Posts Tagged ‘France’

Gypsies, yurts, and French land planning

In Thoughts on January 5, 2011 at 10:14 am

Treehugger is not known for groundbreaking journalism, but this story caught me eye. There are so many issues bundled in this one piece that it’s kind of mind-boggling.

In the south and southeast of France hundreds of people have bought or built their own yurts and they are part of growing movement of those who want to scale down their life style and their consumption. Live a simpler life, closer to the land.

But France recently passed new legislation in order to facilitate the ramped-up removal of gypsy groups (who are deported to Romania and Bulgaria). Given that the bill makes certain temporary living installations (like yurts) illegal, non-gypsy yurt-dwellers are worried.

One woman explained her and her husband’s reasoning for yurts:

“We’re integrated into society, but we find it healthier to live like this rather than in the flat we were renting before.” The conflict has caused great dismay in the village as the yurt dwellers call for calm and the freedom to live a quiet life.

The issue:

It has become a cause celebre in the press, as they debate whether it is an “installation”, like a tent or a “construction,” subject to urban rules. The mayor denies that his decision has anything to do with the new proposed crime bill. Instead he says that it is outside the law to inhabit self-constructed buildings such as the yurt.

As I said before: so many issues wrapped up in this debate.

How do we organize towns and cities in a rational, efficient manner while also allowing for alternative housing like yurts? How do we make room in society for still-nomadic groups like Romas instead of calling them “a menace to society” (French President Sarkozy’s words) and inventing new laws just to get rid of them?

Essentially: how do we walk the line between “organized” civilization (city-managed storm-water management, sewage, etc) and healthy, simple lifestyles that, in the end, will be different for different people and in different regions?