French suburban hotbeds need more than new houses

Mon Aug 9, 2010 8:54am EDT
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By Bate Felix

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France (Reuters) - Aroua Hamdane nervously eyed a group of teenagers ambling across the street from his home in one of Paris' tinderbox high-rise suburbs and let out a sigh, shaking his head disapprovingly.

"Look at them. They do not work. They hang around like that all day. Always smoking grass and getting into trouble with the police," said the 66-year-old retired salesman.

"You know, there was a time when Clichy-sous-Bois was a really classy place. Now you have to worry about them all the time," he said, nodding in the direction of the teenagers.

When approached, the group of five youths in sagging pants and hooded sweat shirts sauntered off. One of them turned and said: "We do not like to talk, we only act when provoked."

Hamdane immigrated to France from Tunisia 31 years ago. He moved to Clichy-sous-Bois with his wife and bought a flat in one of the tower blocks known as La Forestiere in 1989.

Now earmarked as one of the projects to be demolished in an overdue urban renewal drive, La Forestiere has become an overcrowded squalid den for the underworld.

But Hamdane says building new houses and a police station and having more cops patrolling the streets would not make the of problems of the gritty banlieus (suburbs) in the fringes of France's cities go away overnight.

"The same people will move to the new houses. In 10 years' time we will find ourselves in the same situation because a new house does not come with a job or other services that are critically needed here," he said.   Continued...