How green will the future “Grand Paris” be?

equipe Castro Denisoff Casi/La Courneuve Manhattan

equipe Castro Denisoff Casi/La Courneuve Manhattan

Nicholas Sarkozy, like most recent French presidents, is mindful of his legacy and accordingly launched in 2007 a call for architects’ submissions for the “Grand Paris” of the 21st century. The results of that consultation can be seen at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patriomine: ten booths showcasing the visions of superstar architects such as Jean Nouvel, Richard Rogers and Christian Portzamparc. These teams will take part in a working group which will try to define the guiding principles of a sustainable Paris. The aim is for work to begin in 2012, but we’re basically looking at Paris circa 2030

The most outstanding vision for me was that of Antoine Grumbach, who envisaged the extension of Paris via the Seine through Rouen to Le Havre.

He talks a bit about some aspects of his project , including a floating university on the Seine.

The themes which dominate all 10 projects are those of the current zeitgeist:

mobility and transportation, green spaces, housing, rivers, employment nodes etc. A better summary of the themes which ran through all of the projects is Adam Greenfield’s list of the 14 elements of networked urbanism. Somehow all of the abstractions and architectural gobbledy-gook contained in the exhibition can be boiled down to these transformations: for instance moving from held to shared, from constant to variable, from vehicle to mobility from consumer to constituent.

John Thackara at Doors of Perception zeroed in on the metaphor of Italian architects Bernardo Secchi and Paola Vigano of Paris as a “porous sponge” in which waterways are given pride of place. However, he argues that “a better approach would be to turn the peripherique itself into a garden, and thereby avoid the implausible and costly scenario of building “green spaces and networks above them”. His ideas echo those of Denis Baupin, deputy of the Green Party and driving force behind the popular Vélib bikeshare system.

Take a look at the (“Reclaim the Street”) operation he backed last year. His main idea is to transform the péripherique ring road that encircles Paris into an urban boulevard with transit, cars, pedestrians and trees.

Critics of the Grand Paris project are plentiful (for instance, Sarkozy is said to have a soft spot for monumental towers and the modernity of the Blair-ite London skyline) , but the importance of this initiative is that it makes a clean break with the way Paris has been administered and planned up until now by re-visioning the historical separation between Paris and the suburbs.

Historically, the city has passed through three phases:

1. The capital re-vamped by Napoleon III and Haussmann to meet the needs of industrialization and the 20th century.

2. 1973 – the completion of the ring road, or boulevard péripherique, which encircled the city physically and precluded the political possibility of any modification.

3. Grandiose projects undertaken inside Paris by a series of presidents – Musée d’Orsay (Giscard d’Estaing), Grand Louvre to the Grande Arche de la Défense (Mitterrand) and the Musée du Quai Branly (Chirac).

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