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The downsides of living in a small town in France

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The downsides of living in a small town in France
Photo: AFP
15:18 CET+01:00
More people say they would rather live in a small French town than one of France's big cities or the countryside but there are a few downsides when it comes to quality of life.

Where is your ideal place to live in France?

The centre of Paris or Lyon? Or out in the countryside of western Brittany or Creuse or Correz in central France where your local village will have just one boulangerie, one bar and if you're lucky a restaurant.

A recent poll revealed that more French people prefer small to medium-sized towns such as Poitiers, Niort, Brive-la-Gaillarde, Blois or Saint-Brieuc.

It was in towns like these - with a population of between 10,000 and 100,000 where the inhabitants were the most satisfied - more than those who lived in Paris or La France Profonde.

The reasons life in these towns seems so satisfactory was mainly because of the peace and tranquility they offered, plus the feeling of security, their proximity to nature, and the fact these small towns offered residents both urban and rural life. 

But despite the apparent popularity of life in small and medium-sized towns in France these urban areas aren't exactly booming. Many are in fact struggling and and life does have its downsides, which partly explains why the population of many of these areas has fallen.

READ ALSO: The 222 towns across France that are set for a major makeover

Map: The 222 towns across France set for a major makeover

There is a feeling among many in these towns that they have simply been neglected by the state.

For example the one factor that inhabitants revealed they were unhappy with was transport. While France's big cities have good public transport networks and are linked by airports and TGV high-speed rail services, things are different in France's smaller towns.

Regional TER train services are not as reliable or as frequent as TGV trains, which benefit from most of France's investment in rail services. 

It is in these towns where inhabitants are forced to rely on cars and therefor suffer when the price of petrol rises.

READ ALSO: Where in France would you rather live, the city or the countryside?

Then there's the jobs factor.

The study revealed that the inhabitants of smaller towns see these places as less attractive in terms of employment opportunities. They also believe the quality of health and other public services to have worsened in recent years.

Their perception is backed up by reality.

"Since the year 2000 successive governments have been revising public policies and the main public services have seen a decline that has mainly hit towns with less than 50,000 people," Frederic Santamaria, an urban planning expert at the University of Paris Diderot told 20 minutes newspaper.

"This mainly concerns the areas of health and justice: courthouses have closed, hospitals have cut beds and even whole establishments have closed," he added.

Many inhabitants of small and medium-sized towns had the impression their "town centres were dying" a sentiment backed up by the fact that stats revealed towns under 200,000 people had more and more vacant retail space compared to bigger cities.

These same inhabitants also feel their towns are neglected by the country's politicians in favour of the country's main cities like Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux.

This is a sentiment expressed by many yellow vests protesters from smaller urban areas during recent weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

"For the last 20 years medium-sized towns in France have not been a priority for urban policy, so it's not surprising that people feel like a little neglected," said Santamaria. "Especially when you compare the massive investment made in projects such as the Grand Paris Express."

"Big cities have been highly valued in terms of development, and also through additional means of governance in a context of the global economy," said Santamaria.

222 towns in France to be rejuvenated

But the French government does have plans for some of these struggling towns.

Last year it unveiled a list of 222 French towns whose centres will be given millions of euros to be revitalized. 

The "Action Coeur de Ville" plan will see €5 billion spent on rejuvenating the centres of 222 medium sized towns across the country over the next five years. 
 
Town authorities will be able to use the cash on an array of development projects, including housing, transport, education, cultural and sports offerings.
 
The list of towns that made the cut include Douai, Lorient, Troyes, Colmar, Limoges, Mont-de-Marsan, Avignon and Perpignan. (See below for a full list and map) 
 
"I am convinced that medium-sized towns are an essential area for the development of our territories," said Minister of Territorial Cohesion Jacques Mézard on Tuesday.
 
Mézard said medium-sized towns in France account for 23 percent of the overall population of France and 26 percent of jobs. But many towns in France have seen shops close in recent years with stores being left vacant. This is one problem the government wants to fix.
 
"Their vitality is essential because it benefits the entire town, and more broadly the surrounding urban and suburban areas. The heart of the city, in all the diversity of the French urban fabric, is the melting pot where civic life, economic life, social life is formed."
 
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