Drew Williamson’s 2017 ENVS honors thesis, “Constructing a World-Class Tramway System: Building Identity through Innovative Urbanism in the ‘Glocal’ City of Strasbourg, France,” is available as an ENVX publication here.
Here is Drew’s thesis abstract:
In this essay, I explore the city of Strasbourg, France and efforts the city has made to boost its standing on the global scale while also seeking to provide a higher quality of life for its inhabitants at the local level. In the study, I utilized ethnographic (on-site, interviews) and historical (archival documents) methods to investigate the cultural role of public transportation development in Strasbourg. To better understand the purposes and constituencies that have been served by the city’s efforts in urbanism, I invoke relevant concepts of global (world) city theory; urban amenities; city branding and place promotion; and social implications of transportation infrastructure situated on a singular object— Strasbourg’s tramway system. Despite the city’s relatively obscure status, it is home to multiple international organizations, most notably the European Union Parliament—giving rise to a self- appointed brand and identity as the “European Capital.” Starting in 1989, the city’s government undertook radical, concerted action to improve local environmental conditions by constructing a tram network and banning most cars from the entire historic downtown to “return the city to its people.” Though highly contentious at first, in the twenty years up to today, the tram has rapidly reshaped how the collective of Strasbourg’s residents see themselves. I argue that Strasbourg’s tram network has catapulted the city into contention for ‘world city’ status, as a result of transportation innovation and subsequent global influence in matters of urbanism. Framed by this noteworthy example, I demonstrate that the (re)-creation of public space via shared amenities (i.e. public transportation) on a localized scale can result in significant positive impacts at multiple scales, be they spatial, temporal, societal or political. I posit that even while existing within a global neoliberal framework, cities—as our greatest human social constructs—should be designed and run more democratically. I argue that maintenance of the public sphere can enhance a city’s “glocality,” and that such efforts should be the focus of development as “the city” continues to grow in importance in the 21st century.