It was a sunny Saturday morning at the end of September around noon when I first made my way to Villeneuve. I decided to just walk through and take notes of what I was seeing and thinking: my first impressions. The whole place felt very lively. I could hear kids screaming while I was walking through the very green area with the freshly cut grass and old trees standing in between the buildings, parks and squares. While listening in to some oriental music coming from one of the buildings, I noticed a lot of people gathered in spot called “Jardin partagé” (shared garden), something that I have only experienced in Berlin under the name of “urban gardening” before. It is an open space, where people can plant their own flowers or vegetables, where they get together to share their meals and work on the garden. It is a place of “convivialité” that is organised and run by the inhabitants themselves. After a little research I figured out this “shared garden” was part of the renovation project of Villeneuve to revive the innovative image and improve daily life. All in all it was a very positive experience for me to see the quarter and its people enjoying it.
In the following few weeks I was doing readings on the happenings in Villeneuve. After finding out more about outbreaks between the police and some inhabitants in 2010, helicopters circulating the area during four days and Sarkozy coming to hold a speech, my perceptions had changed. I was trying to read carefully and always keep in mind that the media often exaggerates, especially after I heard about some inhabitants that are trying to go to court because of the negative representation of Villeneuve in France Télévisions. When I then made my second trip to Villeneuve, I realised how quickly first impressions can change. It was two weeks later in mid-October, one of the first cold cloudy days, and there were a lot less people around. When I told my friends where I was going they wondered what I was doing in this “dodgy area”. Sadly, I realised how this influenced my attitude and somehow I felt more uncomfortable walking through this complex on my own.
This I when I realised how precious first impressions are, they are uninfluenced opinions that you build up about a place, images that you create and thoughts that will never be the same anymore- and with getting to know the place, they are quickly forgotten. Of course, one needs to be careful with them because they can be wrong, but to my mind this initial intuition about a place has a lot of meaning.
After those first impressions I want to try and get more involved in Villeneuve. I have found out that there are a lot of associations in Villeneuve that were created at the time when its bad image was going through the media. The amount of associations that fight against the stigmatisation show me that there are a lot of people feeling really strongly about where they live. As soon as I get the required forms signed, I will try to get in touch and see if there is a way to experience Villeneuve from a different point of view.