Another week has passed and I have traveled and learned about another city in Europe. This time we went to Marseille because we have been discussing social inequality in both the United States and France. One aspect of the second module focused on public housing and how the demolition and development of these units impact cities and suburbs. Most public housing was built after World War II because of the influx of people that needed a place to live. While the United States built public housing high-rises in the inner cities, France built the high-rises in the suburbs. Both ways created a social divide between the lower-income households in public housing and the middle to upper income households living elsewhere. There have been several discussions about the similarities and differences between the U.S. ghettos and the French Banlieues, which are the outskirts of a city. During these discussions, our class came to the conclusion that the discriminatory aspect of each area is present, but is dealt with in different ways. From this realization we talked about the French Riots that happened in 2005, which started because the minorities felt discriminated against, especially in the workforce.
One thing that the two countries do have in common is the demolition of high-rise public housing and moving towards the creation of mixed-income development communities. We had discussions on the effectiveness of mixed-income development and looked at different case studies to see what worked in real life situations. I was mostly interested in this topic because this past semester I did a project on HUD and HOPE VI, which provides federal funding for Public Housing Authorities to develop mixed-income communities. It was informative to read more background on the subject and hear other student’s opinion on the effectiveness of the development strategy. Our discussion focused on how the housing authorities need to establish programs to help the different households interact with each other and not expect them to do it on their own. This could be one way to improve the effectiveness of mixed-income developments and make lower-income people feel less isolated.
We traveled to Marseille because the city seemed to be the exception to the norm when talking about the French Banlieues and riots. While other French cities were pushing the minorities to the outskirts of the city, Marseille built public housing within the city. Also, there were not as many rioters in the area and there has been speculation as to why Marseille didn’t “burn”. Research has shown the city of Marseille has been much more welcoming of immigrants and migration because it is a port city, which draws people from all different countries. Another reason for less rioting could be because there is a Marseille identity and people say they are from the city, not from France or their country of origin. The city also has more minority leadership in government compared to other cities in France.
There are also some redevelopment projects happening in Marseille, which have led to public housing being demolished and national money being used to fund new buildings in the port area. This new development has started to push the lower-income people to the outskirts of the city, which is surprising because that was one way Marseille was different from other cities in France, such as Paris. It seems that the money provided from France and the European Union has changed the identity of Marseille in some ways because a larger social divide seems to be forming within the city. This was more evident when we traveled there because the renovation near the port consisted of all new shops and nice restaurants, while the neighborhoods closer to the train station consisted of lower-income residents and street vendors. I started to question if the money from the national level was actually benefitting the people of Marseille or used to look like other French cities and attract tourism? While we walked around we saw several new buildings without residents and one skyscraper only half full with another skyscraper being built next door. We discussed how the economy is suffering at the moment for most countries around the world, which made me question why the city was building another skyscraper when there is no need for one at the moment? Personally, I did not understand why all this money was used to revitalize the port area and not used to rebuild public housing and help the lower-income neighborhoods.
Traveling to the cities we have talked about in the course has been very beneficial to my understanding of our discussions. Seeing the people in Bern practice ideas of sustainability and walking around the redevelopment in Marseille brought the readings and our in-class discussions to life. Coming to Europe has given me a much better understanding of the different countries and cultures around Switzerland and France, which I do not think I would have received in a classroom back home.