Inhabiting Casablanca’s Worker Quarters of COSUMA & SOCICA



The second half of the 19th century was a time of economic growth in Casablanca. This growth was fueled by the development of agriculture in Chaouia plains and by the city’s harbor that was accessible by steam boats. Prosperity attracted the attention of powerful European countries, mostly France and Germany. The city’s fate was eventually sealed after the conference of Algesiras that stipulated that Morocco would be “supervised” by European countries, and then by the bombing and capture of the city by French troops in 1907. In 1912, Morocco officially became a French protectorate.

After the colonial administration got set up in Morocco, decision was taken to turn Casablanca into a modern economic capital so it would be one of the pearls of French colonial empire. Maréchal Lyautey, who was appointed as Morocco’s “resident general” (in other words, Morocco’s governor) and was well connected to people who created S.F.U (French Society of Urbanists) required the services of France’s most famous specialists such as Henri Prost, Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier, Albert Laprade, Donat Alfred Agache, etc. His goal was to create a new city close to the overpopulated medina.

The new city was designed and built with great care, with a garden city, but only European colonizers were allowed to inhabit it. Lyautey explicitly asked urbanists to separate communities in the city plans. Still, Prost’s 1917 city extension plan included the creation of a new district for local people, “the new medina,” which is now called “Habbous.” Because of its size, good building quality and high price, this place mostly attracted Morocco’s trade bourgeoisie that settled in Casablanca. Humble people kept on living in the medina that got even more dense.

L'Uzine Funambulist (7)
COSUMA’s roofs, with the mosque and the sugar factory in the background. Photograph by Walid Bendra for l’Uzine.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the city became a place for industry, with the creation of factories that would transform agricultural products. People from the whole country migrated to Casablanca where they became Morocco’s earliest working class. No urban policy however assisted this process: people were left to their own devices and therefore started creating the first shanty towns of Casablanca, in the eastern part of the city, nearby the factories. At first, the colonial administration did not pay much attention to the emergence of Morocco’s working class. Most workers were somehow docile and not yet organized, which means that there was not any serious threat to colonization either. Industrialists, in a move to better control their workers and their productivity, then took the decision to create the first workers’ cities in Casablanca. According to Yvonne Mahé, their only goal was to stabilize the workforce and invest capital.