Sarkozy outlines 'Greater Paris' blueprint

30th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Sarkozy has declared it a priority to reshape the city and its suburbs into a single "Greater Paris," a 21st-century metropolis able to compete as an economic hub with global rivals London, New York or Tokyo.

Paris -- President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday pledged to build a 35-billion-euro transport corridor around Paris as he outlined his blueprint for creating a bigger, greener new capital.

Sarkozy has declared it a priority to reshape the city and its suburbs into a single "Greater Paris," a 21st-century metropolis able to compete as an economic hub with global rivals London, New York or Tokyo.

On Wednesday he unveiled an exhibition by 10 cutting-edge architects, who were asked to draw up their visions for Paris, destined to feed into a future overhaul of the city's transport and urban design.

Proposals floated by the architects run from a leafy Central Park filled with strolling Parisians in place of a major housing estate, Paris boulevards turned into greenbelts, or a super-fast elevated train for commuters.

"We need to think big," Sarkozy said. "'Greater Paris' is about the capital playing a role in the European and the world economy," as well as inventing "a sustainable city for the post-Kyoto era".

Promising rapid relief for the 10 million Parisians and commuters who pack onto the city's congested public transport network, Sarkozy said the government would draw up a bill by October to release 35 billion euros (47 billion dollars) of new funds.

Drawn from a mix of public and private sources, the money would be used to build an automated, high-capacity new 130-kilometre (80-mile) metro line, linking up half a dozen key suburbs, with works to begin by 2012, as well as fund new and upgraded tramway and metro lines.

Sarkozy said the plans should cut journey times between any two points in the metropolis to 30 minutes.

Other ideas, Sarkozy suggested, could include planting a new forest near Charles de Gaulle airport, green-lighting new skyscrapers around the capital, building some 70,000 new social housing units per year, or a giant technology park in Saclay to its south.

Two million people live squeezed inside the Paris ring road, in an area 15 times smaller than Greater London, with 8.5 million living in the greater suburbs.

Completed in 1973 and running along the capital's ancient wartime defences, the Boulevard Peripherique creates a clear barrier between the city proper and the suburbs.

French leaders on the left and right agree the city needs to expand outside the ring road to compete as an economic hub in the coming decades.

But Sarkozy's "Greater Paris" project faces big political hurdles, with the Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, launching rival talks on improving relations between the capital and its suburbs.

The Ile-de-France region spanning Paris and seven surrounding departments is also controlled by the left, which fears being sidelined in the process.

Sarkozy insisted he would take into account projects already drawn up by the city and the region, calling for a national consultation next year.

"Greater Paris is a project that does not belong to any one party, or any one camp. It affects everyone and belongs to everyone," he said.

Paris' last major urban planning project was carried out in the mid-19th century, when Georges-Eugene Haussmann led a massive renovation programme that shaped the city for 150 years to come.

Since then, the gap has grown between a historic centre, fairly attractive western suburbs and poor, often bleak neighbourhoods, cut off from public transport and facilities.

The disconnect between Paris and its poorer, high-immigrant suburbs is seen as a key reason for the riots of 2005.

AFP/Expatica

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