Paris planning to add millions in the suburbs to its boundaries

Plans for metropolitanization in Paris are well underway:

The new Métropole du Grand Paris, or Metropolis of Greater Paris, will include nearly seven million people, more than triple the population now living in the central city. It will swallow rich suburbs to the west. But it should also provide better access to jobs and to business hubs and, if it really works, a greater sense of belonging for millions of immigrant families who live in poverty and isolation on the city’s southern, northern and eastern fringes. Resources would be redistributed, in particular those dealing with housing. The complexion of Paris would change…

As much as any struggling suburb, this one shows how urban development across decades, even centuries, has failed millions of immigrant families and contributed to what France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, recently denounced as “territorial, social, ethnic apartheid.” His remark provoked a lot of hand-wringing in France. But, as all sorts of French planners, architects, historians and political scientists point out, a legacy of belonging and exclusion, center and periphery, inside and outside, is baked into the very layout of Paris and of places like Grigny, which has nice old houses and woods but is a de facto warehouse for tens of thousands of mostly poor, disenfranchised Muslims.

In essence, Paris Métropole promises a new regional council to coordinate housing, urban planning and transit for a greater Paris. The idea evolved from a proposal by Nicolas Sarkozy, who as president imagined business hubs and a high-speed train linking them to the city’s airports. That morphed into a more complex rail system serving poorer suburbs.

Pierre Mansat has spent years helping to put the plan together. He said the other morning that taxes on businesses, and, France hopes, billions more from Europe, will pay for Paris Métropole. Who knows whether right-wing and left-wing politicians from suburbs and city neighborhoods will actually cooperate, but Mr. Mansat stressed that “it’s above all about creating a new image of Paris as more inclusive, integrated, fluid.”

This sounds like an interesting confluence of factors. On one hand is inequality in the French suburbs which has been surfacing for quite a while. Urban images are important, if at the least for France’s international reputation and Paris’ thriving tourism, as are aiming to give all residents opportunities for a better life. On the other hand are the practicalities of comprehensively tackling urban issues – like housing and transportation – that require the cooperation of a range of communities. Cities can do a lot on their own but many of their needs are tied to the fate of nearby communities that can either join cities in pursuing common goals or pursue their own.

Of course, the article suggests it isn’t clear how successful the metropolitanization attempt might be. This is a long-term project and it will be interesting to see how other major cities learn from this process.

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