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Martin Laplante

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Sat, 12 Nov 2005

Paris riots and urban planning

There is an interesting post in Urban Cartography regarding the the role of urban planning in the Paris riots. Any type of planning that causes or results in a concentration of poverty is bad for a society in a lot of ways.

In North America, the greatest concentration of poverty has been near downtown. In Europe, and particularly in France, it is in the suburbs that the disposable population is warehoused.

We shouldn't have to wait until there are riots to conclude that this concentration is wrong. There has been a remarkable reversal of the trend toward greater concentration of poverty in the U.S. in the 90's, thanks to conscious policies to address the problem. In Canada, the concentration and centrality of poverty keeps climbing. My nice relatively rich home town is now one of the most segregated in North America.

Interestingly enough, on both continents there is an association between density and poverty, and high density highrise neighbourhoods become synonymous with social strife. No wonder there is sprawl.

Concentrated poverty is not the only reason for rioting. It is only a necessary condition. Land economics does tend to concentrate poverty unless there is a concerted public effort to counter this. Unfortunately, most levels of government follow the path of least resistance, not only doing nothing to reduce concentration, but actively funneling money into bringing all the poor and dispossessed people together, by putting all the services and the subsidized housing for the poor in a few already poor neighbourhoods.

This concentration makes policing easier. I remember a police captain saying at a community meeting that it's easy to tell when someone doesn't belong in the neighbourhood, and to call the police when you see one.

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