As ‘a City Of Quartiers’ ? Essay, Research Paper
Obviously, before answering such a question it is important to reach some definition of a quartier. Speaking to an englishman who had lived in Paris for a number of years threw some light on the issue. He loosely described a quartier as “an area with a common-thread running through it”. Although undoubtedly vague this definition does convey the flexibility of the quartier concept. A ‘common-thread’, in this sense, could refer to any uniting characteristic a population may exhibit, the interrelated functionality of business or even the concentration of particularly distinctive features. Lacking any specific limitations, it may also be used to describe quartiers with varying scales of resolution. In extreme cases, these could range from what would normally be considered micro- to macro-level proportions (in relation to the City of Paris as the area in question), though it is usual for its use to be somewhere in between the two. Additionally, any attempt to examine the structure of quartiers requires concepts of space to be intimately tied with concepts of time in what Massey (1994) describes as “space-time geography” (p2). The freezing of time and the ability to take a ’snapshot’ of a quartier is necessary to overcome the “palpable flux and fluidity [that is] metropolitain life and cosmopolitain movement” (Chambers, 1993, p188). In other words, quartiers may be seen as dynamic social constructs that consequently need to be viewed and studied in a moment. Possibly one of the most well known quartier’s in Paris (notwithstanding its name) is the Latin Quarter, in the fifth arrondissement and on the exclusive Left Bank of the city. Centred on the boulevards St-Michel and St-Germain this quartier corresponds with the flexible definition outlined above as a result of the high density of elite schools and universities in the area, which include: a host of grand ecoles, several universites and the Lycee Louis le Grand and Henri IV. In fact, the concentration is such that Russell (1983) noted, “There is nothing across the English Channel that corresponds to this quarter: it is as if Eton, Harrow, Oxford, Cambridge…the London School of Economics, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs were all bundled into an area less than a mile square” (p304). Similarly distinctive is the Jewish Quarter, focused since the twelfth century on the rue des Rosier in the Marais. Unlike the Latin Quarter however, it is distinctive because of the localised presence of a ‘foreign’ culture and the associated emergence of a network of social relations that have acted together and ’sealed’ the community spirit: not only is this area the home of a significant number of Jews, it is also an area of much Jewish work. Obviously, such a mutually-reinforcing dual-identity has strengthened this areas claim to be a quartier. However, just as this is possible, so too is the reverse. In the Beaux Quartiers of the sixteenth arrondissement (on the western periphery of Paris) a dichotomy exists between home and work that is the antithesis of the Jewish Quarter. This area is home to the aristocratic and rich of Paris but the majority workplace of the immigrant poor who service their homes, gardens and parks and attempt to sell shoddy goods to tourists. Consequently, the total identity of the quartier is actually split between two contrasting social groups; though the rich are generally recognised as the dominant group as a result of them employing and outnumbering the immigrant workers. This rich-poor dichotomy actually appears to be reflected on a larger scale throughout the whole of Paris, and thus may lead to a general view of Paris as a city of two quartiers: the ‘rich’ west and the ‘poor’ east. Winchester (1993) notes that the most desirable and expensive residences in Paris are situated west, centre-west and on the Left Bank of the Seine amongst the grandest of Hausmanns boulevards. This also happens to be the area that houses the majority of Paris’ greatest treasures, including: the Eiffel tower, the Louvre, the Palais Royal, Porte de Versaille etc. Meanwhile, the east of the city is dominated by the old working class districts where “overcrowding is rife, the housing is broken down and the environment degraded by litter and graffiti” (Winchester, 1993, p185). Consequently, it is currently subject to a redevelopment scheme aimed at redressing the east-west disequilibrium. However, schemes such as these are making the identification of quartiers increasingly difficult. For example, Belleville, traditionally a distinctly working class quartier is undergoing a transformation where much of the previously dilapidated housing is being replaced by stock that is more upmarket, particularly around the newly created Parc de Belleville. Gentrifying the area in this manner has confused what has always been an easy quartier to classify, previously class-conscious but ethnically diverse cultures are now living in varying social conditions amongst people from a totally different class. Whilst fragmenting the identity of the area previously deemed a quartier the influx of new peoples has occured in a spatially specific manner that has created a new mosaic of micro-quartiers within the approximate boundaries of the old. In this sense quartiers correspond with Massey (1994) view of the spatial “as an ever-shifting social geometry of power and signification” (p3). In conclusion, a quartier may be seen as constructed social relations or common ‘properties’ limiting the boundaries of mental space in one particular instant. Viewed in this manner, the term is a useful means of describing the cosmopolitain array of races, ethnicities, classes, architecture etc. that is traditionaal Paris. However, how much longer the term will survive with the current waves of gentrification and decentralisation fragmenting the politically volatile (and therefore most distinct) quartiers remains to be seen.Bibliography Baille, K and Salmon, T (1995) Paris: The Rough Guide, London, Rough Guides. Chambers, I (1993) “Cities without maps”, In Bird, J et al (eds) Mapping the futures: local cultures, global change, London, Routledge, pp188-198. Harvey, D (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity, Oxford, Blackwell. Featherstone, M (1993) “Global and local cultures”, In Bird, J et al (eds) Mapping the futures: local cultures, global change, London, Routledge, p169-187. Massey, D (1994) Space, Place and Gender, Cambridge, Polity Press. Russell, J (1983) Paris, London, Thames and Hudson. Winchester, HPM (1993) Contemporary France, London, Longman.