, 44% of the intermunicipal companies appear to be fairly resilient to crises. They are mainly located in the west and south of the country.

Long-term resilience trajectory of French intermunicipal companies (1993-2020) – M. Talandier & Y. Calixte (via The Conversation)

In addition to this France, which has been relatively spared by past crises, there is a vast space of much more fragile intermunicipal companies. For example, 41% of EPCIs had not yet recovered from the 2008 crisis when the pandemic broke out in early 2020. Cumulated over the whole period, this is ultimately 30%, ie almost one intermunicipal company in three (and where 20% of the French population lives), which has seen its private salaried jobs diminish for almost thirty years!

These spaces, weakened by the globalization of exchanges and the processes of metropolisation, are mainly located in the northern regions of the country, in spaces with an industrial tradition and in what geographers call the Diagonal of the Void, which extends from the northeast to southwest and designating areas of low density.

Metropolises are not necessarily more resilient

Are big cities more resilient than their suburbs? Some metropolises were extremely resilient to the 2008 crisis, such as Toulouse, Montpellier, Aix-Marseille and Toulon, or on another scale Lyon and Paris, which were able to recover quickly. Grenoble, Saint-Étienne or Strasbourg, on the other hand, had much more trouble recovering from the crisis. For example, the metropolis of Grenoble lost many jobs and it took almost 10 years to regain its pre-crisis level of wage labor. Rouen has not yet recovered from these major shocks from the past.

Resilience capacity of the French intermunicipal companies in the face of the 2008 crisis
Resilience capacity of French intermunicipal companies in the face of the 2008 crisis – M. Talandier & Y. Calixte (via The Conversation)

In the recent works we have done, we emphasize the importance of regional contexts, much more than a gap between metropolitan cities and the rest of the country. The differences in resilience are therefore greater between the large French regions than between the large agglomerations and their suburbs.

However, in the regions hardest hit by the crisis, the gap between the mainland and the hinterland is widening in the long run. This situation is particularly apparent in the north-northeast quarter of France, especially in areas permanently affected by the crises, as we saw in the previous section.

The Covid Reveals Sectoral Weaknesses

The socio-economic crisis linked to Covid-19 is clearly very different from that of 2008, already very different from that of 1993. The first national and sub-national figures available show that the sectors most affected are related to the fall in demand for households: shops and market services, tourism, leisure, passenger transport. Since these sectors are present in most French territories, the regionalization of the perceived shock is much more diffuse than that in 2008. However, it should be noted that certain productive sectors have also suffered, such as aviation.

What this crisis teaches us is the fact that areas hitherto specialized in dynamic activities and systematically spared by previous crises have been hit hard by the cessation of our lifestyle and the sharp slowdown in world trade. Small towns specializing in a particular industry, such as aviation or tourism, were spared in 2008, but have paid a heavy price in 2020.

Impact of the pandemic on private employment in 2020
Impact of the pandemic on private employment in 2020 – M. Talandier & Y. Calixte (via The Conversation)

For example, sectors that may seem out of danger today from an economic shock (e.g. electronics) may well be hit tomorrow by a war, by major natural disasters, by the scarcity of a resource such as water, etc. In the world of uncertainty in which we live , the hyperspecialization strategies that have prevailed in the past seem risky to say the least, if not completely obsolete.

Resilience is a matter of long breath and periods of recovery, then recovery is just as fundamental as the reactions at the moment of the shock. The geo-economic analyzes developed in our work make it possible to visualize the territories that have been damaged in recent decades. In these areas, the state must intensify national recovery policies, especially industrial ones, and adapt them to the needs of the population, the specific territorial features and the environmental challenges ahead.

This analysis was written by Magali Talandier, university professor of urban studies and Yatina Calixte, doctoral student in town and country planning (both at the University of Grenoble Alpes).
The original article was published on the site of The conversation

Declaration of interests
● Yatina Calixte is doing a thesis on Cifre at the urban planning office of the Grenoble region. This system is funded by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

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