Excerpt:

When the director of a job centre organised a visit to the Louvre for unemployed youngsters, she knew it would be a rare event. Sevran is one of France's poorest places, north-east of the Paris périphérique. The jobless rate is 18%, and over 40% among the young. Yet the director was taken aback by how exceptional the visit proved. Of the 40 locals who made the 32km (20-mile) trip, 15 had never left Sevran, and 35 had never seen a museum.

Sevran is one of France's 717 "sensitive urban zones", most of them in the banlieues. In such places unemployment is over twice the national rate. More than half the residents are of foreign origin, chiefly Algerian, Moroccan and sub-Saharan African. Three-quarters live in subsidised housing; 36% are below the poverty line, three times the national average.

In 2005, after three weeks of rioting that ended in a government-imposed state of emergency, there was talk of a "Marshall plan" for the banlieues. Over €44 billion ($55 billion) was set aside in a nine-year programme. Tower blocks have been blown up in clouds of dust and replaced with lower-rise buildings lined with freshly planted saplings. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the prime minister, has just visited Clichy-sous-Bois, to the east of Paris, where the riots began, to say "we can no longer accept that areas feel abandoned". He announced another, 27-point plan, but no more cash.


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