Paris a rival for London, Berlin? Les folies de grandeur

© ajh
© ajh

This grand plan, of pharaonic proportions, dreamt up by ex-President Sarkozy and adopted by Parliament in 2010, is supposed to make Paris a rival to Greater London and Greater Berlin; it is supposed make Paris an “international attraction”, a social, urban and economic area unifying the strategic territories of the Ile de France.  Greater Paris, it claims, will be attractive to live in, better connected, offer more jobs, draw in more people.  It will offer 70.000 new places to live in each year.  Greater Paris aims to have 12 million inhabitants. This is bigger than Greater London (8.539 million in 2014) and Greater Berlin (around 6 million in 2014).  It represents 19% of the French population. Welcome in the Megacity. Welcome in money, land sales, building contracts, architects… Welcome in the Bureaux des Travaux Publics – the Public Works Office for the next 10-15 years, which otherwise risked losing its raison d’être now that the 3 High Speed Train lines carving through France are coming to completion. Welcome in expropriations in the heavily urbanised zones where new train stations are to be built. Major destruction and construction works are already underway for the new 200 kilometre rail network.  But is this new network really needed?  INSEE, the presitigious French National Institute of Statistics and Economics Studies is doubtful: see its analysis of the question, dated April 2015. Others have published a White Paper raising the same questions; their team of experts esteems that the whole Grand Paris plan has been based on the fundamental error of judgment that the present rail infrastructure is saturated and new infrastructures are needed to relieve two of the main RER lines.  No such thing, White Paper experts say, we just need to modernise and re-generate the existing infrastructure with more up-to-date systems of exploitation and the RER would have ample capacity to take on present and future demands.

societe-du-grand-paris-champigny-sur-marne-mai-2015-genaro-bardy-19-713x450
Works for the new rail line at Champigny-sur-Marne

As for the Grand Paris arguments about job creations, will these people being drawn in to the new Megacity really find work? Or will they just swell the legions of the unemployed?  And is Paris really the only place to get work?  What about Lyon, Bordeaux, Lille, to name only a few of the wonderful French towns and cities? Why not help create jobs there rather than oblige people to come all the way to Paris?  And – even more importantly, but on another tack – the best way to create jobs is not to displace people but to radically change the labour laws. While the present legal infrastructure for setting up a business in France makes it an almost suicidal act financially because of ridiculously heavy social charges and over-rigid labour laws, no wonder the French are leaving the country with their expertise to set up abroad in the more enlightened legal infrastructures offered by the UK, Germany and the US. The Parisian tax-payer will not be financially implicated directly by Grand Paris; the tax onus will be on businesses.  But high taxes on businesses could break businesses, and that subsequently ricochets onto each and every Parisian. So what about the ordinary Parisian? Even if there have been ongoing GP information meetings, what right to contest the fundamentals of the project has one had – or indeed does one have?  One would have thought in this day of democratic referendums, it would be only fair to hold a referendum for every-day Parisians to take part in the decision-making which seals the fate of their City and therefore their lives.

Emptying France to fill Paris

In a time when the desertification of France is reaching crisis point, where working-age people are abandoning the countryside in drones and leaving behind them vast expanses of France with no services, the question arises: why not use the near-30 billion euros set aside* for this near-Napoleonic Grand Paris plan to develop the dying areas of the provinces?  What about a much needed Decentralisation project, instead of this mega-Paris one?  Rural France could well do with – and needs – a similarly enormous economic and social plan to allow it to at last rise again from the dead; economic activities, jobs, social services – everything is needed so that no-one would have to flee to the capital for work; no-one would have to worry about dying because of lack of doctors (see Dr. Who?) and hospitals; communities would thrive, and the legendary pessimism of the French could at last be replaced by an overall dynamic enthusiasm and imaginative enterprise which the French in general are so capable of if only they were given the chance.

Facts, figures

There are many, and they keep changing.  The most ‘concrete’ of the project so far is the actual digging of tunnels and laying of rail tracks for the transport infrastructure.  Since November last Magali, a gigantic machine weighing 10 000 tons, is digging a 3.5 km tunnel in Paris between the train station Saint-Lazare and the Marie de Saint-Ouen. Four new metro lines are to be dug, and two are to be extended. Not to mention all the other lines (see pictures). The two construction giants Bouygues and Eiffage are in charge of the Saint-Lazare- Defense tunnel, scheduled to start next year.  Pascal Hamet, regional director in charge of these underground tunnels at Eiffage has spoken of the delicate work** digging under the city, taking into account electrical and water networks let alone the geological make-up of the earth in a densely populated area of Paris.  And there is also the fact of weakening the ground in a city which already has underground quarries…  Geological complications in digging the 33 kms of tunnels have meant delays are in order.

metro, Grand Paris
The metro of Grand Paris

The whole project is stretched out from now until 2030 when the last of the works are planned to be finished.

  • More than 200 kms of networks (as much as the present Paris metro network).
  • 72 new railway stations.
  • 4 new metro lines
  • 70 000 new lodgings per year.
  • Creation of economic seven clusters:  — Saclay (innovation and research); Villejuif-Evry (health); La Défense (finance); Saint-Denis-Pleyel (creative); Roissy CDG (international trade and special events management) ;  Le Bourget (aeronautical); Descartes-Marne-la-Valle (sustainable development).
New proposed infrastructure of Greater Paris
New proposed infrastructure of Greater Paris
The French fury to build: Louis XIV, Napoleon, Mitterrand…

We are reminded of Empire building.  President Nicholas Sarkozy promised, during his ‘reign’, to help rural France and save it from ‘desertification’.  Why then did he support such a leviathan project in 2011 and thus threaten to drain the heart of France even more? Perhaps it is a question of leaving one’s mark.  He inherited the very French custom of France’s leaders desiring to build on a grandiose scale to the glory of France, La Gloire de la France – as is written on one of the entrances to Louis XIV’s Chateau de Versailles – and for their own glory… no-one must forget them… Napoleon did this, the Arc de Triomphe being just one of the several Parisian monuments to celebrate his – sorry, France’s – victories.  Indeed, it does sound Napoleonic when you read of the President of the Society Grand Paris (SGP) referring to a “War Room” created to ensure there are no construction delays.  They are in a hurry: unlike normal construction sites where one digs first, then pours in the concrete, then put down the rails and other systems, they want to do all this simulateneously. And he reassures us that they are doing their utmost to clear out the waste and scrap to avoid any environmental nuisances local people have been worried about, and still are. As mentioned above, it has long been a trend for French rulers to leave behind their mark in some grandiose, architectural way.  Consider:

 © Michael Meinecke
© Michael Meinecke
Louis XIVth – Versailles;
 © Michael Meinecke
© Michael Meinecke
Napoleon – l’Arc de Triomphe; Obelisk/Cleopatra’s needle,
© Russavia on Flickr
© Russavia on Flickr
Georges Pompidou – The Pompidou Centre museum; the Rive Droite expressway,
© daryl mitchell on Flickrl
© daryl mitchell on Flickr
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing – Arche de la Défense, La Villette Cité des Sciences.
© Vysotsky
© Vysotsky
François Mitterrand – Bibliothèque de France; Bercy Ministry of Finance
© russavia on flickr
© russavia on flickr
Jacques Chirac – Paris Anthropological Museum of Quai Branly
©
© Jérôme Blum
Général de Gaulle  – who didn’t need to build monuments: he did much more for his country by laying the foundations for the present, 5th, Republic of France.

The problem with the project Grand Paris is that it is so enormous, so ‘inclusive’, that it could become the victim of its own metamorphosis.  What if, in the end, it all tanks?  Where will the money go?  One would like to see a positive side: perhaps these new rail lines could ease up traffic into and out of Paris which would in turn help reduce significantly the high air pollution.  What will happen to house prices inside Paris walls?  Would they go up?  Good news for owners but bad news for buyers.  Less time for people to get to work on brand new train lines?   And will there really be work for people to take the new train to, if the labour laws aren’t changed?  Will mentalities change so that the new Megacity can really rival with London, New York, Berlin? You can visit the Grand Paris exhibition, open until 22 May, at the Espace Landowski, 28, avenue André Moriwet, in Boulogne-Billancourt just outside Paris, on metro line 9. For details of Grand Paris, see the official website at : https://www.societedugrandparis.fr *  The initial overall sum for GP was 20.5 billion, but the figure inevitably keeps going up. ** Le Figaro Premium, « Métro, RER : le Grand Paris ouvre le chantier du siècle »m Jean-Yves Guérin, 15 March 2016, accessed 3 April 2016. http://www.lesechos.fr/industrie-services/dossiers/0203204107550-nouveau-grand-paris-l-avancement-du-projet-671896.php adsfadsf;lkjasdf https://www.societedugrandparis.fr/projet – feb 2016 http://www.franceinfo.fr/emission/expliquez-nous/2015-2016/expliquez-nous-2015-2016-du-22-01-2016-22-01-2016-05-40

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