Le Grand Paris (2009)
Paris is the city museum, the place that found an ideal beauty then froze it in time. It is a dense, tightly-packed city where there are only pocket-sized plots left to develop. So where does the city go from here?
As this decade has wound to a close, this is the question that politicians, architects and urbanists have been asking themselves. Everybody has different ideas, but they all agree on one thing - it must grow outwards. In the 21st century, the time has come for a 'grand Paris'.
Nicolas Sarkozy has been a controversial and prickly President, but if he has had one idea that everybody has supported it is this one. He convoked international teams of architects and challenged them to come up with new visions of the city. It gave birth to a wide range of fantastic projects and a real feeling that Paris could become the first true 21st century city.
However, politicians are more pragmatists than visionaries. It is rare that they forget other agendas and concentrate on a greater good, and the grand Paris that will result from these discussions will surely be nothing like the city proposed by the teams of architects. The first proposals have seemingly forgotten affordable housing and green spaces, and are concentrating on a very French theme; rapid transport systems. It is not clear what purpose these will serve beyond bringing significant quantities of business to French construction companies, and they will certainly not solve any of the city's problems.
Is there still hope for a radical and ambitious grand Paris in the years ahead? Perhaps the most imaginative of all the propositions, and the one that I would love to see, is Antoine Grumbach's river route to the sea. Paris would become a city that would stretch 170km to Le Havre and the seaside, developing the infrastructure between but still respecting the natural environment. Of all the projects, it would probably one of the cheapest of all to put in place, which also gives it a greater chance of succeeding.
Grumbach's project is more a different way to view the city than a giant construction project. It opens the city up to its surroundings, and brings the river back to a role of central importance, a resource that Paris shares with many of the surrounding towns. The real grand Paris will not be a concrete metropolis, but rather a change in people's mentalities. The grand Paris will be a city no longer surrounded by physical or metaphysical barriers.