Paris to scrap ban on high-rise tower buildings

9th July 2008, Comments 0 comments

The city council’s move to scrap a 30-year-old ban on high rise buildings could change the capital’s skyline drastically.

9 July 2008

PARIS - Paris city council on Tuesday moved to scrap a 30-year-old ban on high-rise buildings, a decision that could revolutionise the capital's skyline but which is fiercely opposed by green politicians.

The Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, has championed a change to rules that currently limit the height of inner-city buildings to 37 metres, despite polls showing that two-thirds of Parisians oppose the change.

On Tuesday, Paris city council voted to launch a public consultation on plans to build towers of up to 200 metres at six emblematic sites just inside the city walls.

Part of wide-ranging regeneration plans, the towers would mix shops, offices and childcare centres. Delanoe also backs the construction of new 50-metre apartment blocks to counter a shortage of affordable housing in the capital.

The 37-metre ceiling was brought in 1977 to call a halt to a string of high-rise projects - including the Montparnasse tower south of the River Seine - that were quickly seen as failed experiments in urbanism.

"We will not repeat the mistakes of the past," Delanoe told the city council before the vote.

Consultations will begin in January to measure support for each of the projects, according to city councillor for urbanism Anne Hidalgo, who said she hoped work on the first ones could begin in 2012.

City authorities could start accepting architect bids early next year for two disused railway sites, in Batignolles in the northwest of the capital and Massena in the southeast, she added.

French star architect Jean Nouvel, who in June won a contract to build a new skyscraper in La Defense business district west of Paris, has criticised the taboo on high-rises, saying they should be allowed even in the city centre.

"This is not about undermining our heritage. But we have to stop thinking that Paris is a museum-city," Nouvel told Le Parisian newspaper. "Paris is not finished... If vertical buildings can enrich the heart of the capital, why deprive ourselves?"

But others warn that a badly-designed tower can blow apart the social fabric of a neighbourhood.

"Tower blocks ruin the most precious asset of European cities: public spaces," said French architect Henri Gaudin. "They wipe out a whole territory."

Delanoe's plans are fiercely opposed by the French Green Party, who voted against on grounds of energy efficiency.

"Tower blocks are urbanism's equivalent of the four-wheel drive car: flashy machines that devour energy," Green Party councillor Rene Dutrey charged.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party, though it backs plans for high-rise offices, also voted against the proposals on the grounds high-rise social housing would create a "time-bomb" for the city.

"In 10 years we will still have all the same problems, but it's worse to have social problems reaching up 50 metres than 37," said UMP councillor Jean-Francois Lamour.
Delanoe was blocked from changing the planning rules during his first term as mayor by his Green Party allies on the city council.

But the mayor was comfortably re-elected in March without support from the Greens, allowing him to take a second shot and push through the change with the help of the Socialists' left-wing and centrist allies.

"Parisians are uncomfortable with the very idea of high-rise buildings: polls say so quite clearly. But the duty of public officials us to be guided by the general interest, rather than polls," Delanoe said ahead of the vote.

[AFP / Expatica]

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