By Liza Jabbour
With the upcoming Olympic Games of 2024, Paris is facing a real challenge by keeping up the social housing project in the surroundings of the capital and trying to fit in the new structure sport complex into the very crowded (yet not completely explored) districts of Paris.
The urban regeneration is a process that involves improvement or restructuration of derelict or delapitated buildings to a whole district of a city, through redevelopment. According to the Human Geography department of Oxford, it is more of “a term for the various strategies to restore profitability and/or repopulate areas of the city deemed to be in decline”. In a way, it is one of the many purpose of urban regeneration. But does it involved the habitants already living there in the restructuration ? Most of the time, it is followed by an expensive regeneration, i.e., very modern and luxurious compounds with a secure area, beautiful very artistic landscaped gardens and private parks, new trendy and very post-industrial styled shop, with façades that sometimes have taken over the district identity with words that does echoes to the ancient factory that were standing here. Le parc de la Villette (picture below) is a very good example, to show urban regeneration of an old factor area, that is now a cultural landmark in Paris, with an Theatre, an Opera, a science department museum, an exhibition room which is the old “Les Halles” renovated. They hosted last year the James Bond 007 exhibition.
But that does not go without expenses led by the townhall, or the private company and new market company. Sure, the French law assures the stability between low and high incomes families by asking each town to have a minimum of 30% of social housing. The fact is, it is not always the case where the law protect the population in need. By giving those projects to private investors, towns allow the private actors to rise up the prices and by doing so, regenerate also the population classes. The procedure is very simple and sadly legal. They allow the buying and the renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper and middle income families or individuals, raising property values but often displaying low-income families and small businesses. This is called Gentrification.
As Paris is running every project possible to be the best host for the 2024 Olympic Games, the city hasn’t stopped the renovation projects in the city centre and the periphery. While trying to please everyone, that is to say the tourist industry and the Parisians by rising the number of housing, Paris is also struggling to make some place for the new project of sport centres and olympic complexes that will be incorporate into the Capital. With all that, we are adding the enormous problem of having roughly 18% of the French population living in the capital and it’s surroundings.
The National Agency for Urban Regeneration (ANRU) has announced for the period of 2014-2024 three new urban regeneration programs, that will promote a cross-cutting approach to issues related to employment, social cohesion, urban environment, living environment and urban renewal in priority neighbourhoods.
The amount then announced by ANRU is 5 billion euros. With the financial assistance of Action Housing, the final amount will be more than 20 billion euros of investment. So, we understand that now Paris is betting on renovation while keeping the history of the city preserved. But what about the purchasing power of the Parisians with low incomes? Are they taken into consideration into those marvellous and expensive urban projects ? Are Paris and the surrounding towns giving up on those priority cases by means of the future Olympic Games?
To illustrate my argument, here’s a good example of urban regeneration program and its consequences over the city population and housing dynamic.
Caption above : One of the urban project launched for the Plaine of Saint-Denis, delivery expected in 2018.
One of the biggest urban regeneration project in Ile-de-France region (IDF) is the Plaine of Saint-Denis restructuration. That includes, new compounds and disabilitated areas that were once hyper dynamic during the industrial era. The main fact about this area, is that it encountered different phases of evolution in its regeneration. At first it was slow and didn’t have much popularity over the Parisians. But after the World Soccer Cup of 1998, the area started to become very popular and dynamic. By building Sport centre complexes and especially the Stade de France, it totally changed the way people saw The Plaine of Saint-Denis.
According to Paul Lecroart, who wrote a paper on the urban regeneration of The Plaine of Saint-Denis in Paris region, the “urban decline can be a rapid phenomenon, but regeneration is slow at first”. Every regeneration project encounteres bad criticisms and not much support. It only takes off when you have an actual result, like for example the Plaine Saint-Denis took off after the French soccer team won the World Cup in 1998 at the Stade de France.
After that, the Stade de France welcomed hundreds of events such as sport, music concert and is continuing to gain an important place into Paris cultural dynamic. “Initial ambition and government support” is the key to most of the urban regeneration projects. To quote a paper on comparative study between NYC and Berlin about The financialisation of rental housing ; “These dynamics were most apparent not in housing but in commercial property, as growing financial and business services sectors increased demand for prime commercial real estate and local governments remade downtowns into elite consumption spaces.”. For example, Châtelet-les-Halles in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, right in the centre, had very bad attempted. When they decided to restructure the area by renovating the Mall that took over the area like a spider web. By going underground and being linked to the subway transportation web, it took about 3/4 of the arrondissement itself. By putting luxurious brand store and new trendy and chic coffee shops all around it, and also by landscaping a great public park, it pushed away the drug dealing and the massive pickpockets groups. The restructuration of the area was followed by the gentrification, inevitably, it raised up about 10% of the rental housing and over 50% of the sale-market housing.
In conclusion, we can see that Paris has given the place of social housing in her urban politics, however, it does not solve the problem. By also supporting the regeneration of the city, its spirit, culturally speaking, allowing private markets to take over the projects and pin the prices in the area, the urban regeneration became the synonym of gentrification.
This piece has been re-blogged from: https://urbangeographytcd.wordpress.com/