Lezignan Corbieres market is to see some major changes at the end of the year. The Mayor, Michel Maique, working with the architect Olivier Leonard, have developed a plan to regenerate the medieval heart of Lezignan Corbieres as part of a wider project to redevelop the entire centre of the town.The idea is to give a new economic impetuous to the heart of the town by integrating new modern housing projects with local businesses, and move the Wednesday market into a Les Halles type square focused on place Emile Cabrié to draw people into the centre.
The back drop is the classic story of small market town degeneration. Since the 1960s the centre of Lezignan Corbieres has been crumbling in disrepair. It’s narrow winding streets and small higgly piggly houses are neither suited to modern life styles nor offer car access or parking. The growth of lotttissements, new build residential developments around the town, have attracted existing residents and new comers alike.
When we arrived here, back in 1999, Lezignan Corbieres had two supermarkets, a small friendly Champion, and a badly run Intermarche. Both on the road from the centre of town out to the Auto Route. Lezignan Corbieres amounted to around 5,000 people at the time. Since then the town has doubled in population, and there are four new commercial centres, Champion has folded into Carrefour and moved down the road, the hard discounts have opened up on all the major roads. The one organic shop first moved out of the centre, then was bought out by the owners of the Vie Claire franchise, which then went bust, BioCoop has set up this year, as has a local producers shop. We knew the new Lycée, Ernest Ferroul, had got the go ahead when McDonald’s arrived.
In other words Lezignan has grown and has been transformed. That is outer Lezignan has been transformed, in a rather mishmashed way true, it has not got any prettier that is for sure, and some of infrastructure, such as the roads are a positive disgrace. The centre of town has also transformed, and not in a good way. I wrote some thoughts on this a couple of years back, see Lezignan Market Musing
So the redevelopment of the centre is the Mayor’s response to this problem. Implant more middle class accommodation into the centre of town, and encourage local shops and artisans to set up to serve this new community. Will it work? Well there is certainly a general trend away from the cold efficiency of the hyper market, and there is certainly a discussion about a return to ‘authenticity’. One of the parts of the development plan is to attract more bijou artisan type shops into the existing high street, the ‘Lagrassification’ of Lezignan as one of my friends described it. Well unlike Lagrasse, or for that matter the Les Halles and the canal de la Robine in Narbonne, is the simple reality that Lezignan high street is butt ugly. The Wednesday market is busy because of the market, the tourists take pictures of us market stand holders and our produce not the architecture of the buildings. In other words people come to the centre of Lezignan for events not for Lezignan itself. You can’t fix that bulldozers.
My other issue with the plan to ‘yuppify’ the centre of town is where are these new middle class people going to come from? The Aude is second poorest Metropolitan Department of France, after our neighbours in the Ariege. The enlargement of towns such as Lezignan and Narbonne is not being driven by migrants attracted by the booming economy, as it is over in Southern Catalonia. The two largest factors are retiring French people from the North; and predominately EU migrants either looking for a low cost second home or a retirement home in the sun.Leaving aside the issue of the stress this is putting on our already stressed health system, these type of in bound migrants are usually looking for a house with a garden, easy access to the countryside, and in the case of second homers, something with character and beauty- not a town apartment in other words. The Lycée could have the desired effect, the influx of well educated teachers, administrators and support staff, all on secure job contracts could tip the balance the Mayor’s way. Whether they would want to buy:rent accommodation in what is now a poor, that is to say Gitane and Arabic, quarter remains to be seen, but in the 80s I witnessed bankers buying houses in the dodgier bits of Stoke Newington, so stranger things have happened.
What will all these changes mean for the market, and us stand holders? Initially there will be a bit of relocation shock, both for stand holders and clients, until everyone gets to know where heir favourite stand holders are, and we work out the order of gettingin and out of the market at the beginning and the end. The idea is that food and related products get to go in the new Les Halles on place Emile Carié with the frippery re-sellers winding round the church and down the alleys. It is true that at the moment there is not a great deal of logic to the way Lezignan market is set out, it is all a bit haphazard, with knife sellers inter woven with vegetable sellers, plastic flower sellers next to olive sellers. However there is a strange coherency to Lezignan market, that has emerged quite by accident, there are pockets of organic and local producers, there is certainly a part that feels, and caters for a more Maghrebian community. It would be sad to lose that character.
The other concern of mine, at least initially, is the lack of cafes in place Emile Carié. Cafes play a crucial role in markets, not only is the injection of caffeine essential at 6am in the morning, but it gives us stand holders a change to catch up on the news and gossip, find out about new markets and foires and generally keep the coherence of the market together. For our clients it is the same, sitting on a cafe terrace watching the hustle and bustle of a market is part of the pleasure of going to a market, catching up with friends scattered in the Corbieres and Minervois who only come to town once a week adds to the whole market enjoyment. The problem is that you can’t run a cafe that is only busy one morning a week.
It is the whole chicken and egg problem of urban redevelopment, you can’t run a business without clients, and if there is no local businesses the area is not attractive for potential customers. I wish the Mayor and his plans well, it is going to happen and we will be moved, so we have to live with it. Whether it will work remains to be seen, what ever happens it will not work overnight, so patience is the key, that and a large glass of rosé.