Remaking Paris: NYTimes Magazine


PARIS, FRANCE: President Nicolas Sarkozy and a team of architects are generating ecological  ideas for transforming Paris, addressing multiple solutions aimed to improve housing, decrease poverty and economic isolation, better link the city and the immigrant suburbs by transit systems, and give all parts of the city access to green space.  Nicolai Ouroussoff, the NYTimes architecture critic, delivers the story here:

Nouvel traced the outer edges of greater Paris on a map, outlining a border roughly 625 miles long. A range of generic middle-class communities lies just inside this line. Beyond is rural France, a patchwork of fields and forests. Nouvel’s plan is to create a harder, more defined edge — “a thick band of gardens and fields that come right up to the front door, like a gigantic communal farmers’ market. It is a place where you can grow tomatoes, care for children, play sports — a whole ecological life can happen.”

He proposes a similar strategy for the city’s industrial canals, which could be framed by a mix of lushly landscaped parks and new housing developments. Rungis, the dreary suburb to the south where the city’s abattoirs and markets were relocated after the destruction of Les Halles, would be transformed into a contemporary version of the old food halls. The nearby Orly airport could be opened to the surrounding area, so that the global elite and local residents might mingle in area restaurants and clubs. “The point is that if we give people these things, then they have a reason to be there. They become real places, with their own identity, as interesting in their way as parts of central Paris.”


“We have to work with what’s there,” the Italian architect Bernardo Secchi, another participant in the design study, said recently. “It is a city of 10, 11 million people; we can’t destroy it. But we have to give a new spatial structure to this city.” To save it, he says, we need to stop the city from spreading outward and to turn it in back on itself, to fill in these empty pockets with something of meaning.

Sarkozy has asked the 10 architectural teams working on the Paris plan to collaborate and produce a more cohesive blueprint for the future. The chances of a definitive plan emerging from such an effort seem remote — and even if one does, architecture won’t solve all the city’s social ills. Nonetheless, the Grand Paris project represents a critical shift in how we think of urbanism. The tabula rasa Modernist experiments of the 1960s and 1970s not only damaged cities across the world; their failure spelled the abandonment of visionary master planning. In places where large-scale urban projects did re-emerge, like China and the Middle East, older, poorer neighborhoods were often bulldozed to make room for new development at a frenetic pace, with little regard for how the pieces fit together.

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