The empty lot on Boulevard Suchet, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris that is the proposed site for a subsidized housing development. Photo: Alex Davies
In the 16th arrondissement of Paris, around the corner from the Villa Montmorency, the super-chic gated community home to both Carla Bruni and Céline Dion, stands an empty lot. 14,000 square meters large, the space, previously occupied by a train station, unused since the 1980s and demolished last year, is one of four proposed sites for subsidized housing apartment buildings. The problem? Many of the area's residents have rallied against the plans of the Paris city council, armed with arguments ranging from rational to xenophobic, and some even ecological.The most rational argument against building the housing developments is that the 16th arrondissement, filled with foreign embassies and some of the prettiest apartments in Paris, is a particularly expensive neighborhood. The developments, called "habitation à loyer modéré" (HLM), or reduced rent housing in English, are reserved for anyone whose income falls under a decided threshold. And while, given that France is a socialist state, that threshold is pretty generous, it's easy to see how the area's new residents would have trouble affording groceries- especially if they're inclined to shop locally.
The second argument against the city's plan for the 16th is architectural- there's a widespread feeling that the new buildings will clash with the very classic, Haussmannian look of the neighborhood. But it's a point of view that easily turns xenophobic, as the distaste for modern architecture slides into a distaste for modern immigration, and for the large percentage of African immigrants that will certainly move into the area. The architectural argument is especially confounded by the fact that one of the new buildings is to be designed by SANAA, the Japanese architecture firm that this year won the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest honor.
The ecological argument is a bit flimsy: residents of the 16th arrondissement are upset about the number of trees that will be cut down to make construction possible. And while we at TreeHugger certainly sympathize, we don't buy the argument, reported by Paris-Match, of Claude Goasguen, mayor of the 16th, that the project threatens to "denature the neighborhood."
The last argument is the crime angle: bringing a low-income population into a rich neighborhood will raise the crime rate and threaten the safety of the current residents. And while this view isn't totally based on falsehood, it is largely based on the negative stereotypes of immigrants that are common in France.
Currently, the projects are stalled in court, as the Paris city council and the residents of the 16th duke it out. Given what seems to be a lack of arguments that aren't based on a desire to keep the neighborhood as chic as it is today, it's likely that the projects will move ahead, though it's impossible to say when.