Monday, November 14, 2005

Taking suburbs seriously

So many things have been said about the riots in France but I would like to share three reflections and three links.

Reflection one: Everyone who says that jobs and education are crucial is, of course, on the right track. The difficult thing is how to make this happen. But to build a new university in a suburban area where a lot of young people with foreign background live is right and brave. Example: Södertörns högskola in Southern Stockholm: To have a university right where you live lowers the entry barrier, but the task then is to make sure that people move on from a degree to a job. The relation between the university and local government, business and entrepreneurs then becomes key.

Reflection two: How people live really matters. The center-left must dare to speak more openly about ownership and how you often care more about your surroundings if you have a stake in it (not necessarily and only through private ownership, but also through cooperatives). Example: The Bronx NYC: In 1998 I visited an area in the Bronx that previously had had really severe problems: the tenants often had their apartments insured, then burnt them down, received the insurance money and then moved somewhere else. But through involving the tenants in renovation projects in the area, through cooperatives, neighborhood groups and different kinds of ownerships, the whole area developed in a very positive way. You are less likely to burn something down if you actively feel you are part of it.

Reflection three: This is also a question about democracy and local politics. The parties and trade unions to the left of center have an important task in cooperating with and involving people of foreign background in, for example, suburbs with large ethnic minorities. We cannot just be parties ruled by the academic or trade union elite. Example: The cooperation between Social Democratic Students and Kurdish students: I have written about this project many times before; see entries in July for example. (But: you should also make sure you cooperate with progressive, democratic groups and strive for real, long-term involvement on an equal basis).

Link one: Le Figaro writes positively about the suburb of Rinkeby in Stockholm. Not the whole article is published online, but some interesting things are mentioned, for example how the buildings are “long and not tall”, avoiding the HLM-tower blocks as in France.

Link two: Financial Times had some interesting articles Saturday. One was about how Marseille has not been that severely struck by the riots, the reason being that due to the geography (hills on one side, water on the other) there are no big HLM-suburbs outside the city. A second interesting article was written by legendary football writer Simon Kuper on the subject of integration and French football: “Racism lives on in France as World Cup win fades”.

Link three: Got the DLC-newsletter, with the headline ”Taking suburbs seriously”, and thought it would entail some useful advice about integration working in practice. But it was about the Democratic election wins in the US, a country where the rich middle class often tend to abandon the city center and move to the suburbs (vice versa compared to many European cities). A totally different subject of course, but a good reminder that progressives only can fight for and achieve just and equal societies when we are in office.


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