Andrew Withers post on Sunday asking where it might be possible to construct a new existence struck a particular chord with me for here in France we are witnessing the destruction of a socialist utopia that was built in the 60s.
Villeneuve in Grenoble arose directly out of the student revolution in 1968. Left wing revolutionaries, architects, town planners, sociologists and psychologists came together to construct a brave new world.
A spectacular site at the juncture of two rivers and three mountains was selected to build a city to house 160,000 people. A careful mix of apartments, social housing, parks, schools, private housing, shops, health services and social care when necessary, was incorporated.
The town hall employed workers to provide plumbing, decorating, and light building services for all, not just those in social housing. Here the rich and poor could live side by side, with everybody provided for according to their means.
It didn’t last. Those who could afford to get out again, when faced with the reality of their children sharing schools with the marginalised, did so. The demographic balance tipped, and schools started to close.
The wide open spaces that the planners were so proud of changed in nature. During the day deserted; at night, increasingly overtaken by bands of unemployed youths whose parents came here from the Maghreb. A drug trade arrived to offer oblivion from the tedium. With the drug trade came a separate force of law and order, one that owed no allegiance to the state.
3 weeks ago, there was an armed robbery at a Casino in a nearby town. Karim Boudouda, a 27 year old of North African descent, allegedly one of the robbers, was killed in an exchange of gun fire after he opened fire on the police.
The Maghreb ‘Mafia’ didn’t take kindly to one of their sons being killed by a police force whose legitimacy they do not recognise. The town of Villeneuve exploded in an orgy of ‘car-B-ques’ and rioting youths. During the riots, the registration numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers of some of the local riot police, were stencilled on walls all over town, accompanied by an exhortation to ‘kill them’. Evidence was posted in the town of the possession by the Maghreb youth of a rocket launcher.
The police were forced to withdraw all the resident police, their wives and children, and replace them with elite CRS police from other departments, so seriously was the threat taken. The police station was surrounded by sandbags and barbed wire. Patrolling police wore ‘Robocop’ type headgear to protect their identity. Helicopters constantly patrol overhead. It is more like a warzone than a French city.
Only one of the suspects came from Villeneuve, the other hailed from the notorious suburb of Saint-Denis in Paris. Residents there were awoken at 2am by the sound of automatic gunfire thudding into the walls of their apartments – not the police trying to arrest someone, but fired from cars in the street in an effort to impress the neighbourhood that it was the drug dealers who controlled these streets, not the police.
There are cities in the UK that are dangerously close to the same situation. Raoul Moat represented a challenge to the police, not by himself, but by example to the many watching, waiting, foot soldiers of the underclass, which was similarly responded to with theatrical choreography. In Grenoble they have a Muslim Raoul Moat – armed with a rocket launcher.
You can build Utopia, you can provide everything the sociologists recommend, you can force fill it with a mix of characters – by age, race, assets and ability. The socialist dream just doesn’t work.
Villeneuve has shown that 40 years is its probably lifespan, after that the lowest common denominator wins.
Bloody depressing isn’t it?