The knowledge economy has been sold to us as incredibly urban. Whether it is images of the Google Campus or of laptops loiterers in Starbucks, the lifestyle projected by media and by academics including Richard Florida and Edward Glaeser is one that is urban, connected and flexible. However, in a remarkable development the post-industrial city is also the post-urban. At least this is the case for the fast-growing sectors of health, IT and high technology, whose function is to generate the key materials of the information economy. The specific urban lifestyle associated with innovation environments, and represented in marketing brochures, literature and real estate speak often is not realised.
In Lille, ‘Knowledge Economy’ has resulted in a branded, caricatured and segregated métropole – a Parallel Métropole. By zoning and isolating Technopoles, Lille has created a geography of generic post-urban development that is nonetheless branded as cutting edge. This has been pursued at the expense of a more robust engagement with the post-industrial disenfranchised, who do not fit the specific subject that the Knowledge Economy as brand demands. ‘Knowledge Economy’ is a limited, fraught and discriminatory response to the regional economic restructuring program brought about by globalisation and the ensuing deindustrialisation throughout the developed world, particularly in second-tier cities such as Lille.
While the low-skilled, post-industrial subject has been the loser in this state of affairs, it is this very post-industrial condition that Lille has been trying to ‘mutate’ itself away from. This would be better done through projects that do not ignore or sidestep the problem, but rather engage with it. A privileged urban space for economic development is conceivable; however it need not be isolated, classspecific or even industry-specific. Indeed, Lille’s unique industrial blocks have the potential to facilitate a far more inclusive expression of metropolitan economic development which can lead in the end to a different, urban, idea of what Lille might become.