Le Grand Paris

The French capital expands its boundaries

35-atelier-castro-le-grd-paris-du-devoir-d-urbanite2_cmyk.jpg

Castro Denissof Associés architects’ rendering of Greater Paris without administrative boundaries, 2009. Courtesy Castro Denissof Associés

Castro Denissof Associés architects’ rendering of Greater Paris without administrative boundaries, 2009. Courtesy Castro Denissof Associés

On 1 January 2016, Paris will no longer be a city composed of 20 arrondissements (2.2 million people living in 105 km²), but the Métropole du Grand Paris, encompassing 6.7 million people over 762 km². The last time Paris enlarged itself this way was in 1860, when a ring of outer villages including Belleville, Bercy, Montmartre and Passy were integrated; this capped off a systematic expansion outward of the city from its original location on the Ile de la Cité and the Latin Quarter.

This latest enlargement is happening just six weeks after the worst attack on French soil since World War II. Most of the attackers were not Syrian refugees, as they would have liked us to believe, but home-grown products of the ‘territorial, social, ethnic apartheid’, as Prime Minister Manuel Valls put it, which divides Paris from its outer suburbs, the banlieues. While it may seem inclusive, the plan was actually thought up by former president Nicolas Sarkozy – and many are suspicious of his intentions. In his book Paris sous tension (Paris Under Pressure, 2011), Eric Hazan writes of the way the poor and working class (known as the classes dangereuses, ‘the dangerous classes’ in the words of the mid-20th-century French historian Louis Chevalier) have been pushed ever-outwards from the centre of Paris by just this sort of ‘modernizing’ project. Is this simply one more way, Hazan asks, to spin the poor out, ‘centrifugally’, yet further? Or will it improve circulation throughout the city, create jobs, allow for more spending on schools and for better public housing to be built?

Le Grand Paris is a logical next step in the government’s attempt to decentralize the Ile-de-France. Since the late 1990s, a slew of major cultural institutions has opened outside of Paris proper, including the Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne in Vitry-sur-Seine, Centre d’art contemporain d’Ivry, La Galerie Centre d’art contemporain in Noisy-le-Sec, Maison des Arts in Créteil, and the MC93 theatre in Bobigny. Money has also been poured into developing a French ‘Silicon Valley’ on the Plateau de Saclay, around the Ecole Polytechnique in the south of the city. But it may take many more years for the ‘apartheid’ to dissolve.

One of the things that some commentators are saying about the places that were attacked is that they were very ‘mixed’; not just in central Paris, but also the Stade de France, which is outside the ringroad in the banlieue of Saint-Denis. However, the terms we use to talk about this ‘mixing’ may be the key to its success – or downfall. This is the argument made by one of the victims at the Bataclan, Matthieu Giroud, who was a lecturer in geography at the Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée. Just ten days before his death, he published a piece on mixité for the magazine La Vie des ideés (The Life of Ideas), arguing that it can become a form of top-down social control, but that the inhabitants of gentrifying neighbourhoods could practice forms of resistance by ‘occupying public space and making themselves visible’ in order to ‘appropriate and control their neighbourhoods’. In talking about the values of diversity, Giroud wrote that it’s important not to flatten out the complexities of the ‘oppositions, conflicts, struggles, controversies […] all the forms of life in mixed neighbourhoods’.

It’s probable that the deranged murderers who took Giroud’s life intended to deepen mistrust towards Muslims in France and to sow more discord in the already troubled relationship between Paris and its banlieues. But they’ve done this at a time when the city is about to become more ‘mixed’ than ever before: we are all about to become Parisians together. The question is: what will this mean, practically? And what kind of community can we build together?

Lauren Elkin is the author of Flâneuse: Women Walk the City (2016). She lives in Paris, France.

Issue 176

First published in Issue 176

Jan – Feb 2016

Most Read

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
At La Panacée, Montpellier, Nicolas Bourriaud’s manifesto for a new movement and attempt to demarcate an artistic peer...
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018