ment” that the crime rate was lowest, hi Boston’s “North End,”rnfor example, mostly populated by Amerieans of Italian originrnand where on warm afternoons many women spent their timernseated before their front doorsteps, as their ancestors had alwaysrndone in Naples or Civita Vecchia, any stranger venturing intornthe area was instantly recognized as such and kept underrnsurveillance by inhabitants who had retained a keen sense ofrncommunal identity.rnFrench urban development, admittedly, has differed fromrnthe American “model” in at least one significant respect. Thernpanicky flight of “respectable” citizens from the dangerous centerrnof the city to the safer residential suburbs—so glaringly apparentrnin “downtown” Washington, D.C.—has not, as a generalrnrule, occurred in France, hi Paris, those lucky enough to haverna place in the country to retire to on weekends—my butcher onrnthe elegant Rue de Varennc (not far from the prime minister’srnofficial residence) is one of them—would not dream of abandoningrntheir residential apartments in the center of the city.rnHere, as in Lyon, Strasbourg, Bourdeaux, Toulouse, and manyrnother cities, the only salient exception is Marseilles, where therncelebrated Canebiere has been partly “Arabized”; the city centers,rnmany of them now officially protected from “urban improvement”rnby the antidcmolition provisions of the “MalrauxrnLaw” of 1962, have retained their indigenous character and vitality,rnwhile the sprawling suburbs, forced to absorb successivernwaves of foreign immigrants, have been allowed to “rot.”rnA classic example is the fate that has overtaken the oncerncharming village of Montfcrmeil, northeast of Paris, by whoserncentral fountain Victor Hugo had his hero, Jean Valjean, meetrnCosette in Les Miserables. Until 30 years ago, Montfcrmeil wasrna peaceful suburban town of some 8,000 souls, full of pavilionsrn(as the French call their small suburban cottages), each with itsrntiny vegetable-and-flower garden. But in 1965 several ambitiousrn”developers” decided to improve and “modernize” the littlerntown’s humdrum image by constructing a prestigious complexrnof vertical high-rise “towers” and horizontal, low-profilern”banes” (window-studded slabs). The task of designing thisrn20tli-eentury marvel, charmingly named Les Bosquets (ThernGroves), was entrusted to Bernard Zehrfuss, a famous Frenchrnarchitect who had made a name for himself by constructing therncuriously curved UNESCO building, not far from the hivalides.rnThe complex’s 1,500 spacious flats were designed essentiallyrnfor medium-income “cadres” (managerial personnel)rnwho, it was assumed, would feel eternally at home and happy inrnthis architectural wonderland. Many reasonably well-off bureaucratsrnand managers did indeed purchase apartments in thisrnluxurious cite. So too did a number of real-estate speculators,rnwho decided that the renting out of these admirably up-to-daternapartments would bring in handsome profits over the comingrnyears. One of them, according to Thierry Desjardins, who hasrnvividly described this particular debacle in his best-selling Lettrernau President a propos de I’Immigration, was the celebratedrnsinger Charles Aznavour, who bought up a dozen apartments,rnthough for exactly what reasons the author was polite enoughrnnot to reveal.rnAlmost from the very start this real estate venture seems tornhave been a speculative fiasco. Defying Le Corbusian dogma,rnmany of the reasonably affluent purchasers preferred to desertrnthis particular cite radieuse and to relodge themselves in lessrncongested two-story pavilions, where their children could skiprnrope and turn somersaults on their tiny plots of grass. The swiftrndecline in demand forced some of them to sell their apartmentsrnat cut-rate prices, while the real estate speculators had tornmake drastic reductions in rental rates to attract new occupants.rnBy 1967, just four years after the “opening” of this “model”rncomplex, the fiasco had begun to assume the proportions of arncatastrophe. Five percent of the occupants were already of non-rnFrench origin, and some were already beginning to “sacrifice”rntheir sheep for a mechoui feast on the no longer immaculatelyrntended grounds of Les Bosquets. (I might add, parenthetically,rnthat when retired actress Brigittc Bardot, now a militant crusaderrnagainst cruelty to animals, recently denounced as “barbaric”rnthe Muslim practice of cutting the throats of sheep forrnthe annual feast-day of the Ait-el-Kebir, she was immediatelyrnbranded a “racist” in left-wing newspapers and dismissed by anrnembarrassed political establishment as a wayward disciple of LernPen.)rnBut to go back to the sad saga of Montfermeil. By 1969, thernnumber of foreigners inhabiting the “luxurious” complex ofrnLes Bosquets had risen to 15 percent. Confronted by a steadyrndecline in demand, the frantic speculators had begun to rentrntheir vacant apartments to immigrants employed in nearby factoriesrnand workshops. Four years later (1973) the number ofrnforeign residents had risen to 30 percent of the total, and thernworried prefect of the department was beginning to ring thernalarm, appalled by police reports of vandalized cars, of pitchedrnbattles between rival teenage gangs, of thefts and muggings,rnand even of firemen being pelted with stones when arriving tornput out recently lit fires.rnIn 1974, there was a momentary respite, when the Chiracrngovernment decided to halt the immigration of foreign workers.rnBut two years later, as we have seen, the same governmentrndecided to relax the clamp-down by allowing foreign workers tornimport their kinsfolk in the name of regroupement familial.rnRecognizing a bonanza when they saw it, the foreign inhabitantsrnof Les Bosquets at Montfcrmeil brought in their wives,rntheir children, their brothers, sisters, uncles, and cousins, precipitatingrna further exodus of French residents. By 1982, the ratiornof immigrants inhabiting the once “palatial” complex hadrnreached 58 percent of the total, with families from no fewerrnthan 28 different countries. Of these the Algerians and Moroccans,rnhowever, still formed a majority.rnSince that time, things have merely gone from bad to worse.rnRents are no longer paid, scrofulous patches sully the unpaintedrnwalls of corridors and staircases, and everywhere there is dirtrnand litter. Most of the mailboxes have been smashed or defaced,rnand outside, on the now weed-infested lawns, groups ofrnunemployed youths fight it out with rival gangs, each defendingrnits threatened “turf” against the predatory claims of hostilerndrug-peddlers, motorcycle thieves, and black-market traffickersrnin radios and cassette-players torn from eviscerated automobiles.rnBy 1991 some of the first North African residents had hadrnenough and had moved out, leaving a majority of blackrnAfricans to preside over the wreckage.rnIf what occurred at Montfermeil is an extreme case, it is essentiallyrnbecause the original architectural complex of LesrnBosquets was luxuriously designed, whereas most of the brickand-rnconcrete “hen-coops” that now deface the suburban landscapernof so many French cities were depressing eyesores fromrnthe very start. One of them, located at Sareelles, due northrnof Paris, had become such a scandalous den of iniquity thatrnseveral years ago the entire complex was dynamited andrnreduced to rubble.rn18/CHRONICLESrnrnrn