French suburbs & Le Corb
- Note especially the comments on the Netherlands:
> Revolting High Rises--
> By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
> There is a somewhat comic lining around the cloud of France's
> suburban riots. Suddenly the word banlieue has been embraced by
> people not known for peppering their conversation with French words
> - callers to right-wing talk shows, for instance. Obviously, they
> want to stress how different those suburbs (burning cars and hip-
> hop hand gestures) are from our own (swing sets and Weber grills).
> European politicians, anxious lest their countries be perceived as
> "the next France," have made a similar point. Wolfgang Schäuble, a
> prominent German Christian Democrat, said recently, "We do not have
> these gigantic high-rise projects that they have on the edge of
> French cities."
> Meanwhile, people in Marseille, which has one of the heaviest
> concentrations of immigrants' children in France, were relieved
> that their city was left mostly unscathed when those children
> staged a nationwide uprising. What is different about Marseille,
> residents say, is that it is too hemmed in by mountains and sea to
> ship its poor to the outskirts. Executives, entrepreneurs and
> others who don't have to punch the clock are the ones who live
> farther out - in Aix-en-Provence, for instance, which is reachable
> by fast trains. Marseille is not like most French cities, where the
> urban core is made up of neatly tended architectural treasures and
> the disorder is pushed to the periphery. It is turned inside out,
> so that "inner city" and "suburbia" retain their American
> connotations. That may have spared Marseille a lot of problems.
> La crise des banlieues turns out to be an ambiguous phrase. Is
> there a problem in France's suburbs or with France's suburbs? For
> Schäuble, it's the buildings. For the boosters of Marseille, it's
> where you put them.
> The Swiss architect Le Corbusier, as Francophobes have been more
> than ready to explain, bears some of the blame for both. His
> designs inspired many of the suburbs where the riots of October and
> November began. In fact, he inspired the very practice of housing
> the urban poor by building up instead of out. Soaring apartments,
> he thought, would finally give sunlight and fresh air to city
> laborers, who had been trapped in narrow and fetid back streets
> since the dawn of urbanization. But high-rise apartments mixed
> badly with something poor communities generate in profusion: groups
> of young, armed, desperate males. Anyone who could control the
> elevator bank (and, when that became too terrifying to use, the
> graffiti-covered stairwells) could hold hundreds of families ransom.
> Le Corbusier called houses "machines for living." France's housing
> projects, as we now know, became machines for alienation. In
> theory, the cause of this alienation is some mix of the buildings
> themselves and the way they're joined to the city. But in practice,
> the most effective urban renewal has tended to focus on the
> buildings. It focuses on the buildings by razing them.
> The Netherlands provides the best example of how this works.
> Amsterdam and Rotterdam stand in the same urban-planning
> relationship as Paris and Marseille. The core of golden-age
> buildings along Amsterdam's canals are surrounded by industrial-age
> apartments and then by a fan of housing projects. Rotterdam,
> because it was rebuilt after heavy bombing in World War II, has big
> concentrations of poor and working-class people, many of them
> immigrants and their children, living in the bull's-eye of the
> metropolitan area.
> So the two cities are urban-planning opposites. And since the
> murder of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch Islamist last
> year, it has become common to speak of them as political opposites.
> Amsterdam's mayor, Job Cohen, represents the Labor Party, which has
> controlled the city for decades and is often accused of excessive
> multicultural sensitivity. Rotterdam's housing policy is in the
> hands of Leefbaar Rotterdam, the party of the populist Pim Fortuyn,
> who was assassinated in 2002. Until recently, the housing boss was
> Marco Pastors, a charismatic and controversial leader known for
> tough talk on immigration.
> Yet the cities' redevelopment policies are virtually identical.
> Both are well into a headlong retreat from gigantism and
> uniformity. The notorious high rises of De Bijlmer in southeastern
> Amsterdam were completed only in 1975 but were soon generating the
> kind of pathology on display in the banlieues. A succession of
> Labor mayors have presided over their dismantling to make way for
> smaller "garden houses." When the city determined that 11,000 units
> of housing were needed in the Nieuw West area, it decided to
> demolish 13,000 units and build 24,000 on a more neighborly scale,
> to avoid what Cohen calls "huge, stretched-out deprived areas."
> In right-wing Rotterdam, meanwhile, Pastors has done almost exactly
> the same thing. He poured resources into mixed-income projects
> started by the Labor Party in the once-dismal neighborhood of
> Bospolder-Tussendijken and added others of his own. His reasoning
> is the same as Cohen's. Both argue for maximum residential
> diversity on the grounds that people now have "housing careers."
> In the old days, the argument runs, a person with a working-class
> identity could live in "working-class housing." But today people
> have housing careers that vary as much as their professional ones.
> When they are young and not terribly bothered by noise, they might
> choose small, functional places close to cultural attractions and
> nightlife. They can move to larger, quieter ones when they have
> families and then trade space for comfort when their children leave
> home. Corbusier-style city planning shows no evidence of having
> considered this. If you don't vary the housing units in a given
> neighborhood - if you fill entire quarters of the city with
> standard-issue monoliths - you condemn upwardly mobile people to
> constant movement. The only people who develop any sense of place
> are those trapped in the poverty they started in.
> In the course of the October uprising, French observers called this
> slum-based sense of place a "nationalisme de quartier." It is a
> problem. Residents of some of the most dismal projects have often
> proved unwilling to relocate, even when the government has promised
> to move them into much nicer places. Perhaps they have grown
> attached to their dangerous homes and neighbors. It is more likely
> that they're leery about accepting the promises of any government
> that once stuck them in such a depressing spot to begin with.
> Christopher Caldwell, a contributing writer, has recently written
> about Turkey for the magazine.