7th Meeting of Mâcon “Rivers and territories”: Nicole Commerçon

Le déc 11, 2012 dans la categorie Events, Research par Aswathi Chandramohan | 0 Commentaire »

The conference “Rivers and territories” organized by the research Institute of Val de Saône on the 13th and 14th of September 2012 has sought to understand the many links that exist between rivers and territories today and also in the long-run and to examine the competitive uses that these links nurture. How do rivers interfere with the organization and the development of territories at all levels, from the major international transport corridors with their marine gateway to the industrial and urban facilities located near the river? The rivers, have they been, are they still or will they again become a factor for territorial integration through the activities they generate, by the networks, by the flow of people or goods exchanged across the valleys, by the cities which are around or by the representations of these, that are instilled in the minds of the people living in these territories?

The conference focused on three themes: rivers and transportation, rivers and cities, rivers, jobs and techniques.

Rivers and transportation

The first perspective is looking at the relationship between the rivers, transport and territories since the rivers are potential transport corridors/routes. However, in order to serve the territories, they should be included in multiple and/or intermodal networks, organized around internal hubs, inland or river ports and should be opened towards the sea via seaports.

It is therefore necessary to explain the role of river corridors in relation to the access to territories, especially with regard to the other modes of transport, whether it competes between or complements each other. Concerning the organisation of river corridors, the focus is drawn particularly on the role of seaports as gateways, and of the inland ports as relays for the movement of cargo/goods across territories, which are often dominated by major urban settlements. It is necessary to explore the principles of the systems of transport operations and on the public stakeholders who are responsible for land development and management, as well as the relationships between them, which cause problems relating to governance. The choice for specific sectors (dry bulk, building materials, value adding products or passengers) and of various river basins can be a good way to empirically illustrate theoretical reflections on the river corridors, networks and ports, to show the similarities and differences between a historical or geographical situation to another.

Rivers and cities

Cities are generally born by and established because of rivers, at the junction of land and water routes; but has this remained that way and is it tending to become that way again? These water routes have allowed the transportation of goods into city centres until the Industrial Revolution. In the course of its development and expansion, the city has attracted the more prestigious functions to its centre, and has conversely rejected those which were not to the outside. The city-dwellers’ lure for river sides and water in the city supported by elected officials and developers under the pretext of sustainable development and environmental protection paves the way for the development of new urban monofunctional spaces of recreation on the shores, which increases the recreational and cultural uses and tourism to a greater extent. Urban freeways that have divided the city centre and riverbanks are now replaced by Paris Plage for instance. Factories and storehouses along the canals and waterways are turned into marinas and leisure boats have replaced barges and the canal boats. Therefore, the links between the cities and their river are to be explored. How is the river included in the process of urbanization and on the other hand, how does urban development take the river into account? What urban activities are linked with the river in the city centres, on the outskirts and within a metropolitan area? Does the river still support industrial or transport activities of the city? How do inland ports fit into the urban area and how do they support them? Which water management is applied to ensure urban fresh water supply as well as sanitation? Do rivers constitute a risk for cities? Who are the urban stakeholders, public or private, economic, social or environmental actors interested in the rivers? How are rivers included in the urban policies? Finally, how do the inhabitants of the cities consider the river and the water in the city.

Rivers, jobs and techniques

The rivers have generated and continue to create numerous trades: rafters, fishermen, lock operators, bargemen, port agents in charge of handling cargo, shipbuilders, river technicians but also hydroelectricity power producers or regulators of hydrography.  Have these river dependent jobs and techniques remained specific to the river through the past and in the present? Do they, on the other hand, progressively tend to become a common place? In what ways do these jobs contribute to the development of the rivers’ uses and to the strengthening of the links between rivers and cities, or inversely?

The Bargemen is an interesting case as there is a distinction between the artisans and the wage earners, between the small business and the employees of more modern ship building companies between employees belonging to the intermediate framework such as captains or those with specific competences (helmsmen) and the blue collar status employees (Sailors). Is it possible to identify those elements that define the social morphology of these groups, the data explaining their working conditions, their relationship with different trades (charterers, shippers, administrative authorities, lock operators, colleagues), and also as itinerants people, their relations to the territories, in particular the cities, which they cross and serve?

Port businesses, especially those of offloading from river to roads and railways, are another field of investigation, particularly regarding work organisation. What are the constraints applied on these businesses according to the transport sector? From these observations, is it possible to come up with recommendations for the organisation or the development of new support systems for activities? In another sector, questions might be raised on the role and influence of these port businesses in the urban organization.  Beyond the bargemen and the current port businesses, these questions could be widened to other river jobs and to other periods of time particularly by taking into account historical uptakes, including archaeological inputs.

This conference was opened to human and social science disciplines, blending theoretical and empirical approaches, dealing with scales, also having international comparisons. A total of 49 communications have been chosen, presented over two days, after two inaugural meetings. The first meeting, given by Antoine Frémont (Director of research at the IFSTTAR, on secondment to the RFF) dealt with “Transport, lever for action to think the River-territory relation”. The second one, given by Jacques Bethemont (University Professor), has broadened the subject by presenting “The water as structuring or destructuring element of territories”. The conference ended in two ways. Michel Beuthe (professor at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve) has first concluded by pointing out gains (knowledge gained) and perspectives opened by the debates. Finally, a round table led by Maurice Bernadet (University Professor) has gathered water professionals and elected officials around the theme “River’s role in territories development”.

As for the previous conferences,the conference proceedings released by the Research Institute of Val de Saône–Maconnais will also soon present the main communications and will thus produce a record of the 7th Meeting of Mâcon dedicated to rivers and territories.

Nicole Commerçon – President of the Research Institute of Val de Saône

(Translated from French by Julie Gassien)

Publications relating to the links between dams and territories (Brazil and Mexico).

1. Territorial changes for the inhabitants of rivers used for hydroelectric power generation in Brazil by Guillaume Leturcq. Federal University of Santa Maria

2. The Papaloapan Rivear Mexico – Evolution of landscapes, reorganisation of territories by Virginie Thiébaut. Centre for the study of human geography. «El Colegio de Michoacán».


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