Cornell, Carl. Oikos: Sustainability, Dwelling, and Culture in Urban France. Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University, 2018.

Committee chair and dissertation director: Monique Yaari
Committee members: Kathryn Grossman, Jennifer Boittin, Sophie de Schaepdrijver, Jean-Pierre Le Dantec

Abstract: The Centre d’observation de la société has calculated that, as of 2017, more than seventy-five percent of France’s population—up from fifty-three percent in 1946—lived in cities, while ninety-five percent of the population lived in a territory deemed to be sous influence urbaine. This influx of urban inhabitants has occurred concomitantly with shifts in the global economic landscape, with a third wave of globalization decentralizing economic power to the municipal level, while deindustrialization has left in its wake infrastructures and edifices that have fallen into abandonment and disrepair. At the same time, the French government has passed more than three dozen environmental laws and regulations since the early 1970s, including the 2004 constitutional amendment known as the Charte de l’environnement, which enacted an encompassing vision of sustainability combining ecological protection with social justice and economic development. This series of developments invites the following question: What makes the city livable today?

In this dissertation, I argue that the city is at its most livable when its inhabitants can identify at once with its past, its present, and its future. Employing a methodology grounded in the observation and analysis of built environments, cultural symbols and events, and inhabitants’ practicing of these spaces, I undertake a cultural analysis, itself informed by theories of the spatial turn and situated in the field of French culture studies, of three cities—Angoulême, Nantes, and Lyon—that have garnered accolades for being quality places to live and that, together, attain a significant degree of representativity of urban France. I contend that the degree of livability that each city as attained stems from a creative “rewriting,” in a Lyotardian acceptation of this term, of primarily—although not exclusively—industrial heritage as mémoire that has in turn led to a dynamic present and has charted new paths toward a prosperous future.