Christopher Caldwell writes in The New York Times Magazine about the French riots and how Swiss architect Le Corbusier is partly to blame.

Le Corbusier was notable for his idea of the “Radiant City”.

In a nutshell:


In the Radiant City, however, the pre-fabricated apartment houses, les unites, were at the center of “urban” life.


Les unites were available to everyone (not just the elite) based upon the size and needs of each particular family. Sunlight and recirculating air were provided as part of the design. The scale of the apartment houses was fifty meters high, which would accommodate, according to Corbusier, 2,700 inhabitants with fourteen square meters of space per person.


The building would be placed upon pilotus, five meters off the ground, so that more land could be given over to nature. Setback from other unites would be achieved by “les redents”, patterns that Corbusier created to lessen the effect of uniformity. – Rachel Kennedy, LeCorbusier and the Radiant City Contra True Urbanity and the Earth

Le Corbusier first described his visionary urban design in the early 1930’s; the concept has been discussed and debated, ever since.

What’s the general idea?  Basically, skyscrapers in the middle of a city, where everyone lives, which leaves a lot of open space for parks, playgrounds, and recreation.

Sounds kind of weird, unless you’ve never been to UMASS-Amherst (Southwest).  Just about every public housing project in the US was built on the same concept (and, for that matter, is the entire city of Toronto).

Here’s the problem, at least as seen by Mr. Caldwell:

[Le Corbusier] inspired the very practice of housing the urban poor by building up instead of out. Soaring apartments, he thought, would finally give sunlight and fresh air to city laborers, who had been trapped in narrow and fetid back streets since the dawn of urbanization.

But high-rise apartments mixed badly with something poor communities generate in profusion: groups of young, armed, desperate males.

The riots in France are partially the result of bad urban design, at least according to some.

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