What is the best way to fight against the ghettoisation of disadvantaged neighborhoods? Roland Castro, architect and urban planner in charge of the Banlieues 89 project and a member of the Atelier International du Grand Paris, notably proposes a Central Park for greater Paris. We asked him what projects most urgently needed to be put in place in order to avoid the ghettoisation of certain disadvantaged neighborhoods. (Ed: It is important to note that the “suburbs” on the periphery of Paris are called “banlieues,” and often have the connotation of being some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city.) Here is what he had to say:
“We already know all of the urban planning measures that we must take in order to break down urban ghettos. It is necessary to make them more beautiful, to connect them to the rest of the city, to introduce complexity and mixed-use buildings. When people tell me that these changes are cosmetic, that they cannot change the deeper problems, I have to say that they are wrong. The majority of neighborhoods that have been remodeled in the last 20 years are doing better, much better. We spent lots of money in these areas, but it wasn’t in vain.
Take Caravelle à Villeneuve-la-Garenne, one of the districts I worked on, for example. We dismembered, broke up the streets. We invented new building patterns, improved the existing ones, and created one of the most beautiful community centers in the banlieue. The result: the neighborhood, which figured among the most difficult in the Ile-de-France, is no longer talked about as such. It has become a normal neighborhood that the citizens are proud to call home.
Esthetics are not a luxury. They have a real, sociological effect. When a neighborhood becomes beautiful and welcoming, the housing projects hold onto their middle-class residents, and developers even start to purchase and plan there.
Building Cultural Opportunities
What should we do, then? Continue along the path we are on, of course. We must take on all of the difficult neighborhoods— already far too numerous— that have not been helped. And we need to move at a quicker speed in order to make the banlieues places that are not only agreeable to live in, but actually attractive. For that, we need to dream big and think symbolically. We need to think of those places in the banlieue that are capable of competing with downtown, to handle a diverse mix of people on the scale of a great metropolis.
I have dreamed of creating an opera in Gennevilliers, a philharmonic orchestra at the convergence of the Seine and Marne rivers, and a national library in Saint-Denis. In the past 30 years, unfortunately, all of the big facilities projects have been done within the limits of Paris’ periphery. In the Parisian banlieue, the only addition has been a huge stadium which is empty the majority of the time.
A Central Park in Seine-Saint-Denis
We don’t really live in an era where we can do lots of huge, expensive projects. But creating new, positive spaces within the metropolis is still completely possible. I am thinking, for example, of Courneuve Park (now called Parc Georges Valbon)— 417 hectares of under-used nature in the heart of Seine-Saint-Denis. We are proposing to transform this space into the Central Park of Greater Paris, by constructing 27,000 lodgings, businesses, offices, public services, and maybe even a governmental office on its circumference. Today, the only people who use the space are the inhabitants of the adjacent towns. Even they don’t fully maximize the space’s potential, because the towns in question sit with their backs against the area. In the near future, this could become a hotspot of Greater Paris— a unique place combining urban life and nature, and a casual-strolling destination for Parisians and tourists flying in and out of Roissy Airport.
This would completely change the image of this infamous district. Then, think of all of the places like Courneuve Park. There are hundreds of these in French banlieues. Only think of what we could do in Rungis, where the biggest market in France is located, if it weren’t stuck behind toll booths...These projects don’t need money so much as they need a pilot to steer the course. Put in another way: when we consider the multi-layered complexity of France, it is clearly necessary that we return to a situation where the State plays a bigger role in urban planning and development.”
How has your city used urban planning and design to try and improve life in struggling neighborhoods? Were these endeavors successful? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below.
Original article, originally published in French, here.
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