Conflict and Natural Disasters
Bidonvilles and riots in Paris
The entire world is watching the ongoing riots in Paris, with images of burning cars and warehouses, people running, riot police with heavy guns, fire fighters...

While I have never been to the suburbs of Paris, I have been aware of the conditions in these so-called ghetto suburbs or bidonvilles through books, journals or watching depictions in movies like La Haine. Disastrous fires that killed tens of immigrants in crowded hotels at the heart of Paris also show that the problem of housing and urban integration is not necessarily an issue of center/periphery...

As an urban planner, I am familiar with the steps taken by housing authorities in the United States to undo damage done by isolating the poor into Corbusian apartment buildings, 'the projects', from the 1960s to the 90s, but am rather unfamiliar where the debate stands on this issue in France.

I read the following on the BBC News:

    When Nadir Dendoune was growing up in the 1980s, his home town of L'Ile Saint-Denis, north of Paris, was a fairly diverse place. "We were all poor, but there were French people, East Europeans, as well as blacks and Arabs," says Mr Dendoune, 33, an author and something of a celebrity in his estate. Two decades on, the complexion of the place has changed. "On my class photos more than half the kids were white," he says. "On today's pictures only one or two are." L'Ile St-Denis is among the "suburbs" around French cities where immigrants, notably from former North African colonies, have been housed since the 1960s. Blighted by bad schools and endemic unemployment, the suburbs are hard to escape."
While realizing that this is a larger societal problem that has multiple socio-economic and cultural dimensions, I would like to hear your thoughts on what cities and communities can do to when faced with riots. Can they "plan" the solution and how? And when, considering there are many other cities that are on the verge of such explosions...
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Bidonvilles and riots in Paris
I just visited the municipal website of the Clichy-sous Bois, the suburb where the riots began, and it announces an urban renovation project undertaken by Agence Foncière et Technique de la Région Parisienne. Does anyone know anything about this project and the agency? Where can I find good reviews or analyses of such projects and the organizations involved?
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Bidonvilles and riots in Paris
Ozgur, I have visited Paris several times on architectural field trips and visited some of the these new suburban areas which tend to be composed mainly of monumental housing blocks, which creates by the back door and perhaps unintentionally a policy of segregation between native white French and French language people of other colours.

I am saddened but not surprised there are riots because these "chickencoops in the sky" are literally "man-made disasters waiting to happen", because similar riots occurred in similar modern housing estates in London.

To open the door on debate, Professor Alice Coleman wrote "Utopia on Trial" in the 1980s, but was and is anathema to the UK's architectural avante garde for daring to question the validity of monolithic public housing estates.
Frank John Snelling
Bidonvilles and riots in Paris
Dear Frank,

Thanks for your reply, I will look into Alice Coleman's book.

We are entering the eleventh consecutive days of the riots, with the first reported death of a 65 year, who was beaten by rioters.

Prof. Anne Spirn, who spoke at the MIT symposia on the Katrina disaster, stressed the following: there's a unique window of opportunity after disasters [assuming that this civil war of sorts is over soon] when everyone is ready and willing to take drastic and immediate steps to 'change things'.

With one prerequisite: that *someone* has a good alternative plan that can be taken up. If not, soon after, the status quo returns and governments and communities do what they've done in the past, which has brought the situation where we see it today.

Is there a plan B for France? Are there institutions or individuals who have proposed such plans? That's really what I would like to know. If not, we may be stuck with the 'urban renewal' plans of local governments, which often lead to gentrification while pushing the poor and disenfranchised elsewhere.

Ozgur Basak Alkan
Bidonvilles and riots in Paris
A year on and unrest increases again, including "homages" to the acts committed the year before, including practice of the "tradition" of burning cars, buses, etc. (Perhaps they will soon be artefacts of cultural heritage?)

I don't know what France could do, aside from massively improving the conditions of life for its disadvantaged, ghettoised minorities.

It seems easy to recommend changing the communities' homes from tower-block "disasters waiting to happen" to, well, anything else, but, apart from improving the living conditions in the home - undoubtedly very important - the disaffected communities need so many things.

They need to have massively increased life opportunities, in educational, social, cultural and economic aspects and to be accorded respect in society.

Many of the god-awful tower blocks - some of them listed - in the UK are being renovated and turned into luxury housing; so, it isn't intrinsic in their design that they're disasters waiting to happen.

If the places had been renovated for their original residents, rather than shunting them off elsewhere and improving their homes and community for others to live in, it may have been a significant gesture and contribution to their lives, though it may not have changed the postcode discrimination faced by people living in "bad areas".

I remember when I wore the "wrong clothes" (cords and a hoody) and walked through a council estate on my way into town, the police presumed that I was from the council estate and presumed that because I was from the council estate that I was an anti-social criminal.

Even though the council houses were undergoing renovation to be brick-built homes, rather than breeze-block-built stigmata, the police and others still maintained their discrimination against and persecution of "undesirables".

If you move persecuted communities out of projects, but they continue to be treated unjustly, they will continue to rage against their suffering.

In short, I don't have an answer for you - and clearly France hasn't found or finished its answer in the past twelve months.
Sam Hardy
Bidonvilles and riots in Paris
Well i don`t see how a problem like that could be solved, when the man who raised the tension, calling youth French rioters "Racaille" -a term with implicit racial and ethnic resonances- is now voted to be in office. The way i see it, not only do we need an immidiate solution to the integration of those upressed minorities into the French society, but also humane calls should be sent to the French people adressing that issue, better informing them of it`s complications upon their community, and how, from a civilised utopic point of view, these minorities should be looked upon in mass media and culture, and how their issues should be resolved for a better community for the french people, and those who live with them in the same streets and share the same worries.

Haven`t France always been the exporter of revolution, human rights and liberty to the world?
Haven`t we always seen their motto "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité" since the french revolution up to now on their embassies, consulates and cultural centers as a title of how France wants to be seen in the World?

If the answer of human agony and sufferings -leading to riots and mass protests all over the country spreading so fast proving THERE IS an issue- is money and plans drawn to answer such a clash, then there shouldn`t be any reason for the violence to remain.

It`s as simple as that. The French people should deal with it themselves, and the Government has a duty to inform the French of what they need to know about the suburbs they rarely visit in their cities and the condition of it`s people.

French, is a nationality, and not a specific Ethnicity. And that`s how humans should treat eachother.

Abdulrahman El-Taliawi


This site is adjusted only for landscape mode. Please rotate your device for properly using
We are sorry, we are still working on adjusting for Metro IE. Please use another browser for the best experience with our site.