Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ethnic Place Identity within a Parisian Neighborhood

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ethnic Place Identity within a Parisian Neighborhood

Article excerpt

We know that places develop distinct identities, even personalities that go beyond a simple accounting of their characteristics. How then are these places "made" and how does population change--resulting from immigration, the exodus of existing groups, impoverishment, and gentrification--transform existing place identities? Place-making begins with the built environment, the landscape of buildings, streets, signs, and physical features through which a place is easily recognized and which can transmit considerable meaning to both insiders and outsiders. Places are also made through the daily practices of socializing, shopping, walking, working, hustling, and worshipping. Place identities are rarely fixed in time as the influence of the past seeps into the present. Moreover, places do not exist in isolation but are surrounded by other places that bring the place identity into relief. Finally, there is no singular place identity as each place comprehends multiple meanings defined by different social networks (Massey 1991).

These elements of place identity particularly enhance our understanding of those urban neighborhoods that have achieved iconic status as a result of a strong and continued ethnic presence. Paris is often considered to be a city composed of comfortable neighborhoods surrounded by poor, immigrant-dominant suburbs, an image intensified by the riots of 2005. But this picture, taken at a very broad scale of resolution, is misleading. There are many wealthy suburbs and there are also many struggling immigrant quarters within Paris. Of these city neighborhoods, the Goutte d'Or is among the most distinctive. Tucked between the tourist attractions of Montmartre and the railroad tracks shooting northward from the Gare du Nord railway station, the Goutte d'Or neighborhood has a significantly more "popular" profile than most of the rest of Paris. It is also a neighborhood framed in the popular imagination by its social problems: alcohol, drugs, prostitution, and petty criminality. And increasingly significant, the Goutte d'Or is now known as the most ethnically distinctive neighborhood in Paris, replete with Maghrebi and West African immigrants.

Despite carrying a defined identity in the French imagination, the Goutte d'Or is not a ghetto by any current definition. It does not share the shockingly high levels of segregation found in many U.S. neighborhoods and is far more diverse than the most isolated of the Parisian banlieues. Within the smaller spaces of the neighborhood, different types of people live side by side. The communities inhabiting this neighborhood appear to be at relative peace with one another; there are no heated conflicts as observed in other ethnically divided neighborhoods. Yet places may be contested more implicitly, by the differences in communities, perceptions, and activities that define a place on separate terms. The combination of immigrants, their children, and the European French who continue to live and shop in the Goutte d'Or has created a cultural melange within which each ethnic group forges its own social networks and activities.

In this paper, we discuss the evolution, the cultural distinctiveness, and the diversity of the Goutte d'Or neighborhood. Overarching our discussion is the notion that the Goutte d'Or is a place that has transformed and developed multiple and overlapping place identities. The Goutte d'Or continues to cut a popular profile, but also a newly ethnic profile that accommodates the imprints of three separate populations. The intermingling of and separation between Goutte d'Or's communities are evident along some of the major shopping streets, notably rue Poulet. Based on observations and interviews, commerce along this street demonstrates the place-making of different cultural groups and the degree of interaction that exists between members of these populations. From this evidence it is clear that the Goutte d'Or has evolved into a neighborhood where people and actions are embedded within much larger networks. …

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