Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Colourful Fruit and European Spatial Planning

A quick post today on the topic of bananas. What on earth am I talking about? European spatial planning of course. Let me explain....

Geographical metaphors and images are popular ways of presenting concepts in spatial planning. In 1989 a group of French geographers led by Roger Brunet published a report for DATAR, the French spatial planning agency (since updated). The report was about European cities and spatial planning and took a comparative approach, hence the title: Les Villes Européennes: Analyse Comparative.

Basically, they identified a strategically important area roughly stretching from the southern midlands of England to northern Italy, taking in parts of Belgium, northern France, the Netherlands, southern Germany, Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland along the way. The edges are somewhat fuzzy since it was only really supposed to convey the general idea of a European megalopolis.

The group of French geographers (RECLUS) named the area the dorsale (or backbone) since they said it signified the core European area in terms of population and productivity, with around 90 million people. When they presented their work at DATAR, the planning minister of the time (Jacques Chérèque) asked what the banana shape was on the map (it was coloured blue). This was overheard by Josette Alia, writing for French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur. A few days later there was an article with 'la banane bleue' in the title and an icon was born.

Since then we have had the 'bunch of grapes', the 'golden triangle' and the 'yellow banana'. There are even more bizarre fruit and vegetable references out there if you want to look. The point is this: spatial metaphors help us understand spatial development and can be very powerful in shaping understandings of how places are connected (or not).

The original blue banana article can be found on the web pages of Le Nouvel Obs, the magazine that first published it. I've done the legwork for you - the PDFs are in separate pages, so here's page 74, 75 and 76, from May 18, 1989.