Joao Francisco Figueira
When on March 17 the French Minister of Culture, Christine Albanel, opened the public presentation and exhibition of the consultation Le Grand Pari(s), she described the output of the ten teams of invited architects, planners and experts, as "impressive". Commissioned by President Sarkozy and developed over a period of nine months, this consultation may well remain in history as the cornerstone of the "post-Kyoto", "sustainable", city. The diagnosis of the problems, weaknesses and challenges facing the region of Paris is presented without compromise; the propositions are ambitious, realistic and necessary; they converge towards the same objective, but through different paths. The outcome owes something to the terms of the commission, which deserve to be stressed: it requested both a daring and feasible project for the transformation of Paris within the horizon of 2050; administrative and legal obstacles were not expected to be taken in consideration, because the final project is supposed to drive changes at this level; for the same reason, a specific budget was not indicated. The teams were given a free hand in the conduct of research which was punctuated by interim debates and seminars (namely at the French Economic and Social Council). Although I have only examined a fraction of the 4.000 pages of reports, documents, the 7 hours of recordings of presentations by the teams and speeches, I would risk saying that this consultation can only be compared with Sir Patrick Abercrombie's Greater London Plan, of 1944. In a prospective research and development plan towards the meeting of Kyoto goals, energy and environmental matters naturally play a crucial role. Specific research and propositions are indeed devoted to these matters. However, the first idea that emerges from a glance at the reports is a return "back to basics". The last few decades have been dominated by themes such as the "symbolic competition between cities", "museums" and "concert halls", the development of "waterfronts", "governance", "Olympic games", "International Expos", "European Capitals of Culture" and all kinds of environmental themesdealt with either at a sectoral or local level... Now Le Grand Pari(s) constitutes a bold return to classics such as "transportation and mobility", "housing", "green spaces", "rivers and waterlines" (hereafter "blue spaces"). "Industry" is no longer a key theme, whereas "agriculture", "recycling" and "logistics" are prominent. Such a focus says something about the unaccomplished modernization and problems of Paris. For example, most teams stress the discontinuity of the TGV network (demanding that passengers travelling from one line into another must cross central Paris, sometimes with travel times longer than that of the TGV trip) and the strong radial structure of the metropolitan rail system (making the trip to Chatelet necessary in order to travel between suburban districts). Such limitations were known before this consultation and, indeed, relevant projects were already in place. Nevertheless, both in relation to this and the other themes, the "back to basics" is mostly another story.
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