Landscape-induced Metropolization: revealing the forgotten geography of Paris’ north-eastern suburbs


  • Corine Jaquand ENSA PB



The word “Resilience” was first used in material sciences to qualify a kind of elasticity. It migrated to psychology and later to environmental studies, with the same meaning of recovery from a traumatic situation. This linguistic transposition may be explained by the metaphor, recurring since Antiquity, which links urban form with the human body and mind. 

In the field of urbanism, landscaping is commonly considered as the main tool to link chaotic urban fabrics together and to restore a sense of place in metropolitan areas obscured by infrastructures. By reinforcing environmental qualities it helps generate urban biodiversity and offers opportunities for outdoor leisure activities. Furthermore, by revealing a forgotten geography, landscaping may help people of different origins and classes to develop a feeling of belonging to a larger community.

I therefore propose examining the planning of park systems and green corridors in the surburbs north-east of Paris, all the way through the 20th century and up to the present. This specific area, which is part of the departement of Seine-St-Denis, is caracterized by two plateaus, extending eastward from Paris down to the hillsides of the river Marne, which also have woods and traces of agriculture. This suburban area has suffered from a lack of comprehensive neighboorhood planning and has been scarred by infrastructures which obliterate its geomorphology. Its revitalization represents a major challenge, if we want to re-balance the eastern section of Greater Paris, which suffers from social and ethnic segregation as shown by the riots of 2005. Moreover, the Paris attacks of 2015 stressed the fading sense of a common destiny between Paris itself and underserved suburbs.

As opposed to major British, American and German cities, the green spaces in Greater Paris suffer from a fragmented historiography. But it is still instructive to study the historical process of landscape-induced metropolization, given current legislation concerning the new “Métropole du Grand Paris”. The concept of green spaces as “monuments”, for both Paris and banlieues, has just begun to emerge, but without referencing previous theories. 

My “applied history” project will identify links between planning initiatives reaching back to the 1910s, most of which never came to fruition. It will emphasize the forgotten geographic contributions to the planning of Greater Paris, and will refer to the corpus of official reports, competitions and master plans prepared by the City of Paris, the Departement de la Seine, the French State, and the Ile-de France region, including current land use plans and recent reports on behalf of AIGP (Atelier International du Grand Paris), a think tank dealing with regional development projects. The project will also focus on current local initiatives by elected representatives to create landscaped corridors. 

The basic method – studying relevant texts and superimposing historical maps – will be complemented by a planned field survey to be carried out in the spring of 2016 by students from the Ecole nationale supérieure d’architecture de Belleville. By then examining the current landscape, we can determine the success or failure of planning initiatives.


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