Leading article: Sand and the city

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Life's a beach, or should be in the sticky months of summer, when those who can afford it head for rented villas or second homes in Cornwall, Dorset or Provence.

But it often isn't for the inner-city poor, which is why we should congratulate the French for the brilliant invention of the urban beach. We could even go one better and copy their example.

The first urban beach, the Paris Plage, was a terrific success as soon as it opened on the banks of the Seine four years ago. Last year alone, there were almost four million visitors. Now the Paris Plage phenomenon, complete with sand, music and palm trees, is being exported all over France.

What is most interesting is that local authorities in charge of some of the most violent, run-down and crime-ridden housing estates in the country have opened their own urban beaches this summer. As one mother said, relaxing at the "plage" in La Courneuve, a grim estate north of Paris: "I could be on the beach in Turkey."

Of course, providing parasols and deck chairs for a couple of months a year will not solve the underlying problems of France's tough inner-city ghettos, where, as in Britain, unemployment is high and the drug culture rules. But what a refreshing contrast the whole experiment offers to Britain, land of broken, disused lidos and crumbling municipal swimming pools.

At a time when it has become de rigueur in some circles to talk rather dismissively of the French as somehow ill-equipped for the modern age, the urban beach is a reminder that they haven't lost their creative flair when it comes to finding new ways to enjoy life.

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