Belleville is not for sale

In All, Europe, Ideas, Theories, & Stories, Social, Cultural, Political, Urban Inspiration by Teju Adisa-Farrar

Bobo (short for: bourgeoise bohemian) is a French term that generally refers to young white people of a certain class who are interested in immersing themselves in cultures or communities (ethnic, economic, or both) that are not their own. They find these communities to be appealing because they are atypical and feel more interesting than their own background and upbringing. These areas are usually working class, and historically are communities where artists and musicians would hang out and congregate. While the sentiments and intentions of the Bobo may be sincere, their actions usually contribute to gentrification that pushes out the very thing the Bobo finds interesting about these neighborhoods and communities.

Belleville is a neighborhood in the North East part of Paris full of East & South East Asian restaurants and grocery stores, North and Sub-Saharan Africans gathering outside of shops to talk about football and politics, and a changing landscape. Belleville is one of two Chinese neighborhoods in Paris. Bobos, the French word for “hipsters” (roughly defined above), have begun to move into Belleville and call it home. Coffee shops and outside bars, such as one called Culture Rapide or Rapid Culture, are now filled with Bobos. Although a popular cafe, where Edith Piaf used to hang out, is at the bottom of rue de Belleville (along with a slew of other cafes)–a new cafe, Cream, has popped up on the street.

Photo from http://www.parisbouge.com/

Photo from http://www.parisbouge.com/

Cream is not only architecturally different (with a wooden finish, large windows and other trendy details), their demographic is also different. Their prices are a little bit higher and their patrons seem to be mostly Bobo. There is also a new bio (organic) store, which seems to be catering to Bobo. Even though there are plenty of shops along rue de Belleville that sell fresh organic fruit, vegetables and other products as well as a large popular outdoor farmers market that happens twice a week, this new bio store is always full of people. They are filling jars with nuts, picking out “organic” fruit–which is not more organic than the fruits from the other shops, and probably buying over priced groceries because they are branded as “bio.” Like Cream, the bio store stands out architecturally from the other shops that have been around much longer. With big lime green letters that say Bio painted on the window, it looks very inviting to some and dissuading to others.

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In a neighborhood that is historically and still predominantly East/South Asian and North/Sub-Sahara African, there are cafes and restaurants where the patrons are now almost entirely white. It is rare to find a new place, or a place considered to be Bobo, that has people other than white French and Bobo. I ate at one restaurant, which had predominately white patrons, where there was also a group of young North/Sub-Saharan African men hanging out and eating. It was a breath of fresh air, (perhaps a mix of the old and the new) and true diversity, in a quickly gentrifying area.

IMG_4986As gentrification takes shape, storefronts change from having duck roasting in the window to having different types of wines and fair-trade coffees. I like wine and fair-trade products as much as the next [Bobo] person, however along with the changing of storefronts comes the changing of the demographics. The shift in demographics generally does not include people who look like me–even if we can afford it and are “Bobo,” for all intensive purposes.

Belleville has a couple of really lovely parks, and the further up the hill you walk–the better the view. Beautiful apartment buildings are one block over from subsidized housing. Street art ranges from graffiti on abandon buildings to meticulously placed stencil art. The diversity that already exists in this area is slowly getting washed over by the Bobo and the impending gentrification. This gentrification is not only visually striking and noticeable, it is also felt by the residents who live and have lived in this area long before it was “discovered.” Pictured below, a building that has a for sale sign, ‘A Vendre.’ On one of the apartments in this building a tenant has hung a sign saying “Belleville n’est pas a vendre” (Belleville is not for sale), which is, obviously, directly in conflict with and resisting against the for sale sign.

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[The full sign roughly translates to: Belleville is not for sale, be in solidarity… then there is an address of a neighborhood center that works for this cause]

The impact of gentrification always causes tension, even when an area is being improved in the process. If a neighborhood is being improved, but the local residents will not be able to stay because of the increase of property prices as a result of the revitalization and changing demographic, one community is displaced and replaced with another. Many of the areas, like Belleville, that are experiencing heavy gentrification are places that are attractive because they have “ethnic” products and food readily available, prices are reasonable, and there is diversity. Gentrification allows for and, in most cases, necessitates people to move in who will wash away the distinct cultural characteristics of that neighborhood, make the demographics more homogenous, and raise prices. This is inevitably what is happening to Belleville.

If other tenants, like the one who has the “Belleville is not for sale” sign hanging from their balcony, are also feeling threatened by gentrification–hopefully through organization and push back Belleville can remain the cultural neighborhood that it is and has been while also benefiting from revitalization. Belleville is a loud, inspiring, beautiful, diverse neighborhood and I’d hate to see it taken over by Bobos and lose its authenticity and vibrance.