II.1.1.4. Urbanization patterns and identity alignment

The social structure of Parisian suburbs is logically structured by the different phases of urbanization, especially by those initiated since the 1950’s. Before that, closest to Paris suburbs ring had already experienced two major periods of intensification: first, in the 19th century, linked to the appearance of industries in Nothern suburbs; the second dates back to the interwar period, when lotissements pavillonnaires, large developments of single-family houses, built mainly by Italian migrants.  In the aftermath of the Second World War, driven by new housing policies, high demand for housing, grands ensembles, and large housing estates started to appear in the suburb. These two types of urbanization far from being isolated sequences that follow one another chronologically were rather conflictual to each other, as were the identities of the people occupying them: middle and working class.


Fig. 19  Clos-Saint-Lazare in Stains. Source: blog FranceTVinfo, 2014

Grands ensembles, a new type of urbanism, although aimed at providing better living conditions to so many people, including water supply and more healthy public green space between houses, rapidly became the object of bitter critique (see for example, the film by Jean-Luc Godard “Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle”, filmed in Cité des 4000 in La Courneuve, depicting the “dehumanization” of social relations by this kind of urban development, or the book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs, where she criticizes the insecurity of this type of developments. Dramatic histories of large housing estates include that of Bijlmeer in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which survived, or that of Pruitt-Igoe in St.Louis, the USA, which didn’t.) In many cases, large housing estates became stigmatized areas, with higher delinquency rate, low income and often migrant population. This is true about the notorious Cité des 4000 in La Courneuve, but also Clos-Saint-Lazare in Stains (Fig.19), represent “pockets” of poverty with a rather bad criminal record.(Le Parisien 2010, Le Parisien 2014 )

It’s also here that poverty and migrant identity is criminalized. In June 2005, in the aftermath of murder of an 11 year old victim in La Courneuve, Nicolas Sarcozy, then new interior minister stated that the neighborhood should be “cleaned” and firmness should be exercised against those who question the safety of “French”: against illegal immigrants and jeunes de banlieu.(Giblin 2009)

During last decades, after the deindustrialization period, the territories of Plaine Commune are undergoing a movement of recycling. On the one hand, town centers are renovated and gentrified; middle class newcomers, few in number, are attracted by lower than capital’s prices and a historical milieu, as well as the developing economic activities (Raad 2009). On the other, less attractive areas are also undergoing renovation, or rather redevelopment, mostly for social housing projects. It’s important to underline that social housing projects are intended to provide for social diversity in buildings, by uniting different types of dwellings and therefore, different social classes, in one development. Already since the 80s, social diversity has become a priority of municipal policies, as evidenced by the evolution in the discourse from local elected officials (Bacque and Fol, 1997). According to them, the diversification of the population would be beneficial for the poor population, wouldn’t let the pauperization and degradation of whole neighborhoods. The analysis of housing policies shows that municipal officials have sought to promote social diversity through: policy for allocating social housing, development of homeownership, urban restructuring policies, urban renewal policies (Raad 2009) Yet what is important, is that according to the policies, social housing (80% of the population of Plaine Commune is eligible for social housing, Plaine Commune 2014) should not exceed 40% of new construction on the territory, which automatically leaves the 60% to middle class owners. What should be taken into account, the social proximity does not automatically create social mixity, or social coherence, called by many policy makers, it usually remains more of co-presence or even avoidance in the case of school strategies. The arrival on the territory of new social strata and implementation of social diversification policies put the community at risk of social breakdown.

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