Anti-City: The Citizen Experience vs. Museification

by Ms. Micaela Mikhy Neveu

HeritageForAll Heritage Intern (Call 2018) from Paris, France

I. Cultural Citizenship at the heart of the urban experience: living the heritage

Fig. 1. Fresque illustrant le mouvement des Gilets jaunes inspirée de E. Delacroix par l’artiste Pascal Boyart, 19e arrondissement de Paris. Une énigme serait cachée dans l’œuvre,

Does the city still have a living city centre? Neither the agora nor the public square or the churches seem to persist as a central point in the urban landscape, fading away from traffic infrastructure and intersections, “non-places” such as airports, shopping malls, train stations or the highways where people cross but do not really meet. The disappearance of “living together” in the ever-growing modern city which is always growing faster at the crossroads of constantly increasing networks, reducing the material and geographical space, and leaving room for streets and roads as the only phenomenon of the movement, of the speed of displacements and exchanges, unavoidable sources of transformation for the urbanization of cities. Today it is the urban events that define the city, the events and its capacity for mass consumption. Globalization has also helped to homogenize the style of cities under the influence of the Western model and relegate the traditional to the background. Emergences of social and spatial segregation marked by politico-cultural ruptures are composed of future archipelagos composed of “tribes” that tear the unity of the city apart [1].

Fig. 2. Sur le camp de migrants du Canal Saint-Martin, les tentes s’accumulent sur les berges du bassin Louis Blanc. LP/J.-N. Guillo,

The city is the place of projection of the future, that of the innovation, the meeting and the democratic space of the origins. It is also the place of architectural heritage, museums, culture and art, but for what population? The urban experience, that is to say, the investment of the city by the renewed occupation of its heritage by the local populations, must compose a new theater of cultural democracy, a living theater of the awakening and of the consciousness of the other. The urban experience is an immersion into real life, the city, its streets, squares, monuments and landscapes, encouraged by the cultural, the sense of memory and history, art and culture, the beauty empowered by the force of theatricality, that is the transfiguration of spaces into other unexpected realities. This involves the renewal of the legendary, but also the influence of the meeting of identities and cultural diversities in the now.

Fig. 3. Rives de la Seine, Paris.

This urban experience is opposed by a multifaceted, yet rigid phenomenon: the massification of the museification of “labeled”, “protected”, “in peril” and “endangered” heritage spaces, circumscribed forever and destined for continuous economic development, for mass tourism. These “open air museums”, sleeping in a temporality of history, stuck in a patrimonialization of ice, where one dreams the world instead of living it, ignore the dark side of this city of which they are the symbols. This dark side refers to the desert of the marketing narrative of heritage imposed by cultural policies.

The urban experience, the city and its reality, is immersed in the heart of urban actions. It is in this immediate action that the architectural heritage must settle, in the here and the now. While the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, for example, hosts a large majority of tourists attracted by the legendary romance and bohemian mound, the locals desert it for a more authentic Paris in the neighborhood of the more popular part of the 18th district of the capital. Artificial spaces created from scratch to satisfy the dreams of fooled tourists are as frequented as ever, frequented by the same tourists that shy away from the cities living spaces because they follow a tour of monuments that has been proposed to them. This “path” of the tourist has a list of choice, where 2185 of the most famous monuments of Paris are listed, ranging from the Eiffel Tower, the Conciergerie, the Arc de Triomphe, the Avenue des Champs Elysées, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, the museum of le Louvre, Montmartre at the Pantheon, etc., all perfectly marketed to sell. But that is not all what is Paris; in this globally competitive perspective, the city has two distinct realities: fiction, intended for tourism, and reality, for the inhabitants of the city who has divided themselves into different social categories marked by large fractures.

Fig. 4. La Conciergerie de Paris. Muséification de la ville.

Poverty, misery, forgetfulness, dilapidation and dirt are erased: the man, or the woman, who sleeps in the street at the foot of a famous monument, church or museum; the isolated migrant sitting on the edge of a prestigious fountain that has nowhere to go; the madman who screams his distress in a prized park; graffiti on the walls that communicate the revolt to the Arc de Triomphe of the famous Champs Elysees, the most “beautiful avenue of the world”, witnesses of the police repressions on Yellow vest protesters; occupations of the city by the social movements on the historic places in “Republique” or “Bastille” in Paris, and in the big cities of France; Roundabouts and intersections with new agoras waiting for a democratic transition, connect to the city center thus building bridges of solidarity. This is the authentic Paris as it’s happening right now, forming history as we speak, while the tourist is being kept far away.

Fig. 5. Arc de triomphe vu du ciel, Paris

Fig.6. Arc de Triomphe- Mouvance des Gilets Jaunes, Paris 2018.

This is the city-showcase Paris which essentially forms an anti-city, that of a kind of “Truman Show”[2], with its 65 000 Parisian housing proposed on Airbnb[3], this museification counter-project poses a fatal threat to culture, as described in the “Société du spectacle” by Guy Debord. This tourism policy is not neutral. The generalization of tourism is also reflected in the transformation of the whole of Europe into a tourist site[4], a real reductionism of the role of the citizen subject only to the weight of the commercial world. However, urban experience comes from the investment by the public into places of heritage and culture as an action of citizenship – that is to say, as a contribution to the life of the city – thus the city is reborn from its ashes and can step out from the shadows and into the light.

2. The city as a place of debate and transformation:

Model Athens 8th century BC J.C.

In the Greek world, people organized themselves in a political framework of their own, the “city”, which was an autonomous community inscribed in a territory. From Thucydides to Aristotle, the prehistory of the city represents the passage from the household to the village and lastly to the city. Archaic synœcism[5] had the political role, from this period in Greece, to create a state by centralizing power without directly transforming the housing structure while developing the city center and reducing the others to a state of subordination. The term “polis” was used for both types of cities; in Athens, we spoke of “Tetrapole” composed of 4 cities. For the city of Athens, synœcism had developed in two stages: first, by the meeting around a common king, Cecrops, then, the constitution, by Theseus, of a single State whose center was the upper town, the Acropolis. Other centers made their appearance by bringing the populations of a region together on fixed dates thus allowing for common deliberations. This mainly concerned places of worship. Important innovation from the eighth century BC in Greece, the sanctuary separated from the political center, while in the East, it remained included in the palace. Also, the construction of a monumental temple with a unique tutelary deity crystallized the advent of the city accompanied by the emergence of public places, like the agora, of which the oldest known goes back to that of Dréros dating from the same period. It is a stepped esplanade depending on a sanctuary. In Athens, the original political center, dating from the end of the 9th century BC, was found on the east side of the Acropolis, juxtaposed with the new town built in the 8th century in the plain; There, the “Prytaneum” was located, the seat of the magistrates, the “Boukoleion”, residence of the king, and the “Basileion”, a place of meeting of the tribe chiefs forming the primitive institutions of a type of representative government.

Fig. 7. La cité : monuments, institutions et citoyenneté en Grèce, Vie siècle av. J.C.

Thus, a city appeared with the meeting of the community to deliberate common affairs, the election of representatives for the management and sharing of responsibilities. But this first attempt at representative governance often borrowed the structure of an oligarchy whose central institution was embodied by the “Council”. The oldest in Athens was that of the “Areopagus” of which one was a member for life. The people were organized around the nobles, the “kings” who lived in the cities from which they governed. The status of “citizen” arises with the compromise of interest and the sharing of responsibilities determining the membership of an individual to a community other than that of the family.

The importance of the town square in the city: towards the isonomy

At the end of the 8th century, the world of cities was structured around a few public squares. Hesiod had demonstrated the precariousness of the small peasantry and its fatal degradation at the end of the eighth century. At the origin of the city, the unequal distribution of land accompanied by the succession of inheritances reduced over generations produced a crisis of peasant subsistence chained to the debt in a relationship of dependence with the big landowners. Theognis of Megara or Solon of Athens evoked the struggles between the “Highborn” and the “wicked”, peasants dressed in goat skins, or the demand for a new division of land. The context of this period focuses on a struggle between the “people”, the sharers, and the “Great”, holders of wealth. Solon proposed himself as arbitrator between the two parties and to solve the crisis by making the law an obligation common to all and the intangible rights of the free man. He is credited with developing an economic project based on speculative agriculture and handicrafts. As an alternative to the crisis, recourse was made to an authoritarian government exercised by one and supported by force: tyranny was a violent reaction against the ruling power in a form of absolutism. In Athens, the final stage of this type of so-called “transition” governance ended in isonomy[6], the participation of the people in public affairs. In the sixth century, for Herodotus and for Aristotle, the reform consisted of the restructuring of the civic body and a change of regime which consisted essentially of a distribution of the citizens into ten new tribes which supplanted the four primitive tribes of Athens; the regions were mixed by convention and the “deme” replaced the tribes. The networks of local cults, the headquarters of the big families were re-located; the new subdivisions received an administrative function. People were Athenian by their home and not by their origin thus allowing new citizens a better integration. Two principals were put in place, “patriotism” and “centralization” into the city. The development of the west side of the agora enhanced the function of political capital of the city with the Archives, public buildings and the Heroes enclosure as a religious center. The re-foundation of the city around the heroic cults was aimed at setting up a new mode of political participation. Democracy, however, only came later, but was about to make its way[7]. Could changes always lead to constructive times for heritage?

Short History of a process of destruction of the architectural heritage

Fig. 8. Cités-dortoirs de banlieue, Aubervilliers, Paris, les principes de la charte d’Athènes : Des immeubles hauts, standardisés, non alignés sur la rue au milieu de “jardins”.

In his March 1975 article, In his March 1975 article, Our Architectural Heritage: A Future for Our Past[8], author S. Forza drew attention to a phenomenon of significant change in the architectural heritage that would transform Europe forever. For 25 years, this process, which has never before been observed, profoundly affected our way of life, both socially and culturally, but also as human and individual. Beyond the ravages caused by urban planning during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, reminds the author, because of the concepts of hygiene or the transformation of urban transport, it is essentially the Post-war period which in all European countries affected the urban landscape in the wake of WW2. Legislation initiated in the 1950s, aimed at increasing construction premiums, led to new construction in response to the emerging housing crisis and rural exodus. However, at this time, the State did not provide any assistance for the restoration of the old heritage like the historical centers for example. The 1960s saw the historical city center abandoned in favor of the outlying areas of “dormitory towns” built on agricultural land with significant public spending on transport and common services as well as private funds for the owners of the towns surrounding lands. At the time, there was an “outpouring” of the city in the image of an oil spill: the inhabitants, at medium or high wages, moved towards the periphery, while the historical centers, at the time poorly maintained and abandoned, were transformed into business, administration and transport-centers and the like.

Fig. 9. Démolition du quartier de la Pomme d’Or, Rouen, France, 1972,

It was only in the 1970s that we began to revalue the historical centers and recognize their remarkable character with their economic value including the real estate speculation they generate. For centuries, before the Second World War, the transformation of small and big cities, or even villages, had been slowly carried out by a series of harmonious and progressive juxtapositions of the architectural fabric, whereas after the war, profound and rapid changes in its systematic destruction, the cause of which lies essentially in unprecedented speculation. Breakage of style through the use of new materials, introduction of industrial construction methods, stereotyped and interchangeable or globalizing architectural plans promoted in major cities from Chicago to Marseille, from Milan to Zurich or from Frankfurt to Bordeaux, contributed to the irreversible upheaval of the urban landscape, towns and villages of Europe. Forza argues that the reasons for these transformations also find their causes in the transition from an agricultural and artisanal society to an urban and industrial society: at this time, the author wrote that in a century 90% of the world’s population would be urban. According to the UN, in 2050, 68% of the world’s population will live in cities against 55% today. That means an additional 2.5 billion people in the worlds’ urban areas by this date. 90% of this increase will come from Asia and Africa. India, China and Nigeria together account for 35% of the growth of large cities between 2018 and 2050. Today, Tokyo represents the largest city with 37 million of inhabitants followed by New Delhi with 29 million, Shanghai, 26 million and Mexico City and Sao Paulo, 22 million[9].

Preserve the heritage but for whom?

In 1985, the “Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe” elaborated by the Council of Europe defined the architectural heritage in the following way:

“For the purposes of this Convention, the term” architectural heritage “is considered to include the following real property:

  1. Monuments: all particularly remarkable achievements because of their historical, archaeological, artistic, scientific, social or technical interest, including the installations or decorative elements forming an integral part of these achievements;
  2. Architectural groups: homogeneous groupings of urban or rural constructions remarkable for their historical, archaeological, artistic, scientific, social or technical interest and sufficiently coherent to be the subject of a topographical delimitation;
  3. Sites: combined works of man and nature, partially constructed and constituting sufficiently characteristic and homogeneous spaces to be the subject of a topographical delimitation, remarkable for their historical, archaeological, artistic, scientific and social or technical interest. [10]
Fig. 10. Chinon, cité historique dominée par son château,

The idea of ​​the systematic conservation of a building for its historical or artistic interest is reminiscent of Gustav Adolphe, king of Sweden, who in 1630 defined rules and brought specialists together to catalog the country’s archaeological monuments and remains. In France, it is from the revolutionary period in the eighteenth century that the problem of preserving the architectural heritage, as an inheritance to be preserved and transmitted, began to really emerge. Sale of property of the Nation and revolutionary confiscations then pose the question of the destiny of French heritage. In reality, these actions were intended to finance the State and the Revolution, but also a very important transfer of property from the nobility and clergy to the rising bourgeoisie throughout the nineteenth century. Romantic English, German and Italian writers place considerable importance on monuments and medieval heritage. With the French romantic movement, the State initiated a framework relative to the conservation of historic monuments especially since 1830 under the Minister of the Interior François Guizot. Thus, develops the concept of “Historical Monument”. However, although the concept is a great advancement, it presents a certain disadvantage especially when a building is “classified”, it is then restored to nine and is found clear of buildings around in order to enhance it. It is thus decontextualized of its frame of origin and by this means of its character which had given him the interest of its construction. From this harmonious ensemble a “museographic object was preserved, a monument-object”[11]. This was the case of the Place-of-arms by Haussmann in front of the parvis of Notre-Dame in Paris for example. The urban space surrounding the monument was not highly considered during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when the notion of ensemble began to appear, the central monument was always the priority without really taking into account the surroundings themselves.

3. The Truman Show of architectural heritage: the frozen labels

In 1837, the “National Commission of Historical Monuments” was created, but it is only 50 years later, with the law of March 30th, 1887 for the “Conservation of the monuments and objects of art having a historical and artistic interest” that “Historical monuments” really enter into the legislative framework. At the beginning of the 20th century, the 1913 law, made up of 39 articles, combines 3 major ideas concerning historical monuments: “interest in the public”, “protection” and “knowledge”. Add to this first impetus, other important texts that have participated in the protection of heritage such as “Natural sites and monuments”, the law of 1906 supplemented by the law of May 2, 1930, which are classified, protected and preserved like the Historical monuments for their “general interest according to their artistic, historical, legendary or picturesque scientific character”.

The law of February 25 1943 added to the law of 1913, that the edge of the historica monuments decreeing a perimeter of 500 meters called “field of visibility” where any modification must be the subject of an agreement of the architect of the buildings of France. The Malraux law of August 4, 1962, the Conservation of heritage penetrates the field of urban planning with the concept of “Protected sector” which has a special regime to “name of its historical character, aesthetic or likely to justify conservation, restoration and enhancement”.

In France, a hundred cities have had this regime since the 1960s, such as the cities of Lyon, Besançon and Senlis. The status of “Historic Monument” is a recognition by the nation of the heritage value of a property; “This protection implies a shared responsibility between the owners and the national community with regard to its preservation and its transmission to future generations”[12]. In addition, let’s add, the “Architectural, Urban and Landscape Heritage Protection Zones” initiated by the Decentralization Law of January 7, 1983 and the “Landscapes” Law of January 8, 1993, which was replaced in 2010 by the “Enhancement Areas”, heritage architecture under the Grenelle law. Also, the Ministry of Culture and Communication in France has put in place several labels promoting French cultural heritage, the label “Heritage of the twentieth century” of 1999 which concerns buildings and urban ensembles of particular remarkability of the twentieth century, the “Houses of the illustrious” of 2011 which report the residences of the important figures for their history or that of their occupants, and finally the label “Remarkable garden” created in 2004. There are other labels such as “Cities and countries of art and history”, “Villages and cities of character”, “Grand site de France” or the “Museums of France”. More broadly, since 2013, the European Commission has also awarded the “European Heritage” label, thereby contributing to the construction of the outstanding heritage development mission throughout Europe.

Fig. 11. Le Havre, France, ville inscrite au patrimoine mondial de l’humanité par l’UNESCO,

At the international level, we can cite the labels who are still the most representative today, such as the “World Heritage of Humanity” defined by UNESCO in the name of its “outstanding universal value” which was established by the 1972 Convention and brings together 1031 cultural and natural properties of 163 countries worldwide. The list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage” of 2003 as well as “Underwater Cultural Heritage” are both also administered by UNESCO.

In France, in 2015, the National Assembly drafted a law on the “freedom of creation, architecture and heritage” which was promulgated in July 2016. Its objective is to preserve French cultural heritage; one of the most important measures concerns the “historical cities” which aims to substitute various devices such as the “Protection zones of the heritage, urban and landscape” and the “Areas of valorization of the architecture of the heritage” in particular through a regulation integrated at the local level by simplifying urban planning rules and procedures[13]. The concept of historical cities refers to the collective imagination of the museum-city or to the museification of the city, which goes hand in hand with the notion of cultural marketing that responds to the new challenges of culture. The Heritage Days initiated under Jack Lang, former Minister of Culture in France, aimed at the appropriation by the French of the national heritage. In an article in the newspaper Le Monde, the former minister said that “the law creates, in a spirit of simplification, the name “Historical city” to replace the three heritage protection mechanisms, the constraints of which are integrated at the local level urban planning (PLU) of the cities concerned. The law decentralizes patrimonial protection powers. The commune, or the public intercommunal establishment, becomes project owners instead of the State”. “Thus, 103 cities with “protected sectors” – entities created by Malraux in 1962 – the 685 municipalities with “protection zones of the architectural heritage, urban and landscape” (ZPPAUP), decided by Jack Lang in 1983, and the 50 cities with “Architecture and Heritage Enhancement Areas” (AVAPs), created in 2010[14], would all become historical cities”. The world is labeled in a label concept. Where do the living places remain? The project was not unanimous in France, however, the museification of cities, villages and architectural heritage continues to be at the expense of the will of many to the benefit of an ever more competitive cultural market. Homogenization of spaces, ultra-modernity, scenography of urban spaces for tourist purposes, all suggest a future traced for the urban architectural heritage; a heritage relegated to the artifices of marketing without the authentic. The standardization of heritage labels and brands of all kinds seems to have signed the death sentence of the global cultural project symbol of the “anti-city”. Faced with the urban challenges of our century, climate change, massive migration, rising precariousness and poverty, urban violence and terrorism, can this staged anti-city museification, hidden among these real-world challenges, really continue? It is through the appropriation of heritage in all its grandeur that the civic cultural renaissance can take place as an expression of a new experience open to full cultural democracy.

[1] De La Chapelle Valérie, Quelles scénographies architecturales et urbaines pour la ville d’aujourd’hui, master Création en nouveau média, 2004-2005, ENSCI/Les Ateliers, Paris.

[2] Film de Peter Weir, 1998, où le personnage principal découvre que sa vie est une télé-réalité.

[3] « Airbnb : Paris dépeuplé, Paris muséifié ? », Itinéraire BIS, France Culture, août 2017, voir

[4] FOESSEL M., « Le touriste, seul étranger désormais désirable ? », Libération, août 2014, voir

[5] « Réunion de plusieurs villages dans une cité », (grec sunoikismos, cohabitation) ; voir la définition surœcisme/76195

[6] « Egalité citoyenne ou politique apparue lors de la marche d’Athènes vers la démocratie ; Elle est au cœur de ce régime politique à venir ; elle s’interprète aujourd’hui comme l’égalité de droit ou égalité devant la loi », voir définition du Littré, 1880.

[7] BASLEZ M. F., « La mise en place du modèle grec (VIIIe siècle) », Histoire politique du monde grec antique, Paris, A. Colin, 2008, pp. 45-82.

[8] Forza S. Notre patrimoine architectural : un avenir pour notre passé, Bulletin de l’Association Guillaume Budé, n°1, mars 1975. pp. 67-81.

[9] « Population mondiale : 68 % des citadins en 2050 contre 55 % aujourd’hui »,, mai 2018. Voir :

[10] « Convention pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine architectural de l’Europe », série des Traités européens n° 121, Conseil de l’Europe, Grenade, octobre 1985 ; voir :

[11] Forza S. Op. Cit., p. 72.

[12] « Les monuments historiques », Monuments historiques & Sites patrimoniaux remarquables,, voir :

[13] GUILLOT, Julien. « Quelle protection pour le patrimoine architectural ? Quelques éléments juridiques et historiques ». Les carnets de l’Inventaire : études sur le patrimoine culturel – Rhône-Alpes & Auvergne [en ligne], 21 juillet 2015. URL : <>

[14] EVIN Florence, « La future « cité historique » inquiète les défenseurs du patrimoine », Le Monde, septembre 2015.


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