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Grand Paris: A Vision for a French Metropolis

Friday 15 May 2009

The vision of a new ‘Grand Paris’ was unveiled last month by the French President.

Whilst elements of the plan have yet to be finalised, the main aim is clear - to extend the perimeters of the 105 km² city into the 2500 km² conurbation that surrounds it.

By doing so the President hopes to increase the size of Paris from a city of 2 million people to around 10 million, thereby enabling it to take a stronger place in the world ranking of cities.

The vision is to be achieved primarily through the construction of a new 130km long high speed metro system that will break the stranglehold of the périphérique ring road that encircles the city.

The metro will traverse the main economic and residential areas centres of the conurbation, including the two airports of Charles de Gaulle and Orly.

The new route would be fully automated, operating 24/7, with as much as possible running above ground.

The cost of the project is estimated to be around €21 billion, with funding through a public-private partnership, whose details have yet to be announced.

President Sarkozy also confirmed that there would be improvements to deal with overcrowding on the existing metro system, at an estimated cost of €14 billion. In large measure, these improvements pick up those previously announced by the regional transport authority.

Whilst the transport proposals were the keystone of his speech, other projects that form part of the overall plan include:

  • Doubling the number of new homes constructed in the city each year to 70,000 a year;
  • Creation of twelve economic ‘poles of excellence’, involving a varied range of scientific and business partnerships;
  • Creation of a new Paris-Le Havre axis, providing the city with a maritime port, through the construction of a high-speed TGV train link;
  • Planting a forest of 1 million trees around the Charles de Gaulle airport at Roissy to capture carbon fallout;
  • Construction of a new dedicated high speed train line between the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports.

One of the most controversial proposals may well turn out to be his wish to deregulate the current land planning system. The President is proposing a radical overhaul of planning controls on zoning, an increase in planning densities, and a relaxation of planning controls in areas at risk of flooding. The idea may well have nationwide application.

This new vision for Paris is the outcome of ideas developed by ten separate teams of international architects invited by the President to reflect on the future of the city.

All of the ideas offered by the architects contain a very heavy ‘green’ border, and the theme of sustainability ran throughout the announcement.

The President seems impatient to bring the ideas to fruition, proposing that construction work on the new metro system be started in 2012, and that the new ‘Grand Paris’ be created by 2022.

Whilst there has been a surprising level of consensus about many of the ideas, if the ambitions are to be realised there are substantial obstacles to overcome, primarily because it is unclear just how it is all to be funded, and because of the legal and administrative hurdles that stand in the way.

It will not be just the transport and architectural projects that will need to be put in place, as the existing system of government will also need to be overhauled.

However, President Sarkozy gave no hint of the political and administrative structure that would be created for a Paris metropolis, probably because of the opposition it was likely to draw.

The city of Paris itself comprises a single mayor, but with 20 arrondissements, each with its own mayor. The suburbs beyond it comprise seven départements and over 1200 communes.

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