The Marseille Model

<p>As racial tensions erupt across France, the diverse city of Marseille has remained calm. Many look to it as a model for the future of an increasingly ethnically-mixed France and Europe.</p>
December 12, 2007, 2pm PST | Nate Berg
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"The city has not historically enjoyed a reputation for serenity. For Americans, at least, it may best be remembered as a setting for The French Connection, the 1971 drug smuggling thriller starring Gene Hackman. French television series depict the city as a seedy, rebellious enclave lacking in proper Gallic restraint. Yet its calm in the midst of a crisis has caused sociologists and politicians to take a fresh look. Across Europe, immigrant populations are mushrooming. There were fewer than one million Muslims in Western Europe after World War II before guest-worker programs fueled immigration. Today there are 15 million Muslims, five million in France alone. That change has exacerbated tensions between communities and local governments struggling to cope with the newcomers. Could Marseille, gritty yet forward-thinking, and as the French say, convivial, hold a key to Europe's future?"

"These questions come at a time when Marseille's image is already undergoing an upgrade. The world of drug lords and crumbling wharves has been giving way, block by block, to tourists and trendy boutiques. The French government has pledged more than half a billion dollars to redevelop the waterfront. Cruise ships brought 460,000 visitors this year, up from 19,000 a decade ago. Hotel capacity is expected to increase 50 percent in the next four years. Once merely the jumping-off point for tourists heading into Provence, the old port city is fast becoming a destination in itself. 'Marseille is no longer the city of The French Connection,' Thomas Verdon, the city's director of tourism, assured me. 'It's a melting pot of civilizations.'"

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Published on Saturday, December 1, 2007 in Smithsonian Magazine
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