March 15, 2009
The New Haussmann
The challenge however is not to reshape Paris, but rather to extend its inherent beauty to its outskirts, les banlieues — a web of small villages, some terribly grand and chic (Neuilly, Versailles, Saint Mandé, Vincennes, Saint Germain-en-Laye), others modest and provincial-looking (Montreuil, Pantin, Malakoff, Montrouge, Saint Gervais) and others still, socially ravaged and architecturally dehumanised (La Courneuve, Clichy-sous-bois). And also to link them. But how do you bring together so many different styles and the city’s “enormous disparity”, as Richard Rogers calls it, into one Grand Paris — especially when the city is so clearly defined geographically by its gates, shadows of former fortifications, and now le périphérique, the circular road encasing Paris? The simple answer is: by being bold. But also by understanding the fabric of French society and its psyche…
As a Parisian born and bred, I thought the most convincing presentation came from Parisian architect and sometime presidential candidate Roland Castro. He seems the only one to really understand the Parisian mentality, the importance of architecture and politics, grandeur and charm, poetry and citizenship. He not only suggests moving the Elysée Palace to the tough north-eastern suburbs, but also proposes to create new cultural landmarks and governmental buildings, together with a New York-style Central Park on the grim housing project of La Courneuve. The idea is to inject grandeur (as conveyed by the cultural and official institutions) and if possible, beauty, to Paris’s many environs.