The Various Functions of Regional Design
Following a period of brainstorming, decisions had to be made. The Greater Paris consultation addressed the issues ot infrastructure, the development ot urbanisation and implicitly the territorial limits and institutional architecture of the Parisian metropolis. Yet, the impact of the consultation on these three areas has been varied.
Pedagogy and Marketing of the Grand Paris Express Project
On 29 April 2009, while inaugurating an exhibition displaying the work ot the ten teams, President Sarkozy announced the creation ot a new 130-km circular rail network that would connect suburbs with new stations, new interconnections and new economic clusters. This Grand Paris Express is aimed to make the suburbs more dynamic, and sustain the international competitiveness of the capital-region. But, in fact the project was already in a state ot advanced preparation.
During the first decade ot the new century, underinvestment in public transport since the late 1980s became a major preoccupation among experts and politicians. The idea of building new rail links in concentric circles around inner Paris is old, and can be found in the development master plan for the urbanisation of the Ile-de-France Region of 1976. And, immediately following his airport speech, President Sarkozy highlighted the importance of infrastructure. The bibliographies passed on to the consultation teams provided large sections ot reports and data generated by the major transport actors: Frances railway company, the SNCF (Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer), and the regional public transport body, the RATP (Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens). Alongside the consultation, President Sarkozy set up a State Secretariat for developing the capital-region, thus reviving the Gaullist developmental state. He appointed Christian Blanc as its head, a high-ranking civil servant who had previously directed both the RATP and Air France. It is therefore no surprise that the project teams put forward new rail lines connecting up suburbs around Paris.
Neither the SNCF nor the RATP lacked projects to put forward. Since the mid-2000s, the RATP had been popularising its Metrospherique project. Among local governments, the Val-de- Marne departement had been militating tor the construction of Orbival as a rail link through Paris’ inner suburbs in the east (Zembri 2018). A first section ot the Grand Paris Express is indeed being built inVal-de-Marne, to be run by the RATP. By contrast,Antoine Grumbach’s team had argued that Paris should be better connected to the sea, via the Seine valley.This idea reintorced elected officials from Normandy in their request to improve rail connections to Paris. It also supports the aims, expressed by many experts, of better organising the complementarity of the ports on the Seine in Le Havre, Rouen and Paris (Debrie and Desjardins 2019).
The work on imagery did less to bring forward new ideas than popularise old ones (Figure 14.4). The competition for ideas, however, did stimulate debate over the Grand Paris Express, making the project desirable and self-evident, despite an eye-watering price tag of €35 billion. Since 2016, a new metro network ot more than 200 km is thus under construction, mainly in the suburbs. Regional design therefore had important marketing and persuasion functions with decision-makers and populations (Desjardins 2018).
Figure 14.4 The elevated metro
Source: © Christian de Portzamparc, L'annulaire.
Testing and the Complementarity of Regional Planning
At first sight, it seems that the inconspicuous work of regional planning has outcompeted the fiery gestures ot regional design. Compared to regional planning, the competition had a hidden ambition, or at least one that was implicit: it had to make the traditional approach by the Ile-de- France Region look old-fashioned.Yet today (early 2020), we have to recognise that the region is still present and indeed is also a key player, in particular because the urban plans of its municipalities need to be compatible with its own guidelines.The consultation on Greater Paris only influenced it moderately.
The SDRIF did indeed lead to a tug-of-war between the Region (the Cornell regional) and the State. In 2008, the project put forward by the Region was not approved by the government. However, the main reasons tor this were political, as the government was right-wing, while the Region was run by a Socialist majority. The situation was aggravated by the substantial layer- cake of French institutions.The main criticism the State levelled against the SDRIF was a lack of ambition in terms of economic development. Yet, this was significant but by no-means essential, given the function of the document. In 2013, a new version ot the SDRIF was finally approved. Compared to the 2008 project, this new version takes into account the new rail infrastructure. But on this, it would have been amended in any case.The goals for building housing and creating jobs were raised, to take into account the expected impact of the Grand Paris Express and the location of72 new stations. These changes meet the concerns of the region in terms of accompanying the project in land use, and in economic development.
However, these changes are relatively minor in the overall economic aspects ot the document. Indeed, the SDRIF promotes older regional development ambitions on which there is much consensus.The policy ot building new towns (launched in the 1960s) is not entirely finished, and the town ot Senart needs to be completed. The policy of reusing brownfield industrial sites in the inner circle of suburbs (begun in the 1990s) is set to continue, as is the policy of renovating major housing estates, which began in the 2000s. Finally, the SDRIF project also seeks to implement many up-to-date ideas that were shared by teams participating in the competition and the authors ot the SDRIF. These include increasing density near stations; reducing the use of land and returning land to agriculture; cuts in urbanisation and creation of ecological continuities;
urban frontages lining forests; more developed energy networks, and so on. In fact, many of these policy orientations are now obligatory under EU law.
That said, the issues raised by the teams are relevant to the territories ot the region.The use of towers, which is not directly decided in the SDRIF because it depends on more detailed planning documents, generated as much enthusiasm as criticism. Although it is hard to identify specific consequences, the competition has been echoed in concrete developments. Some projects, such as the construction of tower blocks around the Courneuve park, were deemed shocking and so were ruled out: the evocative power of urban design is a double-edge sword. But overall, there are today more projects for high-rise buildings, although it is hard to tell whether this follows from the competition, or reflects financial concerns in expanding the city'. So, while the competition did not lead to a major design project for the metropolitan area, it nevertheless paved the way for much building, supported by the International Workshop on Greater Paris (Atelier International du Grand Paris), which extended discussions between 2010 and 2017, and also via the institutional establishment of the Mctropoic dn Grand Paris, in 2016. Moreover, the architects taking part in the consultation have not hesitated to use it as a trial balloon for potential projects.
The Lack of a Role in Creating Institutions
Institutional questions were much debated when the consultation was launched, focusing on the possible institutional architecture and governance model to use for the Paris metropolitan area. As Carola Fricke has pointed out, these institutional issues became a central part of the vocabulary and discourses on metropolitan questions (Fricke 2017). In the early 2000s, the administrative fragmentation of the Ile-de-France region was seen as an explanatory or even aggravating factor of many of the region s problems, in particular social segregation and the lack of coordinated urban development (Desjardins 2018). Indeed, the regions administrative system is marked — as everywhere in France — by the entanglement ot powers devolved to the region, the departements and the communes (i.e. municipalities).The devolution reforms ot 1982 and 1983 reinforced the powers of these municipalities, especially concerning urbanisation. Ile-de-France has more than 1,200 communes. So, during this decade, many proposals of institutional reorganisations were debated.
Such debate characterised the consultation, especially as some architect-urban planners had in the past militated for specific institutional organisations for the Paris region. Nevertheless, potentially “disruptive” images opening up new perspectives, such as Grumbach s proposal to think of a metropolis stretching from Paris to Le Havre, were not adopted by politicians. They did not therefore serve as “institution builders” (Neuman 1996).
The dominant institutional debate actually took place outside this Greater Paris exercise.The positioning of national politicians was directly expressed in numerous official reports (Balladur 2009, Dallier 2008). It was not until 2016, that the law set out a new institution dedicated to the governance of the metropolitan area, namely the Metropole du Grand Paris (Geppert 2017). The Grand Paris metropolitan authority (GMPA) is a public institution tor inter-municipal cooperation. The law gives it a special status, and it has its own tax system. The metropolitan authority comprises 123 communes (or municipalities): inner Paris itself, all the communes of Hauts-de-Seine, Val-de-Marne, Seine-Saint-Denis, Argenteuil and six communes in Essonne. The metropolitan authority is composed ot 12 hablissements publics dc territoircs (EPT, territorial public establishments) or territories, which stand at an intermediate level vis-a-vis municipalities. The Grand Paris metropolitan authority is mainly a tax redistribution scheme whose equalisation effects are long-term.
Yet it is far from meeting expectations or closing the debate. The geopolitical situation of Ile-de-France is quite surprising. In terms of the local powers governing town planning, housing and economic development, the metropolitan area seems to be characterised by a form of confederation of about 15 major inter-municipalities and 12 territories. This level of “large intermunicipalities” seems to be the most stable.The Metropole du Grand Paris is only a coordination body with limited powers. It could potentially acquire a lot of power, but there are centres of opposition to its development. The Ile-de-France Regional Council is sceptical about the emergence of a metropolitan authority bringing together more than half of the inhabitants of the region, and which could eventually lead the Regional Council to concentrate only on the outer ring of municipalities. The three councils of the inner ring of departements (Hauts-de- Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne) may fear an administrative merger with the GPMA. Attempts to unravel the GPMA will undoubtedly be numerous, in particular as a result of the desire by the Hauts-de-Seine departemcnt to unite with that of theYvelines department, in order to make up a bloc that cannot be absorbed within the present borders of the GPMA ... Yet, for territorial planning purposes, it is surely essential to go beyond the municipal level in order to favour the emergence of a powerful intermediate level capable of linking up the very local concerns with regional strategies.