Posted by Jay Livingston
The French translation of suburb is banlieue. But in connotation, the words are near opposites. In the US, the word suburbia suggests green lawns, peace and prosperity, happy children at play,a retreat separated from the problems and stress of cities. Ironic titles like “Suburgatory” and “Disturbia” work because they suggest that behind this ideal picture, not all is well. That irony would be impossible in France. The French term banlieue calls up an entirely different image, one something like our “inner city” only bleaker – a place of crime, violence, gangs, unemployment, riots, and people with darker skins.
In the Hausmann-Napoleon III makeover of Paris in the 1870s, les misérables were pushed to the outskirts of the city and beyond. Nearly a century later, that was where the post-War government built the high rise HLMs (roughly, “the projects”), primarily for the influx of laborers from North Africa.