Academic journal article Population

Population Patterns and Household Trajectories in the Residential Milieu: The Example of the Seine-Saint-Denis

Academic journal article Population

Population Patterns and Household Trajectories in the Residential Milieu: The Example of the Seine-Saint-Denis

Article excerpt

The role of housing in spatial population patterns is not really a new question for students of the city. It has already been widely addressed by the French regional geography of the early twentieth century - admittedly predominantly rural in focus (Demangeon, 1921) - and by research into social and demographic segregation (Brun and Rhein, 1994; Le Bras and Chesnais, 1976), and indeed by economic studies of land and property values (Gaubert et al., 1996; Calcoen and Cornuel, 1999). In the presentday context, however, the issue is tending to assume greater complexity as a result notably of new forms of territorial determination (Berger and Rhein, 1988; Arbonville and Bonvalet, 1992), the emergence of less direct links between housing stock characteristics and those of occupants (Ballain et al., 1984; Levy, 1995, 1998a and 1998b) and the more systematic inclusion of households' scope for action in studies of residential choices (Clark and Onaka, 1983; Courgeau, 1985; Lelièvre, 1992; Clark and Dieleman, 1996; Bonvalet, 1997; Baccai'ni, 2000). Although each of these factors has been studied in different contexts and on different scales, the linkages between them and their impact on residential population patterns remain to be explored. In any given urban context, what weighs more in the decisions of households: location or housing type? How much scope for choice do households have? To what extent do the trade-offs they make influence changes in local population structures and contribute to the organization of residential itineraries in society at large?

To address these questions, this article presents an analytical method based on the study of the social and territorial organization of a particular housing stock and the residential mobility patterns associated with it. This method is used to describe the dynamics of population in the mid-1990s in the Seine-Saint-Denis, a département (administrative district) in the northern and eastern suburbs of Paris, inhabited by 500,000 households. Its housing stock comprises older dwellings, to which were added in the twentieth century single-family dwellings constructed in small-scale developments, generally in periurban locations, and public sector housing estates built on a vast scale in the 1960s and 1970s. The industrial crisis of the 1970s devastated the social fabric of the department, and the sociodemographic structure of the population is currently characterized by high proportions of young people who have never worked, long-term unemployed people, one-parent households and low-income households. Nonetheless, despite this concentration of vulnerable households, the SeineSaint-Denis is also able to attract and retain a proportion of households whose socio-economic situation is altogether stronger. These households belong to the middle and higher social strata: young households who have moved in from other areas having found good jobs in this disadvantaged department, young couples attracted by low property prices, as well as families who have been established there for long periods. These groups are responsible to varying degrees for the embourgeoisement or "gentrification" of specific parts of the Seine-Saint-Denis. The choice of this study site thus provided an opportunity to compare the experiences of populations who face severely constrained options and those who do not. This social diversity also made it possible to compare different communes (the basic territorial and administrative unit) with particular emphasis on the impact of the social markers of local areas.

In studying mobility, we are seeking to understand how and to what extent the residential choices of households influence the population of urban areas over time. But our aim is to go beyond methodological considerations, to capture the broader pattern of contrasts and regularities in the spatial organization of housing and in the population of French residential environments. For this reason, we begin by studying the interactions between two dimensions: first, the housing supply and the attraction or repulsion it exercises on different categories of households within the urban area; second, the local social markers which can influence present or future population structure. …

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