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In the next few years, the Parisian region is supposed to experience significant changes and events. One of the most awaited ones will be the Olympic Games, expected to be hosted in 2024. Many of the locations that are planned to be used for this big event are situated in the North-East of Paris, in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis(1). While this suburb is mostly famous for its local athletes (Kylian Mbappé) or from other cities (Guillaume Chaine, Sarah Ourahmoune), its artists (Paul Éluard, Georges Melliès with the first French cinema studio), and scientists (Fatoumata Kébé), the typical local perception of it is often reduced to its high rate of individuals with low socioeconomic status. Furthermore, its schools with a specific status (ZEP)(2), the locals’ limited access to culture, as well as its crowded transportation system during peak hours are factors that are considered to characterise Seine-Saint-Denis, putting a veil upon its success stories and collective accomplishments.
In these years to come, the Greater Paris project has the intention to connect various sides of the ‘banlieue’(3) – including Seine-Saint-Denis – to Paris, thanks to an enhanced transportation system. For organisational purposes, the project divides the Metropolis in various public territorial establishments which are gatherings of cities, including ‘Grand-Paris Grand-Est’ that locates in one of the northeastern suburbs of Paris. Here, the Tram 4 extension project interlinks the cities it passes by to future lines (15 and 16) of the ‘Grand Paris Express’ planned to be ready by 2030. This massive infrastructural project is designed to create a circular transport line around Paris, allowing to connect suburbs of the Metropolis while preventing the congestion of Paris’ inner subway and train lines. The ongoing process is the result of a long term planning procedure which offered a glimpse of inclusion challenges – such as lack of recognition, belonging and trust – to future French public policy implementation in the poorer neighborhoods of Paris. At the same time, it provides to the inhabitants, their representatives, artists and cultural institutions an occasion to enhance creativity and solidarity that are part of the French core values.
With Ladj Ly’s film ‘Les Misérables'(4) representing France at the Oscars this year, a collective infatuation has shifted the public focus on the situation of Greater Paris’ marginalized areas, simultaneously providing an occasion to (repeatedly) read Victor Hugo’s famous masterpiece. Almost 25 years after another prominent work of art, namely Mathieu Kassovitz’s film ‘La Haine’, the problem remains: the marginalization of the ‘banlieue’ hinders respect for the rule of law. When I speak of the rule of law, I do not refer to the police state. Instead, I think of the responsibility of the State, which, through its policies, has practically created a second-class citizenship in the ‘banlieue’. It is a practice that socially excludes inhabitants through a lack of cultural and economic integration, a phenomenon that can also be found in other peripheral areas in France. With regards to the Parisian suburbs, the two films mentioned are an artistic representation that could be completed by several others, such as Olivier Babinet’s movie ‘Swagger’, the books of Faïza Guene, and François Maspero’s ‘Les passagers du Roissy-Express’. To reveal a more diverse and real representation of the ‘banlieue’ is also the aim, each year, of the Cinébanlieue festival(5). However, to provide a more tangible illustration of the situation, I will use a project that is intended to foster inclusivity of these remote areas of the Paris region: the extension of the T4 tramway line, that is part of the current Greater Paris strategy(6). This is to set a more concrete example of the hindrances that can interfere with similar urban planning processes in other parts of the ‘banlieue’.
The town Montfermeil, in which ‘Les Miserables’ was filmed, is located in the very east of Seine-Saint-Denis. It is surrounded by the cities of Le Raincy, Clichy-sous-Bois and Gagny. The cities of Le Raincy and Livry-Gargan – ranked among the best cities to live in in the department – have a different socioeconomic and urban planning history than Clichy-Sous-Bois and Montfermeil, which both became locally notorious for the poor situation of their neighborhoods with police blunders. These observations refute a first stereotype: the ‘banlieue’ is not a monolithic block, and its representation does not always reflect its daily reality. Moreover, features such as being a place of inspiration for many entrepreneurs and artists, as well as including green spaces such as the Arboretum park (Montfermeil) or Bondy’s forest (Coubron, Montfermeil, Clichy-sous-Bois), just as other suburbs of the East and the South of Paris, falsify some further stereotypes about the two cities. Taking these examples into consideration, it is possible to grasp one of the hidden biases that are assumed by some French politicians: generalizing the apparent lack of civility of the inhabitants of the aforementioned cities to prevent their recognition as part of a diverse Region, and of a country with multiple attributes. As has been shown, the case is the contrary, the Seine-Saint-Denis department and the greater region of Ile-de-France are both a complex mix of low, medium and high-density areas with their specificities. When it comes to the concerned suburbs, challenges of fostering trust, recognition and belonging, have already been under the analysis of thinkers such as the philosopher Bernard Stiegler, and the sociologist Didier Lapeyronnie. Also, researchers from various agencies such as the Paris Region Institute(7) with its dedicated agency to preserve biodiversity (ARB(8)), many urbanists, and members of the APUR (Parisian Urbanism Agency), or the ANRU (National Agency for the Urban Transformation) are dedicating time and research on this issue from a city planning perspective. All these organisations are conducting analysis and assessments serving as a basis for urban public policies on a great variety of topics from economics to environment and social inclusion themes. As a result, they propose, for example, the application of circular economy principles in the construction process.
Previous studies around the extension project of the tram T4(9) revealed challenges from an everyday perspective: the cities of Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil would still not have direct access to RER(10) train stations linking them to the capital. To get to the city of Paris, the inhabitants have to take busses to the RER E station located between the towns of Le Raincy and Villemomble. The closest bus stop to this RER station in the territory of Montfermeil, is ‘Montfermeil-Les Bosquets’ served by the line 601(11). From here, it takes on average a half an hour to come to the train station which then will take to the biggest Parisian railway station (Paris Gare du Nord – Magenta), which serves as a crucial junction for public transport. In total, according to Valérie Pécresse, President 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.”(12).
This geographical isolation seems to be the outcome of political resistance to the alleviation of the marginalization of these cities. This can be observed in the way mayors of the better-off cities of the Seine-Saint-Denis department have questioned this particular mitigation. As such, the extension of the T4 tram line to Clichy-Montfermeil – which construction was considered since the riots of 2005 and formalized since 2008 – was a subject of debate. Indeed, this event was the breaking point of a struggle from the side of the population, the police and their representatives, a struggle that could be interpreted as the result of a collective quest for consideration. Following this outcry, during preliminary consultations to decide on the tramway in 2009, two opposed positions collided. According to Pierre-Yves Martin, Mayor of Livry-Gargan (LR(13)): “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-Villemomble-Montfermeil’ RER station passing through Livry-Gargan. According to the mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois Olivier Klein (PS(14)): “if the fear is that of a physical link between Livry-Gargan and Clichy-Montfermeil, then it is unreasonable, and it is not based on anything”. Even so, one of the explanations of such resistance brought forward was that some inhabitants of Clichy-Montfermeil, cities where the riots started, 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 (15), locally considered as better-off cities. Thus, it seems that it is not the means that are lacking in the process of opening up the ‘banlieue’, but rather the resistance on the side of people concerned by the consequences of practical implementation of the ‘vivre-ensemble’(16). From this perspective, education, exchange, good-will and long term commitment could be the key. These would be needed from all sides: the population, and civil society, together with the involvement of public institutions like the DILCRAH (Interministerial Delegation against Racism, Anti-Semitism and anti-LGBT hate), and public establishments such as EPIDE(17) centers (Establishments for Integration in Employment) to ensure fair representation.
In December 2019, the tramline T4 was launched for the connection between Livry-Gargan and Clichy-sous-Bois, putting an end to the political antagonism for the common good. Therefore, on a larger scale, the Greater Paris project will be an opportunity to reconsider public policies aimed to be implemented in the suburbs. From a cultural point of view, the stakes of immigration and inclusion processes were subjects of various exhibitions such as ‘Nous et les Autres’(18) (Ourselves and Others) at the Musée de l’Homme in 2018 that explained how physical, social and religious differences could tend to label and essentialize. In the same spirit, collections from the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration (Museum of History of Immigration(19)) have the ambition to date and document immigration and integration trajectories in France, mixing pieces of arts and testimonies from the past. As noted by Stéphane Troussel (PS), President of the Seine-Saint-Denis Departement Council about Greater Paris: “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”. In fact, culture sharing is what unites globally, and in France it functioned as a successful measure taken to create links between Paris and its suburbs. This was done by locating events in the closest suburban cities to Paris and allowing residents of the suburbs to create enterprises, restaurants and places of leisure in Paris. In Seine-Saint-Denis places such as ‘Les Magasins Généraux’ in Pantin, ‘Ateliers Médicis’ in Clichy-sous-Bois, ‘MC93’ (House of Culture 93) in Bobigny or the ‘6B’ in Saint-Denis tend to foster gatherings, cultural and creative experimentation. When it comes to the environment, new types of concepts such as ‘La Prairie du Canal’ in Bobigny focuses on urban agriculture and demonstrates manners to involve oneself in an ecological transition process. As a citizen challenge, some cities of the department were involved in ‘clean up challenges’ organised by residents and hosted by an association named Espoir et Création, a contest aiming at showing their engagement towards their neighbourhoods and the environment. Furthermore, from an economic perspective, the Region Ile-de-France and Seine-Saint-Denis can rely on numerous associations and collaborative networks promoting solidarity, education and entrepreneurship (e.g.: Fondation Agir Contre l’Exclusion, Article 1, Ghett’Up, Les Chaudronneries, Les Déterminés, Bond’innov, Rêv’Elles, Casa93). Other organisations and initiatives are listed in the “In Seine-Saint-Denis”(20) network gathering the territory’s ambassadors and events. All these actions are the result of long term commitments, and when combined, they provide the seeds for an open and inclusive Metropolis. If these efforts are underlined to feature the most impactful and positive actions in the suburbs, Greater Paris could ensure real social inclusion for its residents and continue to generate incomes and positive projects for the country. In this process, some major stakes will be to ensure that citizens of the concerned areas are not only pushed away by gentrification, and to ensure their sensibilisation to future environmental concerns. On this latter point, the European Week for Waste Reduction, that is coordinated by the Ecological Transition Agency (ADEME) in France may serve as an inspiration. Finally, when it comes to preserving social inclusion in the future Greater Paris, one response could be to foster innovation and collective thinking to find common interests and solutions in the urbanization process, so that it could ensure a tangible sense of community as the one we were able to grasp during major sports successes.
(1) You can find the public announcement on Saint-Saint-Denis’ inclusiveness goals for the 2024 Olympic Games here in French : https://seinesaintdenis.fr/Attribution-des-JOP-2024-prets-pour-faire-gagner-la-Seine-Saint-Denis-et-ses.html
(2) «Zone d’Éducation Prioritaire» are specific schooling areas in the French educational system. They are considered as priorities due to social and academic problems they experience.
(3) ‘banlieue‘ means suburb and is often negatively connotated in French
(4) You can watch the movie trailer with english subtitles here : https://youtu.be/wmCcus-XhRw
(5) Here you can find more information about the festival : http://www.cinebanlieue.org
(6) The ‘Greater Paris’ Project is the largest urban transportation currently underway in Europe. You can find more information about it here : https://www.societedugrandparis.fr/info/discover-the-Grand-Paris-new-metro-205
(7) Institut Paris Region : agency which carries out studies and works necessary for decision-making in the Île-de-France region and its partners. From the local level to the level of large metropolitan areas, it intervenes in many areas such as town planning, transport and mobility, environment, economy and social issues.
(8) Agence Régionale de la Biodiversité : Its missions are to assess the state of biodiversity, monitor its development, identify regional action priorities, disseminate good practices and raise public awareness about its protection.
(9) The T4 extension Project aims to connect Clichy-Montfermeil to the existing tramway line connecting Bondy (RER E) and Aulnay-sous-Bois (RER B) stations. You can find more informations about it here in French : http://www.tramway-t4.fr/download/lettres-informations-nouvelles/170627-Depl.Generique%20PaP.pdf
(10) RER refers to the ‘Réseau Express Régional’ in Ile-de-France, the region of Paris. It is a train network of 587 km of railway system in and around Paris.
(11) Line 601 map : https://www.transdevidf.com/api/1.0/linegroupmap/75335950/raw/tra.pdf
(12) You can read the full public communication here in French : http://www.tramway-t4.fr/download/lettres-informations-nouvelles/T4_191017_LettreInfo_N12_EXE_web.pdf
(13) Political party ‘Les Républicains’. They are the centre-right party in France. At the EU level they are part of the ‘Socialists & Democrats’ (S&D).
(14) ‘Parti Socialiste’ is a French political party, they are in the centre-left movement. In Europe they are part of the ‘Socialist & Democrats’ (S&D).
(15) See T4 extension project preliminary consultation p.19 (full report in French) : https://www.debatpublic.fr/file/1312/download?token=yR6SEp4_
(16) ‘Vivre-ensemble’ means to live together, here it is used to describe good relations between different people, harmonious together.
(17) ‘Établissements pour l’Insertion dans l’Emploi’: co-financed by the European Union, they provide individualized and adapted support for young people (18-25 y.o) who left school without diplomas or professional qualification, they ensure their training towards employment but also citizenship values and socio-cultural activities.
(18) You can find a summary of the exhibition here in French: http://nousetlesautres.museedelhomme.fr
(19) You can find more information about the museum here: http://www.histoire-immigration.fr
(20) You can find more information about it here: https://inseinesaintdenis.fr
During her studies, Joana’s areas of research were about market strategies in the building industry, focusing on integrating social and environmental concerns in businesses at large. She is interested in sustainable development, but also keen about cinema and arts as a way of documentation of histories and cultures.