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Greater Geneva: an economic and social project at the heart of innovation

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par Robert Spizzichino | 12.16.11

The Greater Geneva project represents an economic and social challenge for that area spanning France and Switzerland. The aim is to set in motion again a process that will stimulate job creation in the French part and strengthen residential services in the Swiss part. Innovative activities should find their place in that territory.



Robert Spizzichino

The project of appending the Geneva Canton to the French Genevois area, spanning the Ain and the Haute-Savoie regions – the “Greater Geneva” as some call it – means a lot of work in order to be able to plan a balanced crossborder development with a substantial public transport network. It meets the challenge of making a European city that is fully involved internationally. Carrying it out is a complex thing for it means that current trends regarding real estate markets and the establishment of companies are reversed: qualified jobs in high-added value companies must be localised in the French part and residential housing and services must be developed in the Swiss part. And this in spite of the differences in price and land availability, and in spite of the differences in terms of tax and social rules, which are rather in favour of the State of Geneva.

In Switzerland, transient companies have to be won over

Though the efforts that have been made on either side of the border in terms of economic action and promotion are quite significant, there probably still lacks a clear global economic strategy for the city in which each of the territory’s parts can find its place. Continuing the current trends would be detrimental to the whole area: Geneva still attracts international companies but they are increasingly dependent on the economic situation and therefore transient and likely to be relocated. Its economy remains strongly dependent on external factors despite a network of SMEs that are very competitive and innovative in various high-tech sectors. Finally, the high cost of land and the lack of housing constitute additional weaknesses.


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On the French side: economy depends on Switzerland

On the French side, despite the presence here and there of innovative companies, a great part of the territory relies on a residential economy depending on the Genevan economy, with a great number of cross-border workers.

It is therefore necessary to change that development mode by emphasising more on a SME-oriented endogenous development that will facilitate the promotion and enhancement of innovation within both a knowledge and an intangible economy. This development should be possible on either side of the border, through bridges and solidarities, for tools as well as for the locations and nature of the organisations.

Setting up innovation-promoting activities

The Circle of Innovation is a concept that has been developed within the framework of the city project by a team of town planners (Güller & Güller). It aims to set up activities related to the promotion of innovation and the knowledge economy in several places throughout a cross-border territory that includes, in particular, the Geneva airport, the CERN and Palexpo (the Exhibition Centre). These places will be so many addresses interrelated by an efficient public transport system, with many greens and farmlands.

Robert Spizzichino is a civil engineer who graduated from the Ecole des Mines and a qualified town planner (OPQU). He cofounded Partenaires Développement, a company that supervises great urban projects in France and worldwide. Currently retired, he still contributes to great town-planning projects related to innovation processes, especially on the theme of “Innovation and territories”.

Photos credits: CERN

Translated by Oona Bijasson

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