To reduce Grand Paris to metro and train lines is to forget the demands for integration made by neighborhoods, and also solidarity with our less affluent fellow citizens. It ignores the imperative to conduct urban planning, and it is also an assault against residents. All of this is summarized in a twenty page report given to the President of France by the architect Michel Cantal-Dupart. It is entitled “Vivre un grand Paris,” or “Long Live a Great Paris.”
Michel Cantal-Dupart is alarmed. We are in the process of renouncing our “French genius,” which resides in the art of making cities. Paris, London, and Stockholm were the first cities in the world that made use of urban plans. This kind of knowledge is in great demand everywhere, especially in the sprawling, shapeless urban areas that are springing up everywhere. It is a matter of indifference to make train stations while not bothering with the buses that stop at them, nor with bike accessibility. Supreme indifference. So, Cantal-Dupart wrote to the president of the Republic to alert him about the brewing disaster. Urban planning should not be about buildings, but about culture. Culture in the sense of what is shared, what makes up our “shared culture.”
This calls for recognition, like President Mitterand knew how to do, and it calls for dialogue. Cruelty is not the best way to create rich and happy communities.
The French Genius for Urban Planning
As examples of the much admired French genius for urban planning, Michel Cantal-Dupart mentions the neighborhood of Bercy in Paris. It is home to a very successful park built on former fallow land (the area’s main wine source), an international sports center (the “POB”), a cultural center (today the cinematheque of Paris) from a renowned architect, quality private and public housing (without distinguishing features), and a thriving shopping center, with everything along a highway. He also cites the neighborhood of Camille-Claudel in Saclay, and the urban planning studio in Perpignan, which is celebrating twenty years of existence. As a counter-example, he speaks out against the contract for territorial development in Villejuif. He highlights the project’s intended solidarity, and the fact that these intentions have not materialized into deeds. The resulting “science and health” center, the first contract for territorial development in Île-de-France, is a fortress that ignores everything about its human environment.
Urbanism is Human
Practicing urban planning is, for example, taking interest in the paths schoolchildren take, in the way people go from one place to another. Everyone wants to walk, says Cantal-Dupart. We could even say that walking is a way for a person to be responsible for his or her city.
Towards a Grand Paris for its Residents
It is definitely necessary to decompartmentalize; a coordinating body for this conurbation must be created. It would create a desire to participate, and areas would organize themselves to take part. Cantal-Dupart calls for the creation of a “commission for the city,” which would be multi-disciplinary, respectful, attentive, and endowed with authority.
Grand Paris must be a model of urban planning on a local scale because that is what the world expects from us. Also, only in this way will citizens be proud to be part of Grand Paris because it is the only way they will be able to truly live.
Should architects and urban planners have a responsibility to steer government-sponsored initiatives and projects towards more human-centered practices?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.
Original article, originally published in French, here.