Will the government's efforts to unite Paris actually work?

The Paris suburb of Stains. Image: Getty.

Modern Paris has been defined by the Boulevard Périphérique: the multi-lane ring road that divides the city proper from the sprawling suburbs that surround it. Some 80 per cent of the metropolitan population don’t live in Paris at all. 

The suburbs contrast with the picture postcard Paris most tourists visit. Take a trip north on the notorious Line D and you leave behind the sparkling lights of the city for areas that feel a whole lot darker. The banlieues might as well be a million miles away – in terms of their size, infrastructure, facilities, space and access. Some 13 percent of their residents live below the poverty line; 20 percent are in subsidized housing.

Many of the problems of these areas stems from their division into autonomous administrative entities, governed separately without the budget or prestige of the city itself. As a result, the peripherique has come to stand for the divide between inclusion or exclusion, for the huge a social and cultural gulf central Paris and the areas that surround it.

All that could soon change, however. In 2016, the French government will create Métropole du Grand Paris, a huge metropolitan authority encompassing both city and suburbs; the plan will see a tripling of the official population of Paris, as well as a range of other initiatives such as business hubs, new metro lines, and fast trains to the regions’ airports. Pierre Mansat, a deputy mayor who’s worked on the plan, has said that it will create “a new image of Paris as more inclusive, integrated, fluid”.

Whether this is the right solution will not be clear for many years, however. There is danger that, by focusing on transport links and employment opportunities, the authorities are focusing too much on economics, and not enough on other causes. Footage of the abuse received by journalist Zvika Klein as he walked the city’s streets for hours in a kippah, went viral earlier this year; social divisions are clearly at work, too.

All that said, claims by the likes of Fox News that Paris contains vast “no go zones” were at best over-simplistic. While there are areas that certainly do feel dubious at night, that’s true of any major city.

There are more affluent suburbs in the west, and in areas such as Versaille or Neuilly-sur-Seine; there are commuter areas, known as ville-dortoir, such as Juvisy-sur-Orge and Chevreuse. There are stunning parks and forests, too. Despite its negative connotations, the word banlieue can describe any suburb.

Nonetheless, the region’s problems will not be quickly solved, and solutions are less likely to come from high-profile spending sprees than by a longer effort to break down social and economic barriers. Only then will the suburbs be brought in from out of the cold.

 
 
 
 

This fun map allows you to see what a nuclear detonation would do to any city on Earth

A 1971 nuclear test at Mururoa atoll. Image: Getty.

In 1984, the BBC broadcast Threads, a documentary-style drama in which a young Sheffield couple rush to get married because of an unplanned pregnancy, but never quite get round to it because half way through the film the Soviets drop a nuclear bomb on Sheffield. Jimmy, we assume, is killed in the blast (he just disappears, never to be seen again); Ruth survives, but dies of old age 10 years later, while still in her early 30s, leaving her daughter to find for herself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

It’s horrifying. It’s so horrifying I’ve never seen the whole thing, even though it’s an incredibly good film which is freely available online, because I once watched the 10 minutes from the middle of the film which show the bomb actually going off and it genuinely gave me nightmares for a month.

In my mind, I suppose, I’d always imagined that being nuked would be a reasonably clean way to go – a bright light, a rushing noise and then whatever happened next wasn’t your problem. Threads taught me that maybe I had a rose-tinted view of nuclear holocaust.

Anyway. In the event you’d like to check what a nuke would do to the real Sheffield, the helpful NukeMap website has the answer.

It shows that dropping a bomb of the same size as the one the US used on Hiroshima in 1945 – a relatively diddly 15kt – would probably kill around 76,500 people:

Those within the central yellow and red circles would be likely to die instantly, due to fireball or air pressure. In the green circle, the radiation would kill at least half the population over a period of hours, days or weeks. In the grey, the thing most likely to kill you would be the collapse of your house, thanks to the air blast, while those in the outer, orange circle would most likely to get away with third degree burns.

Other than that, it’d be quite a nice day.

“Little boy”, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was tiny, by the standards of the bombs out there in the world today, of course – but don’t worry, because NukeMap lets you try bigger bombs on for size, too.

The largest bomb in the US arsenal at present is the B-83 which, weighing in at 1.2Mt, is about 80 times the size of Little Boy. Detonate that, and the map has to zoom out, quite a lot.

That’s an estimated 303,000 dead, around a quarter of the population of South Yorkshire. Another 400,000 are injured.

The biggest bomb of all in this fictional arsenal is the USSRS’s 100Mt Tsar Bomba, which was designed but never tested. (The smaller 50MT variety was tested in 1951.) Here’s what that would do:

Around 1.5m dead; 4.7m injured. Bloody hell.

We don’t have to stick to Sheffield, of course. Here’s what the same bomb would do to London:

(Near universal fatalities in zones 1 & 2. Widespread death as far as St Albans and Sevenoaks. Third degree burns in Brighton and Milton Keynes. Over 5.9m dead; another 6m injured.)

Everyone in this orange circle is definitely dead.

Or New York:

(More than 8m dead; another 6.7m injured. Fatalities effectively universal in Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Hoboken.)

Or, since it’s the biggest city in the world, Tokyo:

(Nearly 14m dead. Another 14.5m injured. By way of comparison, the estimated death toll of the Hiroshima bombing was somewhere between 90,000 and 146,000.)

I’m going to stop there. But if you’re feeling morbid, you can drop a bomb of any size on any area of earth, just to see what happens.


And whatever you do though: do not watch Threads. Just trust me on this.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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