Seeing further, seeing brighter : seeing bigger. Storytelling for the Grande Porte des Alpes (the Great Alps Gate) of the Lyon Metropolis


  • Baptiste Colin EVS


Foresight; Lyon; Discourse




Can future urban models easily get rid of well-established practices? On 29 November 2021, the Metropolis of Lyon launched an urban foresight approach to formulate scenarios for the development and transformation of the "Grande Porte des Alpes" area by 2050. This "historic development territory of the Lyon metropolitan area" covers 1,350 hectares and is home to almost 13,000 jobs. It thus represents a considerable economic and urban challenge, but also poses decisive societal and political challenges: "its evolution potential gives it an essential role to play in the environmental transition of the Lyon Metropolis" (Press kit, July 2022).

This international consultation responds to the "ambition", in the words of the vice-president of the Metropolis for urban and environment affairs, "to ask ourselves what the development of the area should be in 10, 20, 30 years so that the inhabitants can live well there". Those behind the project are stating the urgent need to adapt the urban fabric to contemporary issues and to the primary concern of a human ecology. A virtuous exercise in renouncing trends rooted in a vicious circle of metropolisation that is now decried!

By examining this foresight approach, placed in the broader perspective of the study of such urban production formats (Dixon et al., 2018; 2022), I intend in particular to question the implementation and adaptation markers of the urban model inherited from the twentieth century as a functionalist metropolitan gateway. These suburban polarities are characterized by a juxtaposition of spaces (industrial, commercial, tertiary) conceived as the source of a new urbanity. Criticized for the poor urban quality of such sectorization of activities at the city's margins and the modes of production, mobility and consumption to which they are attached, this "urbanism of sectors" (Mangin, 2004) nevertheless prevailed at the end of the twentieth century and sealed the urban development of city entrances. The geographer Michel Lussault describes the area as a "perfect synthesis of all the obsolescences".

By questioning the temporalities associated with this territory, this paper aims to study the way in which narrative discourses question the future of a strategic economic territory, at the crossroads of the transition between two urban models. The international urban planning consultation launched by the Metropolis provides an opportunity to look ahead to 2050, through the indeterminate writing of structuring scenarios. The production of these different, coexisting, sometimes competing and/or contradictory narratives merits closer attention. The various rhythms (and stages) of production lead to a multiplication of adaptation products and media and, as such, promise to strengthen commitment among stakeholders in the transformation of the area concerned.

While endorsing the outcome of operations carried out over the past decades as a successful planning model in a period of economic growth and regional attractiveness, the current project's promoters tend to present the concerned territory from a sharply contrasting aspect. The overall image that emerges is often negative, yet it also serves to highlight the urgency and potential of post-growth changes. However, the stakeholders involved in the project diverge on the future scenarios that the three teams are working on.

This paper explores how the Porte des Alpes area's development project for 2050 is portrayed in the international urban planning consultation launched with great pomp by the Metropolis of Lyon in the summer of 2022, looking on selected productions to illustrate the oppositional scenarios and projections in the storytelling of the Grande Porte des Alpes development project, and in particular the multi-scalar urban planning narratives that emerged as part of this foresight process, and the narrative mechanisms they produced (Matthey, 2014).


Dixon, T., Montgomery, J., Horton-Baker, N., & Farrelly, L. (2018) ‘Using urban foresight techniques in city visioning: Lessons from the Reading 2050 vision’, Local Economy, 33 (8), pp. 777-799.

Dixon, T., Karuru-Sebina, G., Ravetz, J., & Tewdwr-Jones, M. (2023) ‘Re-imagining the future: city-region foresight and visioning in an era of fragmented governance’, Regional Studies, 57 (4), pp. 609-616.

Gallot-Delamézière, E. (2007) ‘Site périphérique-site stratégique : projet durable ou instrument de marketing territorial ?’, Territoire en mouvement. Revue de géographie et aménagement, 3, pp. 40-52.

Mangin, D. (2004) La ville franchisée. Formes et structures de la ville contemporaine. Paris : Editions de la Villette.

Matthey, L. (2014) Building up stories. Sur l’action urbanistique à l’heure de la société du spectacle intégré. Genève : A. Type éditions.