A different kind of travelogue. As an avid young traveller I often wondered what would it would be like when I got older, gathered commitments, created children and accrued debt. This is what it's like.
There are few inevitable things in this world. We have death. We have taxes and we have the seeming unstoppable wave of gentrification that spreads inexorably outwards in the capitals of the world.
One visit and you think you are in a salt of earth, normal people place but its just a snap-shot. The next time you come through theres a perceptible difference. It’s like a giant stop frame view of a place if you keep visiting the same locality.
The fabulous brother of Mrs Less Baggage lives in Paris. He and his fabulous family have always been unbelievably welcoming. They live in a tiny apartment that is a study in smaller space living. It is not just about the physical stuff. The most special thing about how they do it is how the family move around each other and pay attention to each others needs in the house.
This story is not about their apartment. This is about the neighbourhood. My in-laws laugh about it, they tease it, they make jokes at its expense, they worry about how it changes and they love it. I love it too. They live in Clichy. If you lean out their window you can just see the “Periphique”. Thats the evil urban ring road in Paris. It is a bit like the M25 in London. In official terms it is the boundary of Paris proper. The boundary of Paris was until the early 20th Century the Thiers Wall. The peripherique was built along the route of the now demolished wall. To be outside it is to be outside Paris, to be in the Suburbs.
Due to our infrequent visits we get the distilled version of the past year or years. We ask how things are in Clichy and they tell us; “There are more drug-dealers.” “There was a murder.” “There are more homeless people.” “There are more police.” “There are more apartments.” “There are less drug dealers.” “They’re building a new Metro Station.” “There is a new cheese shop.”
The Cheese shop, nay the Fromagerie, is a good sign that the yuppies have moved in in most western societies. But this is Paris so that may not apply. That usually reliable litmus test of gentrification may not work in France. We had to see this Fromagerie for ourselves. We did. It was definately a Gentrification Canary in a Mine. Clichy is going Fancy. Just like Brixton and Hackney in London. Just like Darien Street in Philadelphia or U Street in Washington DC. There are examples anywhere.
I think you really know that the Gentrification process is in full flow when you find baby clothes boutiques! I did not see and designer baby boutiques with perambulators over $1000. This is still Clichy. Just. This is the scene of riots 10 years ago that followed two young teenagers being killed after being chased by the police. Money has been pumped into the area. The government would tell you 48 billion euros has been spent. I always take these numbers with a pinch of salt. Where did the 48 billion come from and where did it go. Was that money allocated for development and services anyway or was it “new” money. Whose bank account did it end up in first? How much ended up as a part of some CEOs wage. Paid to a great big private company that got plenty of money for putting in that metro or a road.
Does that number include the costs of building the huge new department of justice complex; the tribunal? The new “Palace of Justice” will provide some jobs to locals. It will also provide some much higher paying jobs to lawyers, judges, bureaucrats and political types. These folks will be buying the new apartments that are springing up. It is less likely that the present tenants of the narrow Clichy streets will be flooding into the new offices of real estate agents. The locals, and Parisians in general, will be using this Palace; they will be judged and sentenced by the folks that work there. The same privileged sub-section of society that will want to knock down their homes and build more apartments, chic apartments, expensive apartments, energy efficient apartments, apartment, apart, seperate, segregate.
The tribunal is big and shiny. It’s a curious symbol of redevelopment. Though lets not forget that it was Sarkozy that was the infamous interior minister when the riots occurred. He fanned the flames of the riots saying these neighbourhood should be cleaned out with a Karcher, the ubiquitous High Pressure Hose. Since then he has risen and fallen and now he is rising again. Clichy is rising.
The Palace of Justice comes with new light rail, new metro stations and a new park. There are more police. The streets are cleaned. Things are getting built. The problems will not disappear, they will be moved somewhere else.
It is not Justice for all. It never was.