Aurillac: thriving in a constrained geography

On the 7th of September, Emmanuel Macron committed the State to the revitalisation of town centres by extending the Action Cœur de Ville plan until 2026 with an additional 350 million euros. A few days ago, the newspaper Le Monde headlined: “Real estate: the great return to small towns” and the SNCF announced “small, low-speed prices”, with Intercity rail lines switched to the low-cost Ouigo banner. Is small the new hype? The attraction for medium-sized cities, or even smaller ones, revealed by the Covid-19 crisis, does not seem to be waning as activity has picked up and the crisis may finally seem to be receding.

Should this phenomenon lead us to question the dogma of international accessibility and connectivity? And this, even though our studies on medium-sized cities have so far shown the importance of being connected to stabilise demographic and economic trajectories that remain fragile? To put our work to the test, La Fabrique de la Cité went to meet the elected officials and players in Aurillac, often described as “the most isolated prefecture in France”. Is isolation a handicap or an opportunity?

The most populous town in the Cantal and the economic hub of its territory, Aurillac is in an area constrained by its topography: Europe’s largest stratovolcano (twice the size of Etna) and plateaus overhang the rich sedimentary basin of Aurillac to the west and south, distancing the town from other similar or more important demographic and economic centres (Clermont-Ferrand, Toulouse, Paris, Lyon) and cutting it off from any possible spillover effects. This isolation can sometimes weaken local economies and the global attractivity. However, this same isolation, which is the basis of the town’s identity, is also the source of active and innovative endogenous development. While public investment has long supported the essential development of transport infrastructures, tourism and cultural activities and innovative companies can boast of participating in this regional, and even national, attractiveness. A proactive policy in favour of mobility, a niche economic sector of European or even international scope, a strong commitment to retaining talent: Aurillac is committed to showing that geographical determinism does not exist.

After Lens, Charleville-Mézières and Vierzon, La Fabrique de la Cité here draws a portrait of a new mid-sized city: Aurillac (in French)

→ Related: our work on mid-sized cities.

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La Fabrique de la Cité

La Fabrique de la Cité is a think tank dedicated to urban foresight, created by the VINCI group, its sponsor, in 2010. La Fabrique de la Cité acts as a forum where urban stakeholders, whether French or international, collaborate to bring forth new ways of building and rebuilding cities.

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