What will the Paris we know and love look like in the future? Well, if French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has anything to say about it, Paris will be a modern, green metropolis that could stretch as far as the English Channel. Sarkozy recently laid out a proposal to undertake such changes as the creation of an overground, 24-hour fast rail service that surrounds the city and connects it with destinations like Charles de Gaulle Airport, improvement of the city's existing high-traffic rail routes, moving Paris' judicial district from Ile de la Cité to the 18th arrondissement, and lifting the ban on building skyscrapers in the city center. It's an attempt not only to prepare the French capital for the future, but also to un-isolate the troubled, and currently very isolated, banlieues. You know, where they had the riots in 2005.
Your first reaction to Sarkozy's "Grand Paris" plan might be to say that it won't work. After all, the French aren't known for their penchant for change. But this wouldn't be the first time someone tried to revolutionize the look and feel of Paris. Haussmann did it back in the second half of the 1800s, when the city still looked positively Medieval. A mess of narrow streets and winding alleyways, Napolean III commissioned Haussmann to modernize the Parisian layout. He created a city of long, wide boulevards, had the Gare de Lyon and the Gare du Nord constructed, and insisted on a building style that came to be known as the Haussmannian Façade. If they can do all that in the 19th century, why not now?
I like the idea of greening Paris even further; creating more public transportation and improving what already exists. But I'm not sure how I feel about allowing skyscrapers in the city center. The fact that Paris has no tall buildings (save for some hideously ugly exceptions) gives it its charm. The same thing is often said about DC, which also has a limit on building height. On the other hand, Parisians of the mid-18th century probably thought the narrow streets gave the city its charm, too, and yet it's a good thing someone had the foresight to change that traffic-congested, disease-ridden landscape. I mean, who doesn't like to stroll along the impressive Boulevard Haussmann on a Saturday morning, pick up a croissant and coffee breakfast and head off for some afternoon shopping at Galeries Lafayette? Many years and many euros spent from now we just might wonder how anyone could have lived in the Paris of today.