There is a myth of France, specifically of its banlieues, that has been frequently repeated in recent days. Descriptions of ‘marginalised suburbs’, ‘ghetto-like suburban estates’ and of ethnic minorities ‘shunted away into suburban housing projects…out of sight and out of mind’ have emerged in the international media. It’s even been suggested in one British publication that rising food prices were to blame for the riots.
Nanterre, where 17-year-old Nahel was shot dead by a policeman eight days ago, has some tough estates but it not a ghetto abandoned by the French state. The housing estate where Nahel lived was built in the late 1970s and at the time was considered ‘an emblematic project of democratic urban planning’. In February this year it was announced that the estate would be among those neighbourhoods to be renovated as part of a €112 million (£95.6 million) urban development project. Such projects are not uncommon in France.
Since the formation of the National Agency for Urban Renovation (ANRU) in 2003, some €48.4 billion (£41.5 billion) has been invested into 700 neighbourhoods where five million people live. What many rural districts, where public transport and health services have steadily deteriorated this century, wouldn’t give for such a sum. Resentment appears to be growing; a poll this week revealed that 48 per cent of the French are opposed to more money being funnelled towards inner city projects.
Nanterre is one of 36 communes that comprise the Hauts-de-Seine Department. I live in one, seven miles south of Nanterre. Last year, Le Figaro rated the communes using several criteria such as security, health services, sports facilities and environment. Mine was ranked 18th out of 36, Nanterre was 32nd, Meudon was ninth and Puteaux tenth.
All of these communes except mine were subjected to appalling violence last week.