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Social Mix, Gentrification… and De-concentration: Who Has the Right to the City?

Historical Context 

Despite the presence of unique socio-urban elements influencing the economic structure of particular cities, larger patterns of historical evolution such as urbanization and de-industrialization have had an enormous impact on the composition of post-industrial cities such as Paris. A class hierarchy based on income has fostered patterns of social exclusion and inclusion resulting in sharp inequalities among residents’ standards of living.  The de-industrialization of Paris that took place over the course of the 20th century led to the growth of a white-collar employment sector, with a simultaneous decline in the number of blue-collar jobs available to the urban working class. This led to middle-class and affluent families settling in the capital, and low-wage workers and poorer families gathering in the banlieues (suburbs).   The first incidents of civil unrest in these banlieues, during the late 1970’s, brought the social exclusion and urban decay plaguing these areas into the public awareness. Subsequently, an array of national policy measures titled “Politique de la ville” were developed to tackle urban inequality, and to promote social diversity and cohesion. As a form of territorial affirmative action, the most economically and socially disadvantaged of these areas were delineated in 1996 as “zones urbaines sensibles,” commonly known as ZUS.  

Problem Statement 

“Politique de la ville” has not been successful because of its lack of a comprehensive approach; the more general issues surrounding socio-spatial exclusion in the ZUS have been left unaddressed. It has now been established that the notorious 2005 riots that broke out in one of the ZUS and spread to others was, among other factors, catalyzed by the increased sense of vulnerability and social alienation among the population.  Approximately 4 million people live in these ZUS,  of which most are blue-collar, poor and of immigrant background. In 2005, the average disposable income for ZUS inhabitants was just 11.407€.  This concentrated poverty is exacerbated by the lack of access to a decent education. The result is that residents find themselves in a situation of territorial confinement, in a deplorable area already void of social amenities, resources and public services.  These zones’ relative isolation serves to obstruct the flow of information regarding work opportunities, resulting in a situation of chronic unemployment. The unemployment figure is currently 18% in the ZUS, compared to 9.3% in France.  In addition, political participation is practically non-existent since many ZUS locals do not possess the right to vote, or do not otherwise feel part of the democratic process.  
‘Politique de la Ville’ and Mixité sociale (Social mix) as policy efforts
In 1991, under the “loi d’orientation sur la ville” law, it was mandated that all zones should be comprised of at least 20% social housing. Despite a proliferation of legislation and subsequent reinforcement, this has yet to be fully realized. According to urban sociologist and researcher Thomas Kirszbaum, there has been an indecisiveness about how to implement the policy, and an inconsistency in the desired objectives, reducing the law to “a catalog of good intentions.”  The inhabitants of the ZUS see their exclusion as the problem, while decision-makers see those inhabitants and their environment as the issue.  There is a significant degree of ambiguity as to who the stakeholders are and what their decision-making role should be; whether it is the state that has authority or the local government. Nevertheless, “Politique de la ville” did initiate participative democracy in a country where the political tradition has been delegation. It also raised political awareness of the fundamental social ills plaguing French society, such as the failure of schools, job insecurity, inadequate public services, and the shortcomings of the Republican model of integration.  
“Mixité sociale” is a concept introduced under “politique de la ville” that proposes geographic proximity as a solution to social distance.  Charlotte Recoquillon, a doctoral candidate in urban studies, points out that the public is currently engaged in an ethical debate over the question of whether this policy can rightfully be imposed. According to elected official Mehdy Bellabas of Mairie d’Ivry, the goal of “mixité sociale”, which is to promote social diversity through a process of social co-education, is a desirable scenario.  In practice, urban renewal of at-risk areas aimed at the creation 
of “mixité sociale” has not opened doors for immigrants to gain access to new social housing.  On the contrary, through indirect discrimination masked in rhetoric about “normalizing” the area, there has been an attempt to diffuse the population of recently-arrived, low-income immigrants. New housing is not built to suit the needs or disposable income of current inhabitants, but rather, to cater to a new demographic.  There has been a paucity of measures addressing such stigmatization based on ethno-racial factors, and its contribution to territorial discrimination. 
The inception of the ANRU in 2004 was an attempt to launch “politique de la ville” into a new phase of urban renewal, charactized by a greater degree of private activity.  Yet, current urban renewal projects are still not corresponding to the needs of the inhabitants; rather, “mixité sociale” is both directly and indirectly promoting gentrification.  This phenomenon is illustrated by the case of Christino Garcia Landy, a ZUS mostly comprised of dilapidated private housing showing a number of indicators of social vulnerability (33% unemployment and 49% high school dropout rate).  This area is being gentrified as a result of its physical proximity to Paris and the economic boost it received from the construction of Le Stade de France in the territory of La Plaine St.Denis. 

Policy Recommendations

Based on our findings, we conclude that the current policy of “politique de la ville” is not sustainable.  It needs to be reformed in order to enable all local inhabitants of the ZUS to identify their needs and desires, and empower them to exercise their “droit a la ville”. We advise the Secretariat d’Etat, the government department in charge of “politique de la ville” to institute the following measures:
• Mandate that every ZUS create an inclusive committee to implement real urban governance. This committee must be comprised of stakeholders such as community boards, local officials, businesses, associations and families, who will represent the collective concerns of inhabitants. In order to ensure a legitimately democratic decision-making process, the committee should be consulted at all stages of decision-making from initial proposals to the end phase.
• Create an independent agency in charge of monitoring procedures of the “Commision d’attribution” designed to combat discrimination in access to social housing. Offenders would be penalized.
• Ensure rent controls for the lowest-income citizens, and construct adequate social housing corresponding to the needs of France’s population. We know that approximately 1 million people lack social housing. 
• Create a consulting body involving local economic actors, elected officials and community representatives to promote the advancement of territorial intelligence. According to CAENTI (Coordination Action of the European Network of Territorial Intelligence),  territorial intelligence  involves the use of tools made for, by and with territorial actors for the purpose of elaborating, managing and evaluating partnerships and participatory projects related to territories’ sustainable development. To promote endogenous economic development, a certain percentage of the workforce used in the construction of social housing should be made up of ZUS locals.


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