My academic origins have always been close to regional science, even if I did not know what regional science meant when I joined Besançon University for a master’s degree in geography in 1962. Besançon was a small, provincial university, where most students just wanted to be high school teachers and stay in the region to live a good life, enjoy the food and the local wine.
However, one of my professors, Paul Claval, told me in 1965: “You should go to the U.S.A., to Pennsylvania University to study regional science”. Luckily, I was able to obtain a scholarship (I had no idea about the scholarship fees and what they really offered . . .) to study and discover the centre of regional science. With Walter Isard, Thomas Reiner and I spent a fantastic year, discovering the use of computers and new ways of modelling. I also became friends with some of the students, such as Mario Polese and Eric Weiss. This stay really marked the beginning of a network of young international regional scientists who shared ideas, culture and the world.
After returning to France to work on a PhD (at Paris Sorbonne), I discovered that regional science was also active in France with Claude Ponsard, Jacques Boudeville and François Perroux. I was fascinated by the application of the growth pole theory in Europe and by French national land-use planning. Ponsard proposed me for an assistant professor’s job in Dijon. But even with the attraction of Burgundy, I could not find a reason to go there at that moment.
It was time for another adventure. In order to avoid military service, I went to Canada, where I got a job at “College St Jean”, in Edmonton, Alberta. I taught geography to undergraduate students coming from northern Canada. It was far from land planning and regional science. Working with Natives and farmers, hunting, and discovering the far North! Still, my friends from Penn were close by, helping me to keep in touch with the rest of the academic world. At that time, the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique Urbanisation was opening in Montreal. I visited Montreal in the summer, and discovered a lovely city, its cafés, restaurants, and universities.
Since 1969, for 10 years, I spent all my summers and autumns in Montreal working with the INRS before joining them as a full time professor in 1977. The rest of the time, I was a professor at the Paris School of Architecture teaching urban ecology. Crossing the Atlantic was my weekly activity; fortunately, I loved flying!
During my stays in Europe, I discovered the Association de Science Régionale de Langue Française and its dynamic and friendly leader Jean Paelinck. I joined my first meeting in Rotterdam in 1974, and organized different round tables in subsequent years. With Jean’s friendship and guidance, the Association was a true family. The people I worked with included Alain Sallez, Jean-Marie Huriot, Claude Lacour, and Denis Maillat. I became President of the Association from 1981 to 1984, which was a good way to improve the links between the European Regional Science Association and A.S.R.D.L.F.: by choosing common dates for meetings, exchanging information, and improving the relationship between Perroux and Isard, the two masters.
In 1979 I joined the University of Geneva as Professor of Human Geography (until 2004 – now I am Emeritus), and that marked another phase in my life. I was able to start a special course in regional science for first-year graduate students. The course was later taken by more than 500 students, over more than 20 years: one of the largest regional science audiences worldwide. The Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences was a good place for interdisciplinary research, and with other geographers, such as Jean-Bernard Racine, we were able to develop the “Swiss School of Geography”, developing a world-class reputation.
Regional Science was close to this new geography and it is the time when, with Denis Maillat and Angelo Rossi, we were able to promote the field in Switzerland where we organized a European meeting (Zurich) and a RSAI World Congress (Lugano). It was also a way to invite our American friends to visit Switzerland and taste our products. Applied regional science!
When I met Lay Gibson in one of these early meetings, Lay suggested I also join WRSA (Western RSA). Laguna Beach in 1986 was my first meeting. What a great place for me and my daughter!
Since I was living “West of Switzerland”, I joined nearly all the meetings of this Western Association after 1985. I even became the 36th president of WRSA in 1995.
It is also a period where I was involved with ERSA and the European Organizing Committee (for ERSA conferences), as vice-president, under Juan Cuadrado Roura. This was another experience, working in an association with the most intense meetings I had ever joined. And academics do love debating! We also created a long run planning group that I chaired. After a while new board members and presidents also joined these activities (partly due to the skills of negotiation brought by Juan and Antoine – Editors).
In the 1990s, after publishing many geography and regional science books in French, I decided to publish some papers in English. This was the beginning of an active international life, working through the ‘crisis of the future of regional science’ (a period when many in the discipline were debating the right course of direction); followed by my election as president of RSAI in 2003. With Graham Clarke (Executive Director) and a number of very active council members, we were able to change the status of the Association to a world umbrella association with universal membership. I don’t know how many beers we shared on all continents, but it was efficient and friendly.
It was also a period where I was, for 8 years, scientific Director of the International Festival of Geography: a fantastic festival attracting geographers from all over the world, at times with over 40,000 participants! Many regional scientists were able to join the Festival and to give conference presentations participate in round tables, take part in TV shows (Kingsley Haynes, Bob Stimson, Lay Gibson, Roger Stough and others). There was a place for regional science and an opportunity to promote the field in the media: and also time to organize field trips for the visitors.
During all these years, I also spent a lot of time developing the geography of well-being and medicometry, an applied regional science field involving health care policies. I organized more than 50 meetings with Michel Périat, chairperson of Forum Santé (1998– 2014) , a Swiss health care think tank, and wrote research reports on the multiplier effects of the health care sector. Medicometry is now a new brand in regional science!
My academic life was also marked by a number of responsibilities: director of department, president of the University of Geneva Council (1983–1985), President of the Swiss Universities Professors (1996–1998). For this involvement and scientific activity, I acquired three doctorate honoris causa (University of Quebec 1992, Hungary Academy of Sciences 2003, University of Lisbon 2009). I was also awarded by the Association of American Geographers in 1997, got the “Ordre National du Mérite” from France in 2000, received the 2008 Founder’s Medal from RSAI and the famous “Vautrin Lud Nobel” prize in geography in 2011. I am also very proud to be a “Fellow” of RSAI, a great association.
All these awards are matched by the winning of many friends who have shared my regional science life. We don’t only live in an association or a network; we have the chance to belong to a “club” where we enjoy social activities (in my case skiing, hiking, wine tasting and good food in nice places) and promote regional science. Now that I have time, I even produce my own wine in Switzerland! Isn’t it a good way to do applied regional science? I believe the ‘crisis’ is over.
Long live the new generation of regional scientists.
(Published on RSAI Newsletter 2014 May)