Smart Marseille: a changing port city

For those of you who did not read my report on Toulouse. I am visiting a number of smart cities in Europe. Next is Marseille, this is the second-largest municipality in France and the third-largest conurbation, with over 1.5 million inhabitants. As a metropolis, a port and a city steeped in history, Marseille faces a number of issues that require comprehensive, cross-cutting reflection on what lies ahead in terms of urban development. It started off as a Greek colony (Massalia), then was conquered by the Romans and under attack from Germanic tribes; and Julius Caesar started its campaign to conquer Gallia from here. We have enjoyed the ancient history and the old town has a great atmosphere – France’s oldest city, founded by the Greeks with the name Massalia in around 600 BC.
Marseille is in the process of implementing the first projects flowing from their 2015 Smart City Plan. A key element of this is to overhaul its image and to implement long-term urban development.
As one of the oldest port cities in Europe the city has a strong and unique identity. However, also because of this history, it has its challenges as well, such as space, heritage and the disconnect between the old port and city and the sprawling suburbs from the last century.
The city, and particularly the broader Aix-Marseille region, is an economic engine and this function is of critical importance to the city’s future. The use of new technologies and the development of a local digital ecosystem (including, for example, The Camp digital campus project) are also driving forward the region’s economy, which is also important to maintain and improve the standard of living.

The Camp
The Camp is a project for constructing an 11,000 m² international campus for digital innovation, focusing the cities of the future. It will be built on a 7-hectare tract 15 minutes from the airport and 5 minutes from the high-speed rail train station.

The aim is to establish conditions for creation and innovation by promoting interaction between different groups with different profiles and experience – design, marketing and communications students, engineers, coders, doctors, business school graduates, and business executives and entrepreneurs.

These groups will come to live and work on the campus for short, intense periods to think up and experiment with solutions that will make the cities of the future more sustainable, equitable, resilient and humanitarian. The goal of The Camp is to become an ecosystem of connected intelligence, creation and innovation: a global standard. Website

The economic attraction of the port, combined with the fact that the port and the old city is also a major tourist attraction, results in significant people movements within a limited space, and this creates significant mobility issues. These are not simple to address – it cannot be modernised into just another technological Smart City with no soul or history.
In its Horizon 20/20 program the European Union encourages cities across Europe to work together as a lot can be learned from similar cities.
What is perhaps slightly easier to address is the very pronounced dichotomy in urban spaces, between the city on the one hand and the port on the other. This gives rise to a separation, resulting in obvious fractures and discontinuity in both spaces and practices.
Furthermore, like so many other European cities the city is experiencing population ageing. Here the trend has doubled in intensity due to its position on the Mediterranean coast, which makes it very popular for retirees. Marseille is thus attractive to ageing populations and will have to offer appropriate solutions in terms of well-being and health in future decades.
It is also important to take into account that this Mediterranean city is a major centre for immigration. Marseille is perhaps one of the most diversified cities in Europe, but as we have seen in recent times – and not just in Marseille – this can be a source of tension, inequality and social fragmentation. This is one of the most challenging issues the city is facing at the moment.
Here are some of the projects relating to the port of Marseille mentioned in its Smart City 2015 Plan.
To open up the port area and to create a connection between the port and the city, the port authority, Grand Port Maritime de Marseille, and the Euroméditerranée project have been carrying out a profound transformation of the city’s waterfront in the past ten years. The demolition of a motorway bridge that separated buildings from the waterfront and the construction of a tunnel have created a 2.5km landscaped urban boulevard.
This 45m-wide zone offers plenty of space for pedestrians and cyclists and mainly serves the major facilities within this area of the Euroméditerranée project.
The project aims to optimise the space available, the city has mostly opted for mixed-use solutions. This is a good example of vertical mixing – the complex combines passenger reception and boarding facilities, vehicle parking, a shopping centre and harbour views. The Marseille port is thus fulfilling its role as the manager of its spaces by opening up to the city and some urban activities without compromising its work on the ground.
Like all the city-ports, Marseille is also directly exposed to the consequences of climate change, and particularly to rising sea levels, and development, marine and energy projects take this into account.
In terms of energy policy, the city has opted to use the potential represented by the water in the port basins to achieve large-scale energy savings. An iced water plant has been installed in the eastern basins of the port of Marseille. It will mainly be used to provide air-conditioning for a range of buildings (housing, a hotel and offices). The aim is to reduce energy consumption by 40%, water consumption by 65% and GHG emissions by 50%.
Another major pilot project being rolled out aims at preserving and restoring marine biodiversity within the harbour environment. With an estimated investment of €4.5 million ‘Infrastructure management for the ecological restoration of the coastal area’ brings together research bodies and industrial partners. It involves the implantation of algae bonded with resin to the jetties, the introduction of wild larvae, the immersion of artificial reefs and the creation of microcavities as protection for fish in some of the port facilities along 7km of artificial coastline at the port. It is now followed by a two-year monitoring phase to assess the impact of these experiments.
Marseille has made a clear commitment to tackle the five key challenges that urban spaces represent in the 21st century (environmental, economic, social, cultural and resilience-related). It must continue to rely, as it has already learned to do, on the three growth drivers of urban intelligence, social innovation and the digital revolution. This is the price it must pay to remain a global city, open to the outside world.
Marseille Smart City benefits from public support programs as well as from associate public and private investors ( )
Paul Budde

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