The dark side of Europe’s suburbs

Article published on Nov. 21, 2005
community published
Article published on Nov. 21, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Unemployment, deprivation and social exclusion are common problems in the overlooked outskirts of many of Europe’s large cities.

With images of the riots in the Parisian suburbs still fresh in our minds, one could be forgiven for thinking that unemployment, deprivation, inadequate and unchecked housing development and social exclusion belong exclusively to the Parisian suburbs. However, the Parisian banlieues and the problems that plague these suburbs are not exclusive to France, the phenomenon is common throughout the rest of Europe.

Birmingham. Rape allegations spark race riots

At the end of October, the alleged rape of a black girl by an Asian man triggered a weekend of clashes in the Lozells area in West Birmingham. Riots between members of the black and Asian communities resulted in the death of a 20-year-old man. Ethnic minority groups represent 82% of the population, and Lozells also has a high incidence of unemployment (22.1%). At the same time, the area is fought over by a large number of criminal gangs who battle to gain control of the drugs business.

Munich. A ghetto all in the mind?

Hasenbergl, located in the north of Munich, is famous for being a dangerous area in the rest of the city. Built in the context of rapid economic growth in the 1960s, it has around 53,000 inhabitants, 26% of whom are from ethnic minority groups. Its high unemployment rate, the lack of job prospects for its youth and the inadequacies in public infrastructure and cultural amenities have justified its involvement in the state programme soziale stadt. The programme attempts to improve the quality of life in 331 cities and neighbourhoods. Will the perception of Hasenbergl change in the eyes of the Munich citizens?

Barcelona. Defusing the tension in the La Mina district

The rapid and disorganised construction of La Mina suburb in the 1960s was the result of a plan to eradicate the shantytowns in the areas surrounding Barcelona. Since then, the social and housing situation of the area has conditioned the daily lives of its inhabitants, 30% of whom are Roma. The harsh reality of an isolated suburb traditionally associated with crime is reflected in the figures: a failure rate in schools of 40%, unemployment at 12% and the gross family income at 20% less than the Catalonian average. Now, local, regional and state government have come together creating an association which aims to transform La Mina. The first step has been to set up a regional police station. However, it is yet to be seen if this plan will actually improve the severe economic situation of its inhabitants.

Warsaw. Poverty and deprivation despite democracy

On the right bank of the Vistula river, the Prague district (not to be confused with the Czech capital) is one of the most disadvantaged areas of the Polish capital. Abandoned to its fate during the communist era, its situation has failed to improve with the establishment of democracy. The shift to capitalism and the collapse of the industrial sector left hundreds of workers from the Prague area without work or hope for the future. The surrounding environment isn’t much better; much of the housing in the area is rundown and neglected. Despite all this, the charm and personality of the area attracts more and more artists all the time. Could Prague become a fashionable district of Warsaw?

Milan. The Italian Bronx

Romano Prodi, the left-wing candidate for the next Italian parliamentary elections, announced a few days ago that the outskirts of Milan were as, if not more, dangerous than the suburbs of Paris. Encircled by motorways and railway lines, the district of Quarto Oggiaro is one of the most disadvantaged and dilapidated neighbourhoods of Milan, together with Stadera and Fulvio Testi to which Prodi also referred. Petty crime and drug addiction are the stuff of everyday life in an area full of ageing and abandoned tower blocks, which in their heyday were built to accommodate the thousands of immigrants from Southern Italy who flocked to Milan in the 1950s and 60s. In the rest of Milan and the Lombardy region, the area has come to be known as the Bronx, referring to the confrontational New York district of the same name. Despite this, the inhabitants have fought against this definition in an attempt to improve the future of the Quarto Oggiaro.