Sarkozy's daring design dreams for a new 'Grand Paris'
In the first major redesign effort since Napoleon III, teams of architects offer ideas to reignite the City of Light.
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"I don't know any other big city where the heart is so disconnected from periphery," says Mr. Rogers. "The city is cut in pieces." His team suggested starting by building parks alongside five disused suburban rail lines – an investment that he predicted would increase property values and generate economic development.Skip to next paragraph
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Most of the planners urged intense use of space within the limits of historic Paris. They talked of high-speed trams on top of the beltways, malls on top of subway stations, and gardens on the five square miles of rooftops in Paris. A new mixed-use neighborhood in the center of Paris could arise, they said, if only the neglected stretch of land between the Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est train stations in central Paris were freed up for private development.
More lyrical suggestions came from Roland Castro, a Paris architect who once ran for president as the candidate of the Movement for a Practical Utopia. His team included a sociologist, a writer, and a philosopher. "We applied the philosopher's concept that in every man there is a poet, and the city in which he lives there should be mystery, secrets, and surprises."
Mr. Castro, known for his quixotic campaign in the 1990s to relocate government ministries to the suburbs, would like to smash the old Paris model of concentrating wealth and power in the center. His proposals for Grand Paris include a 250-acre central park surrounded by modern skyscrapers for La Corneuve, now a grim suburb of anonymous subsidized housing projects, and integrating river boats into the regional public transit system.
Paris architect Antoine Grumbach said every world-class metropolis, from London to Beijing, has an opening to the sea. His team proposed a Grand Paris stretching westward along the Seine River valley to the port of Le Havre, a linear but coherent whole that encompasses the stretches of factories, universities, farmland, and cities that already hug the river.
One in 6 people in France live in the Île-de-France, the administrative region that now includes the municipality of Paris. Mr. Grumbach likes to describe it as the design equivalent of a fried egg, with the suburbs sprawling in an unbounded mess from the compact yolk of the historic capital. [Editor's note: We got the ratio wrong on the proportion of the French population in Paris.]
Commuter rail lines and roads radiate from the center. People may live in one suburb and work in another, but they all have to change trains in a jam packed station in central Paris. So, no grand urban plan will really carry the region into the future, the designers all said, unless it brings the heavily populated working-class suburbs out of their economic and geographic isolation.
"The riots brought the metropolitan crisis to even the people of Paris," said Christian de Portzamparc, another Paris architect, referring to the 2005 and 2007 unrest that started in the suburbs and spread to major cities. "There are places where the public authorities should step in, where value would be generated immediately," he added. "If you're going to take an all-out approach, you'll get results in 200 years."