Based on a comparative
study of the mobility of the poor in and around Paris and London,
backed by statistics and qualitative surveys, this
paper exposes the greater car dependency of the poor in the UK
than in France. Asidefrom the sociological factors (family mutual
support networks), differing urban planning and transport policies
are part of the reason why.
motorized societies, the urban mobility of poor households - fewer
of whom tend to own a car than better-off households - is an issue
that raises questions in regard to the need for and/or nature
of specific public policy-making. Thinking on the matter suffers
from an enormous lack of insight into how poor households use
and move around their urban space. Do they al1 seek to acquire
a car for the same reasons, irrespective of local contexts? What
role does commuting play in structuring their travel patterns?
Does this constitute an area that calls for particular kinds of
have sought to shed light on these questions through a comparative
survey based on in-depth interviews with around a hundred low-income
households in the urban areas of Paris and London. To facilitate
comparison between two countries – France and Great Britain -
we selected households inhabiting similar districts: a city-centre
neighbourhood dominated by social housing estates; and a community
on the outer suburban fringe, largely populated by poor households
(see figure 1). The interviews enabled us to fine-tune our analysis
of the sample households' travel habits and the constraints hindering
analysis is rounded off with a wider-ranging statistical study
aimed first at pinpointing the general social and demographic
characteristics of poor households in France and Britain, together
with their economic status and residencial location; and second
at identifying the factors underlying the various patterns of
mobility: the urban history of the two regions under consideration;
the housing, transport and social security policies implemented.
two areas are clearly interdependent: a country's social security
guidelines, for instance, have a major effect on the sociodemographic
characteristics of poverty.
and Great Britain:
at country level, while the past 20 years have seen the British
government withdrawing from the fields of housing, transport and
urban planning (with the emergence of quangos, the sale of social
housing, the deregulation and/or privatization of public transport,
etc.), the state is still the key actor in France. In
policy terms, the British have placed a far greater emphasis on
the introduction of powerful incentives designed to encourage
the unemployed to return to work.
more poor households in Britain than in France tend to own their
own homes, largely in inner-city areas. Also, more of them consist
of families than in France, featuring higher levels of child poverty
and lower levels of unemployment. With regard to mobility, the
British poor appear to be under
pressure to acquire a motor car, while the working poor account
for a comparable and growing share of the population in both France and Great
area level, the spatial functioning and layout of London is more
metropolitan (polycentric) in nature than Paris, and of a larger spatial scale in terms of planning
policy as well as the travel patterns that the policies in question
are partly responsible for producing. While their transport systems
may differ in structure, broadly similar patterns have been noted
(e.g. in line with the moda1 split pertaining to each urban area
as a whole). There are significant differences in the spatial
distribution of poor households in London and Paris, with those
in the former concentrated in areas closer to the urban core and
those in the latter more
scattered – which does not, as we shall see later on, mean
to say that poor households in the Paris area are spatially isolated.
how the poor in Britain appeared under greater pressure to acquire
a car than those in France led to our wondering whether poor
British households were not more cardependent than their French
counterparts. If so, what are the reasons for the differences
in their respective situations and how likely
is it to last?
Locality Dependence-based Practices
terms of mobility, most members of the Îlle-de-France (Paris region)
households interviewed do not tend to travel very far from home.
Virtually none of those residing in Chaumont spend any time in
some have never even been there. A significant proportion of the
residents of the Salvador Allende estate rarely go to Paris either.
In both cases, this has less to with their not having a car - since
Paris is within easy reach by public transport - than the fact that
they are simply becoming less and less inclined to leave the familiarity
of their immediate surroundings. This situation is often ascribed
to a lack of money or transport.
practices also tie in
the presence in the home neighbourhood of resources that help
alleviate povertyrelated constraints. Indeed, both sites feature
shops and key public services and facilities.
- probably on account of its county town
offers a wide range of shops and services: food shops,
banks, a post office, a taxation centre, a family welfare centre,
the offices of the national electricity company and an especially
large number of public facilities for a town of its size: severa1
schools, two colleges, a social centre, a centre run by the regional
organization providing for the welfare of mothers-to-be and infants,
and even a hospital. Similarly, residents of Salvador Allende
have a mere fifteenminute walk to access the very wide range of
shops and services on offer behveen the pedestrian precinct and
shopping centre of Saint-Denis town centre. The concentration
of services, in both Chaumont and Saint-Denis, represents a further
advantage for non-carowning residents: a relative abundance of
local job opportunities. Indeed, a sizeable proportion of the
working population among interviewees in Chaumont (a third) and
Salvador Allende (close to 40 per cent) were employed locally.
A good deal of local jobs are linked to public facilities: posts
at the town hall, caretakers on the social housing estates, hospital
workers, ancillary staff of local schools, nursery assistants,
and so on. This pool of public sector employment opportunities
represents another reason why poor households can survive without
is unavoidable, public transport can offset the disadvantages
of not having a car. Residents of Chaumont, for instance, can
reach the neighbouring town of Gisors thanks to the state-run
railway line from Paris, which is also used by high school pupils
and people looking for more specialized shops and services. Salvador
Allende residents enjoy access to a clearly far more extensive
transport system: with the extension of a metro line to central
Paris, the upgrading of the bus services - a new bus station now
being located quite close to the estate - they have a number
of different lines to choose from in order to travel to neighbourhoods
throughout Saint-Denis and other towns in the region. Local people
approve of the new metro station, which some see as a bonafide
opening to the outside world. And even though few of our
interviewees are actually using it to travel to Paris on a regular
basis, they appreciate having it there should they wish to do
public transport is not the answer to al1 of the local population's
travel needs. Weekly shopping trips, for instance, are not always
practica1 by bus or by metro.
households find themselves in need of a car, they have to cal1
on outside resources. Relatives and, to a lesser extent, friends
constitute a crucial source of such resources for many of the
low-income households interviewed. Their importance hinges first
and foremost on spatial proximity. More than half of our Salvador
Allende estate sample households have relatives living in Saint-Denis
(half on the estate itself) and a further 25 per cent
have family in other neighbouring towns.
farnily plays a major part in the residents' activities, and they
devote much of their spare time to it. What is more, it is a major
source of mutual aid. Relatives can help avoid trips through such
services as child minding. Or they can help increase the mobility
potential of non-car-owning households by offering a lift to those
that have trouble carrying heavy loads of food shopping home on
foot or on public transport. The family provides clearly the most
easily - or, at least, most frequently
without cars have a limited range of resources available to them
and these must be used in a measured way. Recourse to each type
of service is carefully managed in accordance with constraints
specific to each individual set of circumstances and travel needs.
The balance struck in the use of the various resources is manifestly
complex and delicate.
location is a key component of that balance. Indeed, inhabiting
places equipped with a wealth of 'convenientes' lessens
the need to resort to other resources, especially public transport
and relatives or friends. Our survey has revealed a clustering
of poor households around these convenience-rich areas, stemming,
in Saint-Denis and Chaumont alike, from local policies geared
to building social housing for low-income earners.
was also found to tie in with two complementary forms of residential
strategy implemented by the poor households themselves: a 'static'
form, where those living in the heart of their 'resource base'
seek to stay put; and a 'mobile' form, where households make a
conscious effort to gravitate towards places capable of satisfying
their resource needs. The 'static' form is common in Saint-Denis
- with a good many households having been there
for years on end - as well as in Chaumont, albeit to a somewhat
lesser degree. These are the households with the local family
connections and the least trouble in mobilizing solidarity-related
resources. The proximity of their relatives (or friends) has combined
with the familiarity with the places and their inhabitants that
has gradually built up over the years to create a reassuring environment
and to produce relational ties.
relationships hinge on spatial proximity. This is conducive to
the growth of far stronger local roots than may be found among
households belonging to other social classes. Alongside the 'well-rooted'
residents are other households adhering to the second, 'mobile'
form of residential strategy, i.e. those who have arrived more
recently in a conscious endeavour to be closer to the resources
on offer locally. For some families, Chaumont
represents one of a limited range of possible residential locations
featuring a sufficient supply of services. A significant number
of recent arrivals happen to be former residents who already have
relational ties in the town. These include severa1 divorced women
returning to be close to their families after having moved away
with former husbands.
concentration of a minimum resource base is crucial to poor households
with limited if any access to a car. The towns studied feature
adequate public services - including public transport
while the proximity of family and friends and familiarity
with the places create conditions conducive to residents establishing
local roots and, at the same time, developing certain forms of
locality dependence. It is hardly unusual to find such features in
Saint-Denis, a 'typical' suburban ( innercity) neighbourhood.
It comes as more of a surprise in Chaumont, whose peri-urban environrnent
rnight lead one to expect more
scattered practices and, hence, a greater degree of car
dependence. Analysis of the British study areas will,
as we shall see, reveal a quite different picture.
Britain: Car Dependence-based. Practices
surveys carried out in the London area pinpointed a number of
especially influential constraints shaping the urban mobility
patterns of low-income households. Poor public services, not least
insofar as transport is concerned, significantly undermine the
self-sufficiency of such households when they do not own a car,
thus putting them in a position where they have little choice
but to acquire one.
of the De Beauvoir households interviewed use the limited number
of shops available on the estate because they find them too costly.
The Shelley estate is relatively better served, with shops located
on the estate itself or at the nearby Chipping Ongar centre. But
these are small and medium-sized businesses whose prices are known
to be higher than the outlying hypermarkets, and which tend to
be used only by residents without cars. The alter usually take
the bus and unanimously complain about the slowness, unreliability
and extremely poor quality of services. De Beauvoir estate residents
are especially unhappy about the lack of an underground station
and the endless waits at bus stops.
situation is nowhere near as bad as it is for residents of Shelley,
where buses are even fewer and farther between and where the Chipping
Ongar underground station is sorely missed following its closure
some years ago, depriving locals of a really useful link to central
London and sparking a chain reaction that has had a highly damaging
effect on urban life: closure of local shops and businesses, closure
of schools, and people leaving in droves. Non-car owning households,
however, scarcely ever seek to alleviate their local travel problems
by appealing to their relatives or friends. Indeed, even though
some interviewees have some family living nearby, their relationships
appear far less close-hit than is the case among French households.
They hardly mentioned their family networks. Relatives rarely
visit one another, and not a single noncar owning household admits
to asking the family for help with its transport problems.
is more, not that many are inclined to ask their friends. Given
the accumulation of problems and the apparent risk of social isolation,
even the poorest non-motorized households find themselves unavoidably
pushed into acquiring a car.
households regard car ownership as a matter not of choice but
of compulsion. This is primarily because of where the jobs are
located. The De Beauvoir estate is the neighbourhood with the
largest number of long-distance comrnuters. The fact that most
of the Shelley residents working locally (over a third) are unskilled
women doing insecure, part-time jobs shifts a greater share of
the burden as far as the household's sources of income are concerned
onto the male wage-earner. And, as almost every
member of a motorized household interviewed points out, the best
paying jobs are those located farthest from home, thus making
it essential to own a car. Without one, many would have had to
settle for lowerpaying jobs in the neighbourhood (e.g. at the
local supermarket). Owning a car is also very often said to be
a must by working women with children and others having to cope
with complex, demanding, 'trip-chains'.
however, accounts for an enormous share of the household budget
among our interviewees, especially the residents of Shelley, who
clearly have no other alternative. Virtually every motorized household
there finds it hard to run a car without making sacrifices in
other areas of the family housekeeping. They are often heard to
worry about their cars breaking down, given that they cannot afford
to buy a new one or to have them repaired as regularly as they
might like. That said, not every car owner uses his or her vehicle
with the same degree of intensity. Indeed, poor people tend to
limit the use of their cars to essential purposes (mostly, trips
to work). Severa1 interviewees - especially Shelley residents - point
out that they hardly ever go out in them because they are too
old and because petrol is far too expensive.
seemingly inevitable motorization of the peri-urban poor of Britain
appears to have produced a form of car dependence that
is quite unlike the situation found to exist among their counterparts
in France, for whom alternative solutions still appear to remain
Role of Public Policies
surveys, then, have highlighted two distinct and at times conflicting
models in regard to the spatial practices of the poor in Great
Britain and France.
need to take a more detailed look at the specific role that employment
policy plays, via its effects in terms of home-to-work mobility,
in structuring poor people's spatial practices and in sustaining
those two nacional models.
of both Britain and France face employment difficulties of a nature
that can be manifest (unemployment) or latent (remote workplaces,
job insecurity, etc.).
to tackle poverty can aim at promoting jobs for people facing
either of those kinds of employment difficulties. Or else they
can seek to provide the people in question with sustainable welfare
support for as long as it takes them to return to the employment
market. Policy-makers waver between these two approaches (when
they are not seeking to combine them). Over the past two decades,
British policy-makers have favoured an incentives-based welfareto-
work policy aimed at encouraging poor people of working age to
return quickly to (or even make a first appearance in) what has
become a more flexible and fast-changing jobs market. Meanwhile,
their French counterparts have established a socially-sensitive
approach providing out-of-work poor people with specially designed,
for either one of these policy approaches is bound to affect poor
people's mobility. To find jobs that match their skills and abilities
quickly, they are driven to widen their job-hunting horizons and
to be ready either to move home or to agree to long-distance commuting.
Alternatively, they can stay put. The metropolitan areas of Paris
and London feature far more extensive employment markets than
smaller cities. What is more, their transport systems render the
workplace far more accessible.
of jobs in the Paris area, and almost as many in and around London,
can be reached in under an hour on public transport. Overall figures
such as these, however, mask the fact that the jobs for which
the poor are most eligible are not necessarily located within
easy reach of home. This is the European version of America's
'spatial mismatch'. In the
United States, the problem is relatively simple. Largely suburbanized
jobs are relatively inaccessible to the deprived population groups
that remain confined to inner-city areas. Although the situation
in large European metropolises such as Paris
London may differ, the spatial mismatch is just as real. In London,
the better-off classes first of al1 moved out of areas in and
around the city centre and the less well-off moved in (cf. the
example of Hackney).
a number of centrally located neighbourhoods have undergone an
intense degree of gentrification, forcing the poor into other
neighbouring areas or even, more rarely, to outlying areas such
as Shelley (Atkinson, 2000).
In Paris, most of the poor have remained in or around the
construction of public social housing estates in the suburbs with
a view to accommodating struggling population groups has led to
a situation where social housing accounts for some 30
per cent of the stock in the inner suburbs. So much so that the
poverty rate recorded in 1999 by the French family allowance office
came to close to 17
per cent in Seine-Saint-Denis (an inner suburban borough) as opposed
to less than 10 per cent in Val d'Oise (which still happens to
be the outer suburban district where that rate is at its highest).
Only more recently has there been a marginal increase in the number
of poor people moving into more remote outlying areas (cf. Chaumont-en-Vexin).
London, al1 but the highly skilled service sector jobs have relocated
away from the city centre, and now cover a vast area encroaching
on the green belt in the regions of the Outer Metropolitan Area.
In Paris, the workplace for manual labourers and low-leve1 office
workers is located further from the city centre than it is for
more highly skilled workers (see Wenglenski and Orfeuil in this
issue). So 'the banlieue rouge (3)
model, with its social housing located close
to the workshops, has collapsed' (Massot et al., 1995). Furthermore,
while the metropolitization of the London and Paris urban areas
has gone hand-in-hand with a growth in employment opportunities,
few of those opportunities actually concern the sorts
low-skilled jobs that are chiefly of interest to the poor.
the poor of Paris and London alike are increasingly having to
live in areas located
some distance away from the centre, while the jobs for which they
can consider themselves eligible have become both few and far
between. Under such circumstances, the French policy advocating
boils down to the reproduction in outlying towns of the locality-dependence
model initiated in and prevailing over the social housing estates
of Paris' inner suburbs.
Britain, the promotion of welfare-towork incentives has resulted
in a growth in mobility that, in such a highly motorized country,
was always bound to amount to a growth in 'automobility'.
employment policy (or measures to tackle unemployment) in the
two countries has therefore tended to confirm our observations
vis-d-vis the two national models. One is struck, for example,
by the consistency of each country's public policy affecting the
mobility of the poor. In France, the reliance on local resources
goes hand-in-hand with efforts to provide the people concerned
with community-leve1 facilities, services and transport. In Britain,
on the other hand, policy-makers bank on people's mobility; and
they have not chosen to provide them with efficient public transport
confidence in the market's ability to supply transport services
has put neighbourhoods with few car owners at a disadvantage.
And when those neighbourhoods are located on the outskirts, it
further bolsters the obstacles to their participation in an extended
urban society and economy (MacGregor, 1997).
transport in France, especially in and around Paris, has been
maintained at a good leve1 of efficiency in spite of the difficulties
(underfunding, security problems, etc.). The same cannot generally
be said to be true in and around London.
the Policies in Terms of Sustainability Comparison between France
and Great Britain has therefore brought out two national models
of spatial practices among poor households. These models undoubtedly
stem from -
and have in any event been bolstered by - the gradual implementation
of a body of public policies concerning not just travel, but also
welfare benefits, housing, infrastructure and services. How can
one conduct a comparative assessment of the two models and their
underlying policies? Does France have good grounds for maintaining
an approach that leaves the poor somewhat immobile? Has Britain
made a greater success of it by compelling its poor to adhere
to a state of 'automobility'? In other words, should another country
facing the task of tackling the issue of poverty within a context
of general motorization seek inspiration from the British rather
than the French approach? 1s car dependence ultimately preferable
to the locality dependence model or vice versa?
has led us to assess the two models (and their underlying policies)
in terms of sustainability, in the light of three sets of criteria:
economic, environmental and social. From the economic point of
view, car dependence burdens the poor with heavy costs that undoubtedly
undermine their ability to cope with other basic expenses
(e.g. food), which hardly looks very sustainable. From the environmental
point of view, locality dependence is clearly more sustainable
insofar as it tempers overall car dependence. From the social
point of view, however, our studies have shown that young people
do not appear overly keen, to say the least, on the locality dependence
model, thus threatening to underrnine the sustainability of that
It is not the researcher's job to weigh up these three criteria with a
view to ruling in favour of one particular approach or another.
That said, we do need to underscore one key factor to emerge from
our research. In countries featuring widespread motorization (to
a degree that exceeds the European average), the poor can only
cope with a reliance on local resources (locality dependence)
if they have constant access to help from third parties -
and neighbours who generally tend to be car owners. Keeping up
such forms of solidarity is a sine
qua non for any policy geared to curbing car dependence. At
the same time, it generally involves a high leve1 of car ownership
within society. This leads to the conclusion that it is doubtful
whether a radical choice of either policy can lead to sustainable
development. If poverty cannot be eradicated, one sustainable
solution would clearly involve a balance being struck between
car dependence and locality dependence.
The definition of poverty used in this survey hinges on the following criterion:
that the household's 'equivalized' income (a measure incorporating
the size of the household into income comparisons) places it among
the poorest 20%.
(2) The family allowance office (Caisse d'Allocations Familiales) defines
the poverty rate as the share of a town's residents living in
a welfare beneficiary household whose income is below the poverty
Literally 'red suburb', which refers to the dominance of the communist
party in local governrnent in many municipalities around Paris
in the post-1945 period.
Atkinson, R. (2000) Measuring gentrification and displacement in Greater
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