Personal Notes

Another face of Paris

As sometimes happens, I took the metro from the wrong platform. Call it a momentary bout of absent mindedness or stupidity I am at complete peace with my handicaps. Today this meant moving a bit further north than I am usually prone to do. So I decided to take advantage of my lack of attentiveness and I thought to leave the métro stop and look around. After all, I never get the chance to spend time aroung Chateau d’eau.

I was greeted first by a man handing out flyers with evangelical christian messages before the entire street came into full view: Young African men milling around the metro, occasionally stopping harried passers by; young Arab men standing under the trees that line the boulevard, plenty more precariously standing with one foot in the small shops, hair salons and eateries and the other on th ebusy pavement. This could well be any city in the global ‘south’. It is a different feel and look to mainstream Paris and I am not sure what to make of that. I personally spotted a few pakistani restaurants that I will return to and liked the feeling of ‘uncertainty’ in this neighbourhood. The sense of incompatibility with the rest of a well presented Paris. I loved how this side of Paris challenges the tourist ideal of Paris. Next time I might venture even further North, see how it goes.

Apart from that, I left with a set of questions about what clearly seems to be a ghetto of sorts. Does it mean that the urban planning of the city somehow builds into it an exclusion of immigrants? If so, what solutions should big city managers be coming up with to help new immigrants integrate – assuming that integration is a good idea.

I also wondered if the existence of areas such as this one actually speaks to how the housing market and the economy of the city works – that is, how prices are determined by weatlhy foreigners that help to create new inequalities and stark contrasts in neighbourhood character and quality?

Is it perhaps a political and policy -related issue – that is, that immigration laws and border controls tend to make the conditions of finding residence so diffuclt that immigrants need to agglomerate around ‘ghettoes’ where more informal leasing and housing arrangements can be negotiated? I also wondered what sort of social implications this will have in decades to come? And how the city of Paris is going to manage integration and immigration challenges. Well, I guess in the medium term, it depends on how national policies will evolve, depending on who gets voted in and on the administration of the city itself. At the moment, it is run by a very competent mayor and one hopes that his brain power and creativity (I am a fan) will be brought to bear in develop creative housing solutions that both help to meet demand for qffordable housing but that also helpo encourage integration. I guess that is easier said and wished for than done.

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