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11th World Congress of Accounting Historians - Nantes


The Last Best Place In Europe ?

Fact n° 1: France is famous for enjoying the best quality of life on the Continent.
Fact n° 2: The French seem to think that their country's best place to live is not a tourist magnet like Paris, Nice or Toulouse, but lesser-known Nantes, a city of 550,000 close to the Atlantic coast. In 2003, the weekly L'Express voted Nantes the Greenest City, and the weekly Le Point named it Best Place to Live in both 2003 and 2004. Put it all together and the conclusion becomes inescapable: Nantes must be the most livable city in all of Europe.

Socialist Mayor Jean-Marc Ayrault, 54, whose environment- and family-friendly policies have led to much of the acclaim, says his ambition is to make his town a city that counts in Europe. Wherever you go in Nantes, you can see what Ayrault and his city planners have achieved over the course of his 15-year tenure. Recycling and conservation programs have resulted in 1,000 hectares of greenery and 95 parks and squares around the Nantes area; 70% of all waste is recycled. There are 500 km of bicycling and walking paths, which often hug the banks of the Erdre River. Even the city center feels light and airy, with wide sidewalks and streets. But Nantes' pride and joy is its transportation system, which includes a tramway network and a fleet of 155 buses that run on natural gas.

Between 1990 and 1999, the city saw a 10.3% jump in population - the largest increase in any French city during that period - to become the sixth largest in the country. Some of these new residents have been Parisians fleeing the expensive capital (just two hours away by TGV train) in search of good jobs, affordable housing and a safe environment.

Jobs aren't hard to come by. Since the early 1990s, Nantes and its neighboring port of St. Nazaire - the two have an economic-political partnership called the Métropole Atlantique - have attracted major industry to the area; companies like IBM, Airbus, Cap Gemini, Oracle and La Poste have all set up regional offices. The area is also becoming a high-tech hub, with dozens of biotech firms basing their headquarters here. The result: out of France's 100 departments, Loire-Atlantique, which encompasses Nantes and St. Nazaire, has added 100,000 jobs over the past decade, the most outside the Île de France region, which includes Paris.

For Ayrault, the influx of investors and settlers is a vindication. He's now pursuing more ambitious projects to bring not just new housing and business, but also community sports facilities and still more green spaces to relatively underdeveloped areas of the city. For this mayor, who is also a deputy and the Socialist Party leader in the National Assembly, the ideal city is one where the people feel they have a stake in it, where the city is in their skin, where they choose to be a part of a community.

The mayor's obvious pride has rubbed off on his fellow citizens, even those who feel compelled to mar the city's beauty. In the alley next to a nice café near the Place du Commerce, scrawled in white spray paint across a brick wall is the distinctly unhip slogan: STAY CLEAN AND POLITE. Finally, graffiti even city planners can agree with.

Grant Rosenberg
in Time Europe, August, 30, 2004, vol 164, n°8.

mis à jour le : 12/10/2007

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