Europe's UnderclassIssue: Winter 1997-1998
The theories of Le Corbusier have much to answer for. The once fashionable French architect believed in vertical cities that echoed the dehumanized life of the modern world: "We must create", he wrote, "the mass production spirit." In the city of his dreams, people would live in huge slabs of high-rise housing. To see how this has worked out in practice, take a twenty minute train ride from central Paris to the most complete embodiment of his ideas: La Courneuve, a vertical city par excellence. Some thirty years after its much ballyhooed construction as the best exemplar of modern urban life, the place is a mess. The high-rises are shabby, the limited park space ill-maintained. Most of the shops are boarded up, graffiti the only decoration. The train station is a fair walk away, and the bus service limited.