image grandparisIn 2007 the French government announced the “Grand Paris” initiative. This ambitious project reimagined the Paris region as integrated, balanced, global, sustainable, and prosperous. Metropolitan solidarity would unite divided populations; a new transportation system, the Grand Paris Express, would connect the affluent city proper with the low-income suburbs; streamlined institutions would replace fragmented governance structures. Grand Paris is more than a redevelopment plan; it is a new paradigm for urbanism. In this first English-language examination of Grand Paris, Theresa Enright offers a critical analysis of the early stages of the project, considering whether it can achieve its twin goals of economic competitiveness and equality. 

The Making of Grand Paris

Metropolitan Urbanism in the Twenty-First Century


Theresa Enright


 MIT Press

328 pages | 2016 | ISBN: 9780262034692


Reviewed By

Jeff Thurston

The development of strategic long term planning aims to resolve many problems that cities currently feel challenged to solve. Enright argues in this book that by orienting the city around development and marketization, Grand Paris marginlizes the region around the very problems that it is attempting to address. In effect, development would be oriented toward attracting outside investors, rather than providing solutions to local residents. The over-riding direction toward large infrastructure mega-projects, she suggests, is that these large projects result in processes more aligned with "grand urbanism" - as compared to locally derived livability. 

Enright begins by explaining what Grand Paris is, how it came about and the beginning steps in 2007. The book covers the evolution of the project through 2007-2014 roughly, and follows the advancement over time. Whereas the earliest notions aimed to address local initiatives, it became commonly realized that Paris was in fact embarking upon an annexation strategy that would pit it against regions in a political tug-of-war politically.  Nicolas Sarkozy envisioned a "grander" place for Paris in the world and saw the project as a true leader among larger cities and urban spaces. 

The project would consider architecture as a primary means to infuse a sense identity and commonality that would unify citizens and regional governments. transportation would link places and provide access throughout the region, enhamcing Paris and bringing Paris to common central focus.  

Participants would include famed British architect Richard Rogers, Groupe Descartes, L'AUC, Atelier Christian de Portzamparc, Agence Grumbach et Associes, Jean Nouvel, Studio 9 and others. Multi-disciplinary teams were formed to investigate, discover and research new strategies toward completion of the project. Essentially, a collective dream was activated as the author explains. An 'illumiated decision' practice was sought, and integration of parties in the process was harnessed. A so called Paris 2020 was developed with a grand map of the scheduling planning and work presented. 

One might see this project as one of the first to harness the deeper concepts of integrated, connected and smart-city thinking due to its scope and approach. As transportation networks were planned and talked about, it became apparent that conflicts were representative of larger regional disparities and issues. The metromobility of the project could be seen as drawing out discussions and debates, and highlighting issues that were hidden or held separate previously. The discussions would veer from focusing upon competitive areas, to changing their tone to become more collaborative and connected in a wider whole. 

As it would happen, economic, social and ecological issues would overtake grand concepts in connecting citizens through metrobility to effectively result in far less grandiose visions of togetherness - once all of the conflicts were laid bare and heated debates had taken place. Questions over where the benfits would lie became more apparent. Enright addresses the fact that the mobility connective nature expected was not realized because economic development does not necessarily follow transit pathways, instead, following many different growth patterns whose roots lie in complex and often difficult to understand concepts. 

At its base, grand city strategies argue that transportation is such a critical factor in economic growth that it cannot be over-looked. However, one might alternatively argue that such growth does not necessarily occur where transit is all of the time. Taken to the wider European area this can be shown in other spaces and places. Do transit systems of this grand nature realise "publucness" that, in fact, becomes useful and apparent to all working classes? Social balance and inclusivity are necessary outcomes where such a project being sold on equal terms is expected and anticipated. Indeed, Enright describes local governance within a wider grand context under such a large megacity approach, region by region. She also presents details about governance across levels of government and ideologies in place. 

In summary, this book is a very interesting presentation and debate on the Grand Paris plan and project. It takes us inside the thinking for the wider Paris region over the last 10 years or so as it attempts to update the planning approach for the region. Beyond that, Enright asks insightful questions, reflects and questions ideas as presented in the plan and lays bare the results and outcomes as residents experience them. 

At a time when everyone seems to be talking about smart city initiatives, new infrastructure and mobility this book is an important read due to the fact it addresses actual results and previous thinking that was used to developed our current thoughts. In retrospect, Grand Paris planted the seeds for a future view on what megacities might become and how smart technology and infrastructure would be part of it. This text is excellent reading for those who might want to know about a project that existed previous to what they think is new in city planning today - it is quite informative.