Illuminating the Path to Grand Pari(s): Architecture and Urban Transformation in an era of Neoliberalization

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Illuminating the Path to Grand Pari(s): Architecture and Urban Transformation in an era of Neoliberalization
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  Illuminating the Path to GrandPari(s): Architecture and UrbanTransformation in an Era of Neoliberalization Theresa Erin Enright  Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  Abstract: This articleexaminesthearchitecturalexhibitionassociatedwiththelarge-scaleGrand Paris urban development project initiated in 2007 by French President NicolasSarkozy. Through a close examination of the exhibition, I argue that imaginative representa-tion is crucial to urban transformation, here acting to justify and naturalize neoliberalreforms. While the ten international teams of architects tasked with imagining twenty- fi rst century Paris presented sometimes radical scenarios, the architectural proposals are alsoused by the state to secure a sense of regional coherence, to reaf  fi rm the imperative of economic growth, and to deny broad sociospatial con fl ict. The futural aspect of speculativeregional development is redoubled in the prospective architectural visions, thus solidifyingthe dominance of a marketized mode of urbanization. While this cooption of architecturaldesigns emerges from the unique circumstances of contemporary Paris, it also speaks tothe broader promise and limits of imaginative urbanism and large-scale architectural inter-vention. Keywords: Grand Paris, neoliberalism, architecture, imaginary urbanism “ To touch Paris is to touch France, and to dream of Grand Paris is to draw plans on a comet named destiny …” (Christophe Barbier, quoted in Bertone and Leloup 2009). 1 “ This [Grand Paris] policy will not signal the passage from a dream to a reality of weakened ambition. Because if we all have the same grand desire, and the same grandambition, we are also fully conscious of the necessary time and rhythms for transformingour dreams into reality ” (Christian Blanc, L ’ ambition nationale du Grand Paris  ). A Dream Collectivized In2007,withParisstillreelinginthewakeof  banlieue  uprisingstwoyearspreviousandwith the regional economy threatened by a looming economic crisis, FrenchPresident,NicolasSarkozy,announcedavastandmultifacetedinitiativeunderthetitle Grand Paris  to unify and revitalize metropolitan Paris. Grand Paris  responds to a polit-icalmandatetoaddressFrenchandParisianidentitieserodingunderglobalizationandunder conditions of postcolonial life, a social mandate to addressinequalitiesbetweenthehistoriccitycoreandtheperipheralsuburbs,andaneconomicmandatetoincreaseregionalproductivity.Insum, GrandParis  respondstoproblemsthatareequallyabout image and identity as they are about the material conditions for accumulation. Antipode  Vol. 00 No. 0 2013 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 1 – 22 doi: 10.1111/anti.12048© 2013 The Author. Antipode  © 2013 Antipode Foundation Ltd.  It is not incidental that at such a critical moment for the city, Sarkozy launched hisregional development project not with an of  fi cial master plan, infrastructural schemeor legal decree, as one might expect, but with a speculative venture of creative designin the form of an architectural competition. 2 Challenging ten international teams to “ dream together  ” Paris of the twenty- fi rst century, “ without restriction ” and “ without taboo ” ,Sarkozy(2009)acknowledgedtheradicalpotentialofarchitecturetoorientthecity and its idiosyncratic ability to materially and symbolically modify the urban terri-tory. The exhibition, “ Grand Pari  ( s  ): consultation international sur l  ’ avenir de la metropole Parisienne  ” ( “ Grand Pari(s): international consultation on the future of the Parisianmetropole ” ) recognizes that the built environment is crucial to social and political life,and that architectural social-imagineering can be an essential tool for rebuilding a siteundergoing social fragmentation, economic decline and political unrest. 3 Framed as a pun on the words “ Paris  ” and “ pari  ” ( “ bet  ” or  “ wager  ” ), the competi-tion suggests most provocatively the high stakes of re fi guring the city but alsoconnotes a more general indeterminability of postmodern planning (Dear and Flusty1998; Jameson 2004). 4 Recognizing the impossibility of omniscient rational designand the limits of totalizing plans and rigid technocratic ventures, the great wager of  Grand Pari  treats urban planning rather as a collaborative, unpredictable, and fl exibleaffair. In this sense Grand Pari  is quite unlike previous grand projets  of the nineteenthand twentieth centuries despite their shared investments in large-scale territorialreform. Architects may here outline the conditions of possibility for a desired world,but ultimately they must surrender to an unknown future and the unstable fl ux of urban life. This attitude locates architectural intervention as an essential site of creativetransformation, but paradoxically, it also provides a convenient screen that allows theFrench state to simultaneously disavow Master-plans of the Île-de-France and localcommunes,andentrenchtheplanningofthecityaccordingtoamarketlogicoffuturalspeculation.Though the end designs of  Grand Pari  were never to be implemented directly or intheir entirety, the design consultation — organized around the two guiding threads: “ The 21 st  Century post-Kyoto Metropole ” and “ The Prospective Diagnostics of Parisian Agglomeration ”— was framed as being a forum for thought and exchangeand a guide for future policy decisions (République Française 2009). The ten teamsof architects were encouraged to deliberate with each other, with government of  fi -cials,andwithscienti fi cexpertsandthegeneralpublicatvariouspointsintheprocess.Thetimelineoftheinitiativelargelyfollowedaninquiry,designtopolicypattern,withresearch taking place from October 2007 to March 2009, followed by the of  fi cial Grand Pari  public design exhibition from April to November 2009 and policies associ-ated with Grand Paris  preliminarily implemented in 2009 and 2010.This article contends that rather than a common exercise of radical political vision,thedreamof  GrandParis  amountstoapopulistfantasyofgrandeur,economicgrowthand regional unity. The dream of  Grand Paris  naturalizes and provides an imaginaryapology for the continued neoliberalization of planning and global city-led urbaniza-tion. It is thus a project in the true sense of the word: a projection and exhibition of aparticular understanding of reality and a plan according to which that reality can bemade. Grand Paris  is framed as a political and social project animated by a collectiveimaginary, but it is also a mode of dispossessing the inhabitants of the city of  2 Antipode © 2013 The Author. Antipode  © 2013 Antipode Foundation Ltd.  alternative imaginative worlds and therefore, of reducing democratic space-makingpowers in the city. In substituting one dream for all others, it creates a single visionfor the future. What are at stake in the redevelopment plan, then, are not merely theinstitutionalreformsandterritorialrestructuringsthatwillaltertheformalfunctioningand built environment of the cityand its surroundings, but the verywaysthat the cityis represented and the implications of this representation for democratic politics.In fact, an essential function of the public architectural exhibition is one of  “ communication ” , to justify proposed state policies, even when, and in some casesespecially when, the vision and policy may be in contradiction to one another. Whilethe Grand Pari  creations provide new and innovative ways to see the city, the condi-tions of such creativity mean that they are put into the service of a state-sponsoredideology of mobilizing space for capital gain.In what follows, I examine the discourses and designs of  Grand Pari  as well as thepolicies of  Grand Paris  more generally to trace the work the architectural exhibit doesin legitimating an overhaul of the urban landscape. Despite the critical orientation of many of these architectural works, in order to be manipulated into policy, the morecontentiousrepresentationsandconceptualizationsundergoquitedramaticchanges.The article considers the utility of the Grand Pari  ideas and imaginaries with respect topolicy initiatives, arguing that they are adopted according to a very particular logic of aggrandizement, investment and accumulation that refashions twenty- fi rst centuryParis as an elite space that concentrates power, wealth and in fl uence. Moreover, it suggests that the performative work of architecture in urban planning evident in Grand Pari  is indicative of a more general depoliticizing trend in project-ledurban planning. Architecture and the Global City To analyze Grand Pari  , I engage two main intertwined literatures: critical accounts of neoliberalism and the global city, and analyses of architectural projects in gentri fi ca-tion and city marketing. Together, these reveal an increasingly prevalent trend of mega-project-based urban development that de-democratizes city building andentrenches and reproduces social and spatial injustices. The particular conditions of the French case — especially a strong statist tradition, an historic but weakening senseofplaceidentityandadisproportionatefocusonParisinnationaldiscoursesofurban-ism — give these general trends unique localized articulation. Through Grand Pari  theshifting strategic role of architecture in urban planning continues to be negotiated.Broadly, this article understands neoliberalism as a regime of capital accumulationthat shifts production away from manufacturing and toward informational, service,tourist,culturalandFIREindustries(Amin1995;Sassen,2001),asa “ politicalrational-ity ” of governance that permeates all aspects of life with market logics (Brown 2003;Dikeç 2007; Peck 2010), and as a project to cement elite power by reconstitutingwealth in the hands of a “ transnational capitalist class ” (Harvey 2005; Sklair 2005).Also important for the purposes of the present analysis is the extent to whichprocesses of neoliberalism are articulated spatially (Peck and Tickell 2002) and,in particular, through urban planning and development (Brenner and Theodore2002; Davis and Monk 2008; Swyngedouw et al. 2002; Weber 2002). Though Illuminating the Path to Grand Pari(s) 3 © 2013 The Author. Antipode  © 2013 Antipode Foundation Ltd.  not identical to neoliberal urbanization, pursuit of the “ global city ” (Sassen 2001)or the “ competitive city ” (Kipfer and Keil 2002) frequently overlaps with thesetrends and is, increasingly, an ideal to which urban planning is oriented in Parisand in major cities around the world.In particular, through global city formation large and capital dense cities aspire tobecome essential “ command and control ” sites of the global economy (Sassen2001). To coordinate capital fl ows, create and direct surplus and locate corporatedecision, cities must compete to become centres of political power, knowledge pro-duction and symbolic and cultural in fl uence. Global city formation is at once a globalimperative for territories to become important hubs in transnational systems, and a lo-cal process of internal struggle and recon fi guration. Notably, the changing concentra-tions of economic activities and the integration of cities directly into global circuitsin fl uence the structure of the urban form and the direction of urbanization. In eco-nomic terms, production no longer occurs in industrial or manufacturing zones, or evenincentralbusinessdistricts,butisspreadoutinmorediffusespatialarrangementsof urban – regional assemblages (Sassen 2001). Another important feature is what NeilSmith (2002:427) identi fi es as a shift from “ an urban scale de fi ned according to theconditions of social production to one in which the investment of productive capitalholds de fi nitive precedence ” resulting in the “ generalization of gentri fi cation as aglobal urban strategy ” . Today urban accumulation occurs not by mere expansion,but through the internal differentiation and revaluation of space, especially in areasoutside of the urban core. Multipolarity and poly-centrality are the favoured modelsof the networked global city. Real estate in particular becomes a centrepiece toplanning, with cities vying to anchor mobile global capital into the environment andraise their international pro fi le as desirable places of business, leisure and tourism.Large-scale urban development projects (Swyngedouw et al. 2002) are an essentialaspect of this competition and are particularly salient features of  Grand Paris  . GrandParis  isthecontinuationofaprocessundertakenoverthelastthreedecadesof French neoliberalization through urban policy.Overthe past30years, there hasbeena marked shift in France from nationally organized territorial management andpolicies of redistribution to management based on priority urban areas and policiesfostering entrepreneurialism and inter-urban competition (Brenner 2004). This hasbeenaccompaniedbyemphasisonproject-basedgrowth(Pinson2009),anincreasedimportance of infrastructural and real estate sectors (Lorrain 2002), the privatizationand fi nancialization of city space (Baraud-Serfaty 2011; Renard 2008) and newregimes of security and penality especially in suburban areas (Dikeç 2007; Wacquant 2008). Urban frontiers have been the primary sites where neoliberal governance hasemergedanditisthroughtheproductionofurbanspacesthatcompetition,ef  fi ciency,security and economic growth have taken hold as important values of collective life. While the process of what Bruno Jobert and Bruno Théret (quoted in Dikeç2007:24 – 28) call “ neoliberalism à la française  ” has been slow moving and temperedby the social democratic norms of republicanism, Grand Paris  aims to de fi nitivelyquicken the pace of reform, more thoroughly replacing concerns of social welfareand justice with those of competition and economic growth. Grand Paris  also aims to secure the global-city status of Paris through a physicaloverhaul of space and through replacing the longstanding core – periphery layout of  4 Antipode © 2013 The Author. Antipode  © 2013 Antipode Foundation Ltd.  the city with a polycentric infrastructure where peripheral nodes of specialized latecapitalist industry organize the region. The French state also con fi rms the priority of an urban agenda for national economic development. Paris has long occupied aprivileged role in national territorial and resource management (Gravier 1947) and Grand Paris  reassertsthe state ’ sparticular commitmenttoeliteurbanisminthecapitalregion into the twenty- fi rst century.Architectural vision is particularly suited to the task of endorsing the competitiveglobalcity asneoliberalism relies upon imaginative speculation as part of itsorienta-tion toward a future (Harvey 2005; Jameson 1998; Kriv ỳ 2011). Not only is architec-tural practice materially enmeshed within rapidly growing sectors of real estate and fi nance, but architecture is also increasingly at the forefront of neoliberal culturalproduction providing the aesthetic normativity of rule which legitimates places asrecognizable global cities (Ghertner 2011). Perhaps even more important than itsembeddedness directly in construction itself is the role that architectural discourseplays in the symbolic reframing of urban representations and imaginaries. With the architectural competition and consultation of  Grand Pari  , Sarkozy partic-ipates in the now almost universal practice of employing architects for national andcity promotion and for place marketing (Delanty and Jones 2002; McNeill 2009;McNeill and Tewdwr-Jones 2003; Ren 2008; Sklair 2011). In recent years architec-tural competitions have been used internationally as a means for (primarily) localgovernments to build iconic buildings, launch fl agship projects and to reinvent cities. Prominent examples include Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, the National Stadiumin Beijing (built in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games) and the post 9 – 11 WorldTrade Centre in New York. Architectural competitions, an aspect of what FernandoOrueta and Susan Fainstein (2008) have referred to as “ the new mega-projects ” ,gentrify underproductive sites, and through major physical overhauls, rebrandurban spaces as inviting to tourists, investors and elite residents (see alsoSwyngedouw et al. 2002). Design competitions have also been used to disguisethe powerlessness of the public in transforming city space (Allen 2006; Crawford1995) and to generate a populist  “ post-political ” consensus around urban reform(BAVO 2007).This is especially prevalent within France, where architecturehas long been used asin the symbolic production of the nation and in promoting tourism and culture. Parisis especially known for its monuments and many of Paris ’ iconic sites, for example,such as the Institut du Monde Arabe  and Parc de la Villette  are the outcome of architec-tural competitions. What primarily distinguishes Grand Paris  from most mega-projects or architecturalcompetitions, however, is its scale. Not limited to a single site (eg a waterfront or central business district), the Grand Paris  reforms are directed at the form of the entireurban region. Grand Paris  envisions a resilient global city that is larger in size, morecompetitive and more attractive than Paris as it currently stands. The strategic roleof architecture in urban planning is not limited to the creation of discrete symbolicbuildings or sites, but is now directed toward entire infrastructures and systems, thuscontrolling the narrative of the city as a whole. For urbanists concerned with the risksofneoliberalwagers, GrandParis  indicatesthenecessityofengagingarchitectureasanimportant economic and aesthetic site of planning. Illuminating the Path to Grand Pari(s) 5 © 2013 The Author. Antipode  © 2013 Antipode Foundation Ltd.
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