Tuesday 10 January 2012

Travellers not welcome in chic 16th

It's little more than a wasteland, a concrete patch between the end of a garden and the beginning of a car park, and yet it has become the scene of a bitter dispute. The Socialist-run city council wants to situate a permanent site for the travelling community (mostly Romani people) here, but local residents - traditionally supporters of parties to the right - don't like the idea one little bit!

In comments written following online news reports, it was interesting to read - among the standard claims that such installations would increase crime rates in the area - the contribution of one local contributor who stated that they had paid high market rates to live in this district in order to avoid such social necessities. The battle being fought here therefore is to discover whether or not wealth in Paris still buys such privileges.

Speaking on behalf of the city of Paris, Olga Trostiansky, stated that the creation of facilities for  travellers is obligatory in all major towns and cities, and that in 2004 it was decided that space for 200 families would be made available in the city. The question remains where such facilities should be situated though. Not in my district has replied Claude Goasguen, the mayor of the 16th arrondissement, who has even launched a petition on his website.

After reading of these disputes, I decided to visit the location myself. Was it a deliberate and petty attempt to rile Socialist opponents in the area, or could it really be a serious proposition?

The site, at the end of the Square de l'Amiral-Bruix, opposite the Palais de Congrès, and in the vicinity of the prestigious Avenue Foch, offers little of interest. It is difficult to imagine 10 caravans here, let alone 200, although the site could potentially be expanded. What is noticeable, in comparison to more densely populated parts of the city, is that there is no real sense of community here. On one side is the busy périphérique motorway, and on the other an anonymous boulevard, principally housing smart office blocks. There is little in the way of housing, no schools or shops, and it is certainly not a place where local residents would choose to gather.

In essence, it is a lost space that serves no purpose at all, although it could be said that it provides a visual and aural buffer from the motorway. Cars are parked on the road alongside, but even these are not ordinary cars, with the majority displaying diplomatic vehicle registration plates. Nobody is here, not even a dog, and it retains the atmosphere that the plot must have had when it formed part of the fortif, the city's 19th century enceinte de Thiers protective barrier. Clearly it is a space in need of some kind of renaissance, and I see no reason why it couldn't be put it into use for the proposed purpose, albeit on a relatively small scale.

In reality, this facility has little chance of ever being created in this spot. With the city of Paris also including in its boundaries the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes, the likelihood is that a suitable site for travellers will be found in one of these two locations - and conveniently far from any potential voters.

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