23 Jun 2010

Land of Labour/ Land of Leisure (Part 2)

Undeniably (and despite recession still crippling the building industry elsewhere), the construction process is in full swing throughout Corsica and is set to enjoy further growth in the coming years as land speculation and property developments are hot potatoes on the island, fuelling riches and tourism. South of Bastia, in the Plaine Orientale, the plains traditionally referred to as the fruit gardens of Corsica, struggling (or non-struggling) land owners are selling their fields and becoming instant euro-millionaires (10,000 sq.m. sold for 1.2 million Euros earlier this year)!

We may agree or disagree with the way land is being put to use, however French agriculture and peasantry in general are struggling for survival, and the selling off of family heritage is not a carefree decision for the parties concerned: rather it is often a reluctant, last-resort, bitter affair, and perceived deep down as a personal defeat or betrayal. Currently the average Corsican farmer is burdened with 58,170 euros woth of debt*. In the same breath, the extent of this agricultural malaise translates into the fact that 100,000 farms are threatened with closure across France over the next 10 years**.

The Corsican landscape is changing indeed, and probably at a faster pace over the last 10 years than in previous decades. I do not condemn progress and evolution, but I do not condone the excesses brought to some parts of the island that now exude more the space-wasting sprawl plainness of identikit Provence/ Côte d'Azur suburbia than individuality, character and visual merit that would be associated with a small island that is known to be ferociously protective of its identity.

I do encourage however a more careful, yet less politically-biased, approach to development and architecture, preserving the Corsican spirit and upping the architectural legacy, in harmony with the strong visual elements of the surrounding nature.

However I remain in fear of the architectural bankruptcy found on the Spanish Costas, with Benidorm the ultimate insult to land planning and sustainability. I do hope that Corsica will never reach those lows, and believe that land usage and property development need to remain everybody's business (not just that of town halls, the DDE*** and speculators), whether you are a local, a friend of the island or a tourist.

Source: The Benidorm Skyline by Wikipedia
We need to exert caution as (to put is very simplistically) the land that once fed families and gave generations their financial independence is now being sold off for a quick buck and snatched by unscrupulous investors. We need to ensure that ecology, agriculture/ peasantry, property developments and the local economy derivatives co-exist without prejudice, now and especially for the sake of generations to come!

* Corse-Matin local newspaper (27/04/2010)
** According to lunchtime news on French TV channel TF1 (13/04/2010)
*** DDE = Direction Départementale de l'Equipement (French government planning body that controls and delivers building applications).

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