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Example of a high-income banlieue Neuilly-sur-Seine
Example of a low-income banlieue Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine

In France, the term banlieue (UK: /bɒnˈlj/;[1] French: [bɑ̃ljø] (About this soundlisten)) refers to a suburb of a large city. Banlieues are divided into autonomous administrative entities and do not constitute part of the city proper. For instance, 80% of the inhabitants of the Paris Metropolitan Area live outside the city of Paris.[2]

Nevertheless, beginning in the 1970s, the term banlieue has taken on a particular connotation, becoming a popular word for economically-deprived suburbs featuring low-income housing projects (HLMs) that are home to large immigrant populations. People of foreign descent reside, in what are often called poverty traps.[3]


An illustration of the terms Ville-centre (city proper), Banlieue (suburb), Couronne périurbaine (near-urban ring), Unité urbaine (urban unit) and Aire urbaine (urban area), by INSEE

In France, since the establishment of the Third Republic at the beginning of the 1870s, communities beyond the city centre essentially stopped spreading their own boundaries, as a result of the extension of the larger Paris urban agglomeration. The city – which in France corresponds to the concept of the "urban unit" – does not necessarily have a correspondence with a single administrative location, and instead includes other communities that link themselves to the city centre and form the banlieues.

Since annexing the banlieues of major French cities during the Second Empire period (Lyon in 1852, Lille in 1858, Paris in 1860, Bordeaux in 1865), the French communities have in effect extended their boundaries very little beyond their delimitations, and have not followed the development of the urban unit existing prior to 1870 as well as almost all large and mid-sized cities in France having a banlieue develop a couronne pėriurbaine (in English: near-urban ring).

Communities in the countryside beyond the near-urban ring are regarded as being outside the city's strongest social and economic sphere of influence, and are termed communes périurbaines. In either case, they are divided into numerous autonomous administrative entities.

Banlieues 89, a design-led urban policy backed by the French government, renovated over 140 low-cost estates, such as Les Minguettes and the Mas du Taureau block in Vaulx-en-Velin. Improvements were made in road and rail access, cafes and shops were built, and the towers and blocks were made to look more attractive. In Vaulx-en-Velin, for instance, shops and a library were built, houses were built to make the landscape more interesting, 2,500 homes were renovated, and the blocks were repainted.[4]

Geography of the banlieues[edit]

Middle-class and upper-class residents essentially live in the west of the city, while the northeast has a concentration of residents who are immigrants and who live in poverty.

The word banlieue is, in formal use, a socially neutral term, designating the urbanized zone located around the city centre, comprising both sparsely and heavily populated areas. Therefore, in the Parisian metropolitan area, for example, the wealthy suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine may be referred to as a banlieue as might the poor suburb of La Courneuve. To distinguish them, Parisians refer to a banlieue aisée (in English: comfortable suburb) for Neuilly, and to a banlieue défavorisée (in English: disadvantaged suburb) for Clichy-sous-Bois.


The Paris region can be divided into several zones. In the northwest and the northeast, many areas are vestiges of former working-class and industrial zones, in the case of Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-d'Oise. In the west, the population is generally upper class, and the centre of business and finance, La Défense, is also located there. Versailles, Le Vésinet, Sceaux, Maisons-Laffitte and Neuilly-sur-Seine are affluent suburbs of Paris, while Clichy-sous-Bois, Bondy and Corbeil-Essonnes are less so.

The southeast banlieues are less homogenous. Close to Paris, there are many communities that are considered "sensitive" or unsafe (Bagneux, Malakoff, Massy, Cachan, Les Ulis), divided by residential zones with a better reputation (Verrières-le-Buisson, Bourg-la-Reine, Antony, Fontenay-aux-Roses, Sceaux).

The farther away from the Paris city centre, the more the banlieues of the south of Paris can be divided into two zones. On one side, there are the banks of the Seine, where working-class residents used to live (there are still pockets of disadvantaged areas) but also other areas that are especially well off. Also are large cities close to Paris, such as Chanteloup-les-Vignes, Sartrouville, Les Mureaux, Mantes-la-Jolie, Poissy, Achères, Limay, Trappes, Aubergenville, Évry-Courcouronnes, Grigny, Corbeil-Essonnes, Saint-Michel-sur-Orge, Brétigny-sur-Orge, Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois and Fleury-Mérogis.

Small communities that are socially disparate can be found in the Yvelines department with Villennes-sur-Seine, Chatou, Croissy-sur-Seine, Le Pecq, Maisons-Laffitte but also in the Essonne and Seine-et-Marne departments: Etiolles, Draveil, Soisy-sur-Seine, Saint-Pierre-du-Perray or Seine-Port.

Paris: Banlieues rouges[edit]

The banlieues rouges ("red banlieues") are the outskirt districts of Paris where, traditionally, the French Communist Party held mayorships and other elected positions. Examples of these include Ivry-sur-Seine, and Malakoff. Such communities often named streets after Soviet personalities, such as rue Youri Gagarine.

Lyon and Marseille[edit]

The banlieues of large cities like Lyon and Marseille, especially those around Paris (with a metropolitan area population of 12,223,100 inhabitants), are severely criticized and forgotten by the country's territorial spatial planning administration. Ever since the French Commune government of 1871, they were and still are often ostracised and considered by other residents as places that are "lawless" or "outside the Republic", as opposed to "deep France", or "authentic France" associated with the provinces.[5] However, it is in the banlieues that the young working households are found that raise children and pay taxes but lack in public services, in transportation, education, sports, as well as employment opportunities.[6]

Crime and protests[edit]

Since the 1980s, petty crime has increased in France,[citation needed] much of it blamed on juvenile delinquency fostered within the banlieues. As a result, the banlieues are perceived to have become unsafe places to live,[citation needed] and youths from the banlieues are perceived to be one important source of increased petty crimes and uncivil behavior.[citation needed] This criminality was seized upon to fan the flames of racism stoked by[citation needed] the Front National, a far-right political party led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, which rose to prominence during the early 1990s on a platform of tougher law enforcement and immigration control.

1981 riots[edit]

In the summer of 1981, events involving young Franco-Maghrebis were met with varying reactions from the French public.[7] Within the banlieues, events, called rodeos, would occur, where young "banlieusards" would steal cars and perform stunts and race them. Then, before the police could catch them, they would abandon the cars and set them on fire.[7]

In July and August 1981, around 250 cars were vandalised. Grassroots groups began to demonstrate in public in 1983 and 1984 to publicise the problems of the Beurs and immigrants in France.[citation needed]

2005 riots[edit]

Violent clashes between hundreds of youths and French police in the Paris banlieue of Clichy-sous-Bois began on 27 October 2005 and continued for more than 17 nights.[8] The 2005 Paris suburb riots were triggered by the deaths of two teenagers (of black and Maghrebi descent) allegedly attempting to hide from police in an electrical substation, who were electrocuted.[9]

2020 riots[edit]

From 18 April, Paris saw several nights of violent clashes over police treatment of ethnic minorities in the banlieues during the COVID-19 lockdown.[10][11][12]


A number of films, both fiction and documentary, have focused on the banlieues. A selection are listed below.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "banlieue". Lexico UK Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Lepoutre, David. Coeur de banlieue: codes, rites, et langages. Odile Jacob, 1997.
  4. ^ Modern Industrial World: France by Mick Dunford, Wayland Publishers Ltd, 1994
  5. ^ Anne-Marie Thiesse (1997) Ils apprenaient la France, l'exaltation des régions dans le discours patriotique, MSH.
  6. ^ La ville mal aimée, colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle, juin 2007.
  7. ^ a b Gross, Joan; McMurray, David; Swedenburg, Ted (1994). "Arab Noise and Ramadan Nights: Rai, Rap, and Franco-Maghrebi Identities". Diaspora. 3 (1): 3–39. Reprinted in Gross, Joan; McMurray, David; Swedenburg, Ted (2002). "Arab Noise and Ramadan Nights: Rai, Rap, and Franco-Maghrebi Identities". In Inda, Jonathan Xavier; Rosaldo, Renato (eds.). The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 198–230. ISBN 978-0-631-22233-0.
  8. ^ BBC News Timeline: French Riots, 14 November 2005 – retrieved 14 March 2010
  9. ^ Emilio Quadrelli, Grassroots Political Militants: Banlieusards and Politics, Mute Magazine, May 2007 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 October 2008. Retrieved 31 October 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Police clash with residents in Paris suburbs amid lockdown". France 24. 20 April 2020.
  11. ^ "Violence flares in tense Paris suburbs as heavy-handed lockdown stirs 'explosive cocktail'". France 24. 21 April 2020.
  12. ^ "Unrest, hunger and hardship in France's locked-down suburbs". Euronews. 23 April 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bronner, Luc (2010): La loi du ghetto : Enquête sur les banlieues françaises, Calmann-Lévy, Paris, ISBN 978-2702140833
  • Dikec, Mustafa (2007): Badlands of the Republic: Space, Politics and Urban Policy. ISBN 978-1-4051-5630-1
  • Glasze, Georg; Robert Pütz, Mélina Germes et al. (2012): The Same but not the Same: the Discursive Constitution of Large Housing Estates in Germany, France and Poland. Urban Geography (33) 8: 1192–1211 doi:10.2747/0272-3638.33.8.1192

External links[edit]