What's that fuss about So-Pi?

Bobos’ Playground
By P.B. Lecron

You can read this article on http://www.francetoday.com/features/pigalle.php

The young, artsy and affluent move in and change a neighborhood. We’ve seen gentrification before. But can this really be happening to…Pigalle?

SoPi? You haven’t heard of it yet? It’s the campy new nickname for the southern part of Pigalle that stretches into the 9th arrondissement. Just as New York has SoHo and NoHo, Paris now has its SoPi and NoPi, with NoPi being the part of Pigalle that extends north into the 18th arrondissement. A visiting New York scriptwriter coined the term “SoPi” while at the neighborhood’s new Franco-Danish smorgasbord, César. Its owners are a young creative group who also operate the Nogood Industry publicity agency and NogoodWindow art gallery. They spread the term and “SoPi” became a public relations coup not just for Nogood Industry but for all the new boutiques, cafés and galleries that are replacing the dingy peep shows, massage parlors and sex shops that have proliferated in the neighborhood since the 1970sin this part of the famous old red-light district.

Square d'Anvers
© Mairie de Paris
Parisian journalists, real estate agents and armchair sociologists are all keeping tabs on SoPi’s demographics as the area becomes less a permissive hot spot catering to sex and sensuality and more a hip investment in old proletarian Paris. The legendary quartier of erotic temptations is drawing a specific category of urban gentry: bobos, or bourgeois bohèmes. First identified as a social group in the 1990s, bobos are typically young, affluent, casually dressed, leftist-leaning and mildly rebellious. Seeking “residentially correct” lodgings, they reject bourgeois neighborhoods and voluntarily move into popular districts to achieve their ideal of social mixité. Paradoxically, they drive up property values and displace the original proletarian residents they sought to live near.

Between chic and shock
Josiane Molard who has been selling fine cheeses from her shop on Rue des Martyrs for three decades, says, “I’ll tell you about bobos. They’re the same as young people were 30 years ago! What’s happening here is normal. It’s a very old neighborhood with an aging population. It’s only natural that young people move in and rejuvenate the area.”

Bobos imprint their lifestyle, social priorities and shopping imperatives on their environment. Boboïsation is stimulating to microeconomies: Between the chic of Place St-Georges and the shock of the Sexodrome on Boulevard Clichy, a spate of new specialty shops and artisanal businesses are reviving the village ambiance, especially around Rue des Martyrs—the backbone of south Pigalle—and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.

Simple and welcoming, the neighborhood has charming, unusual apartments that have attracted many real estate buyers in the past few years. Between June 2004 and June 2005 property values soared 14.7%, then climbed another 11.3% by August 2006. The latest census shows that between 2000 and 2004 the ninth arrondissement’s population increased by 6.3%, while that of Paris remained statistically stable (+0.8%). The number of schoolchildren in the ninth grew by 10% between 2000 and 2006, necessitating the opening of a new kindergarten this year and the planning of a new primary school, both in SoPi.

Still hopping after dark
“Urban renewal” here means widening sidewalks, improving parks and planting trees down the middle of the grands boulevards. The arrondissement’s mayor, Jacques Bravo, is adamant: “It’s finally been ackowledged that people live here, and that they can no longer accept the way things are: the noise, the nuisances, the buses…. This reconquering of the city is real progress.” The recent decision to close Rue des Martyrs to traffic on Sundays from 10 a.m. to one p.m. has been a resounding success. Food shoppers there are as dense as the Saturday night crowds in the neighborhood’s clubs and bars. (South Pigalle has always hopped after dark, and probably always will.) Higher up the street, the tiny Place Lino Ventura has been enlarged; the nearby Square Anvers has been redesigned for greater visibility to help police curb the heavy drug dealing that took place amid the park’s dense vegetation. Now the square has new playgrounds for kids, lawns for picnickers and lovers, and benches for sideliners, be they bobo, prolo, classic or simply titi parisien (resolutely Parisian).

This really wouldn’t be Paris or even Pigalle if there weren’t some pockets of Gallic resistance to the SoPi wave. “SoPi? No, I live here. That’s for Americans,” says the young man in a pinstripe suit without tie, who needs a light. He looks off to the left and adds, “I went to Sciences-Po and I used to work at the Nouvel Observateur. Now I have my own dot-com.”After a pause he adds offhandedly: “On-line gaming.” He speaks in perfect but slightly slurred English. It’s early on a gray Sunday morning and he warns that the building across the street on Rue Frochot is a “very bad place.” A provocative reminder that this is no ordinary neighborhood.

P.B. Lecron, freelancing from France, says don’t miss Pigalle by day.


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