Blue Banana

blue banana

The Blue Banana (also known as the Hot Banana, European Megalopolis or European Backbone) is a discontinuous corridor of urbanization in Western Europe, with a population of around 110 million. It stretches approximately from North West England to Milan.

The curvature of this corridor (hence the ‘banana’ in the name) takes in cities such as Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, Eindhoven, the Ruhr, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt am Main, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Stuttgart, Munich, Zürich, Turin, Milan, Venice, and Genoa and covers one of the world’s highest concentrations of people, money and industry.

The concept was developed in 1989 by RECLUS, a group of French geographers managed by Roger Brunet. Brunet wished to subdivide Europe into ‘active’ and ‘passive’ spaces, with an urban corridor of industry and services. He saw the Blue Banana as the development of historical precedents, e.g. known trade routes, or as the consequence of the accumulation of industrial capital. France, in his view, lost its links to the corridor as a result of its persecution of minorities (viz. the Huguenots) and excessive centralization in Paris. In his analysis, Brunet artificially disconsidered the French conurbations, which are particularly narrowly concentrated around Paris, in order to persuade French authorities of the necessity of greater integration of business into the center of Europe.

It is said that the banana was rendered as blue, because it represented the core of Europe, and the flag of Europe is largely blue. Other sources claim that the color refers to the clothing of industrial workers (‘blue collar’). Its existence is sometimes attributed to the redrawing of the map of Europe after World War II, which led to the creation of a North-South axis (of which the highly-developed infrastructure of the Rhine valley provides an example), while East-West relationships were enfeebled. On the other hand, large centers already existed long before that time (Randstad, the Ruhr, Manchester) so that it was only natural that development would occur in areas that lay between these powerhouses, and that large populations would follow.

The term, because of its simplicity and memorability, was rapidly adopted by the media, and became subject to promotional manipulation. Local authorities within the Blue Banana tried to redefine it as the best place for business investment. This gave other interested parties good reason to blur the boundaries to include regions they wished to promote. This was the opposite of Brunet’s intention.

Detractors have pointed out that similar corridors of importance can be found along the Danube and on the Baltic and Mediterranean coasts, and that conurbations exist around Berlin, Paris, and Warsaw. More importantly, the Blue Banana includes vast tracts of sparsely populated area (the North Sea and the Alps), and does not take into account the difficulties that have been experienced by Wallonia, Lorraine, the Ruhr, and Sarre in trying to adjust to economic changes.

The Blue Banana holds an economically advantageous position through its population density, which is at an urban level for long stretches. The region is also of interest to multinational companies, not only for its good transport infrastructure, e.g. ports (Rotterdam, Antwerp) or airports (in London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, etc.), but also for its convenience as a center of operations. Furthermore, the region contains the main offices of several international organizations, such as the International Court in The Hague, the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and NATO headquarters in Brussels.

The more southerly ‘Golden Banana’ is known for its modern industries, such as electronics, aerospace manufacture, and research centers, and could in the future become the European counterpart of Silicon Valley and the factories of South East Asia

Brunet’s intention was to criticize French policies, and his ideas were taken on, so that today the Blue Banana model is no longer accurate: the former conurbations have grown several new branches, including one stretching from Paris to southern Spain, and in fact the last few years have seen so much expansion that one might speak of a ‘Blue Star’ — although the Blue Banana remains at its core. New regions that have been compared to the Blue Banana can be found on the Mediterranean coast between Valencia and Genoa, as part of the Golden Banana, or ‘European Sunbelt,’ paralleling that of America (where a pleasant climate draws newer industries), and in the north of Germany, where another conurbation lies on the North Sea coast, stretching into Denmark and from there into southern Scandinavia.

An influx of immigrants, who move by preference to the more prosperous, densely-inhabited regions, has resulted in a disequilibrium in growth that is so severe that it may lead to polarization within Europe, and a fragmentation into economic ‘winners’ (inhabitants of the Blue Banana) and ‘losers’ (rural areas, remote towns, and Eastern Europe in general). The most serious problems lie with the people in outlying regions, who face a vicious cycle of administrative neglect and gradual depopulation, thus becoming increasingly dependent. In addition, the fact that high-speed train services are only viable in wealthy and heavily-populated areas means that peripheral towns face yet more competitive disadvantages in comparison to urban centers.

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