Grand Paris: How Will France Foster Inclusiveness if it Doesn’t Get Rid of its Hidden Bias?

The following article is an excerpt from our latest printed Ecosprinter titled Reclaim Your Rights! – The Social Issue. We decided to bring you the articles from this edition in a digital form as well.

by Joana Messan

In summer 2024, Paris will host the Olympic Games. Many of the locations that are planned to be used for this immense event are situated at the North-East of Paris’s region, in Seine-Saint-Denis. This suburb is famous for its athletes (Sarah Ourahmoune, Kylian Mbapé, Audrey Tcheuméo); but also for its higher rate of people with low income and ethnic minorities among its inhabitants compared to the rest of the country; its schools with specific status (ZEP: «Zone d’Éducation Prioritaire» are specific schooling areas in the French educational system.), its reduced access to culture, and its crowded inefficient transportation system. The Grand Paris project has the ambition to connect various sides of the “banlieue” – including Seine-Saint-Denis – to Paris thanks to an enhanced transportation system. At the departmental level, Tram 4 extension project interlinks some cities of Seine-Saint-Denis to future lines (15 and 16) of the Grand Paris Express. Its process offers a glimpse of inclusiveness challenges for future French public policies implementation.

With Ladj Ly’s film Les Misérables, which will rep-resent France at the Oscars this year, some French politicians seem to have discovered a situation that, although located in the same region as the Elysée, seems marginalized by cultural and political representations. Almost 25 years after Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine, the problem remains the same: the marginalization of the “banlieue” pre-vents respect for the rule of law. When I speak of the rule of law, I don’t mean a police state. I think rather of the responsibility of the State which has practically created a second-class citizenship in the “banlieue”*, a citizenship that excludes its in-habitants and incites delinquency. As an example of this situation, I will use a project related to the current Grand Paris project**, expected to foster inclusivity of these remote areas of the Paris region: the extension of the T4 tramway line.

*“banlieue” means suburb and is often negatively connotated in French.
** The “Grand Paris” Project is the largest urban transportation currently underway in Europe.

The town of Montfermeil where Les Miserables is filmed is located at the extreme east of Seine-Saint-Denis. It is surrounded by the cities of Le Raincy, Clichy-sous-Bois and Gagny. The city of Le Raincy – ranked among the best cities to live-in among the region, with the city of Livry-Gargan – has nothing to do with Clichy-Sous-Bois and Montfermeil, both notorious for their neighborhoods and their police blunders. This localization denies a first stereotype: the “banlieue” is not a monolithic block. On this scale it is possible to see one of the hidden biases claimed by some French politicians, the apparent lack of civility of the in-habitants of the aforementioned towns. While the Grand Paris project is underway, previous crystallizations around the project of extension of the tram T4 reveals potential related struggles from a smaller scale perspective.

The cities of Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil do not have RER stations linking them to the capital. To get to the city, these inhabitants have to take buses to the RER E station of “Le Raincy-Ville-momble-Montfermeil” located between the towns of Le Raincy and Villemomble. The closest bus stop to this RER station in the territory of Mont-fermeil is “Montfermeil-Les Bosquets” served by the line 601. From this distance, while crossing cities of Le Raincy and Livry-Gargan, on average it takes half an hour to the inhabitants of these cities to come to the train station which then will take them to Paris Gare du Nord (Magenta) by the RER. In total, according to Valérie Pécresse, Prési-dent of the Region Ile-de-France “On this day from Clichy, it takes 1,5 hours to get to Paris, yet only 20 km from the capital”.

This geographical isolation seems to be the re-flection of political resistance to the alleviation of the marginalization of these cities. And this can be revealed by the attitude of mayors of the other better-off cities of Seine-Saint-Denis. As such, the extension of the T4 tram line to Clichy-Mont-fermeil – considered since the riots of 2005 and formalized since 2008 – was the subject of pro-tests including those of the Mayor of Livry-Gar-gan. In this struggle, two opposed positions collided : according to Pierre-Yves Martin, Mayor of Livry-Gargan (UMP): “It is not in the habits of the inhabitants of Clichy to go through Livry-Gargan to go to Paris” knowing that bus line 601 already connects Clichy-Montfermeil to “Le Raincy-Vil-lemomble-Montfermeil” RER station passing through Livry-Gargan. In 2013 the former mayor of Livry-Gargan, Alain Calmat (DVG), had threatened to fill a complaint against the project. Ac-cording to the mayor of Clichy-sous-bois Olivier Klein (PS): “if the fear is that of a physical link be-tween Livry-Gargan and Clichy-Montfermeil, then it is unreasonable and it is not based on anything”. Indeed, during preliminary consultations in 2009, one of the explanation of such resistance brought forward was that inhabitants of Clichy-Montfer-meil are an “undesirable population” who could cause a “race to the bottom” from a socioeconomic perspective, in the cities of Pavillons-sous-Bois, Livry-Gargan and Le Raincy.

Thus, it seems that it is not the means that are lacking in the opening up of the “banlieue”, rath-er resistance crystallized on the side of people opposed to the practical implementation of the “vivre-ensemble”***, promoted when it comes to football but not when it is a question of using pub-lic transport together. Therefore, on a bigger scale, the Grand Paris project will be an opportunity to answer the real question behind the failure of pre-vious public policies aimed at the “banlieue”: are French politicians ready to get rid of their hidden biases?

*** “Vivre-ensemble” means to live together

As noted Stéphane Troussel (PS), President of the Seine-Saint-Denis Departement Council: “It is a project of opening-up, of openness, access to employment, leisure and cultural facilities that we have the right to expect when we live in the heart of a large European Metropolis”. Adding his input to inclusiveness, Ladj Ly’s movie offers an immer-sion in the lives of these second-class citizens from a “banlieue” of Paris.

Joana is interested in inclusiveness, urban planning and sustainable development. She studied Business Law and Corporate Social Responsibility Management before she graduated in International Relations at Science Po Bordeaux. In the long term Joana would like to contribute to finding solutions to environmental concerns and social divides in Europe and Africa.

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