This historical panorama is focused on the XXth century and is not limited to the Paris metropolitan area alone. What is the reason behind these choices? Grand Paris was not created in the last century alone. Already in the Middle Ages, Paris – like other cities of the era – lived in synergy with its rural surroundings and periodically annexed new land. Likewise, the industrial revolution of the XIXth century frequently revived discussions about the capital’s relevant limits – just as in other major western cities (such as New York, London or Berlin). However, from this viewpoint, the 1860 annexation of the close suburbs was less a break with the past than an avatar of the recurring projects for a larger Paris that could go to the boundaries of the Seine département.
What makes the XXth century unique is that it once again raised the question of the limits of Paris, combining it with the new perspectives opened up by the development of urbanism. The aim was not just to annex urbanised territories, but to plan the development of a capital city/metropolitan area. In other words, inventing Grand Paris. This planning momentum was driven as much by ever more precise ground studies as by comparisons with other major contemporaneous metropolitan areas. The case of Paris fit into an initial globalisation of metropolitan planning, supported by national legislation and by international congresses of architecture or town planning. It also belongs to the transnational circulations whose heyday was in the 1920s-1950s. Hence this panorama, organised around four “moments” in Grand Paris planning, continuously offers perspectives for international comparison.
This division into four “moments”, which we realise are not necessarily completely distinct, aims to provide intellectual milestones based on major plans for the Paris region. It sketches out a history that aims to be more open than closed to the cumulative knowledge of the past century and which, when placed in an international perspective, opens up a set of questions for the future.
An overall project for Grand Paris was formulated for the first time in 1913, with the publication of the report of the Commission d’extension de Paris, directed by Louis Bonnier, an architect and civil engineer, and Marcel Poëte, an archivist and paleographer who was also the director of the Bibliothèque historique. Both men were also involved in think tanks such as the Musée social. This report fit into the international context of discussions about urban development and laid the groundwork for the competition for “the extension of Paris and development of the Paris region”, which Léon Jaussely won in 1919.
During the interwar period, the decommissioning of the city’s fortifications and the annexation of the zona non aedificandi gave fresh impetus to planning, this time on the regional level. In 1934 architect Henri Prost and the departments of the Direction de l’extension de Paris complete the PARP (a plan for the development of the Paris Region), commissioned by the CSAORP (the higher commission for the development of the Paris Region) established in 1928. The PARP was the first official urban planning document to set an ambition of organising the growth of the capital region “and not to extend [the city] further”. In effect until the 1960s, the PARP explored innovative schemes such as zoning or “autostrades”, as well as their incorporation into the landscape. With the completion of the Prost Plan, Paris took part in a global movement for metropolitan planning that affected not only major capitals (Amsterdam, Moscow, New York, etc.), but also the colonial worlds and “medium-sized” or “emerging” cities.
The Second World War helped reactivate urban planning (with a focus on the issues of reconstruction and modernisation) and accentuated the widespread aspiration for stronger government intervention. However, Paris did not entirely benefit from this favourable context for regional planning. From 1944 until the early 1960s, Grand Paris seemed to be in a development crisis. The French government, focused on its territorial development policy after the war, lagged in allocating resources to the Paris region, making the provinces its priority between 1955 and 1966 (industrial decentralisation, métropoles d’équilibre, urban communities). In 1960, the publication of PADOG, the general organisational plan for the Paris region, attested to a certain degree of confusion in the minds of decision-makers, who concluded that the Paris region needed to develop, while also stating that the growth of Paris must be curbed.
The proposal for regional planning at the Île-de-France level emerged from the strengthening of regional authorities (creation of the Paris District in 1961, Institut d’aménagement et d’urbanisme de la région parisienne, IAURP in 1960, Agence foncière et technique de la région parisienne, AFTRP in 1962, etc .). The 1965 Delouvrier Plan (Schéma directeur d’aménagement et d’urbanisme de la région de Paris, SDAURP), which was not officially approved but was applied with regard to major infrastructures (the RER regional railway lines and airports) and the new towns, symbolises this era in many respects. This plan was emblematic of the collusion between developers and economic and urban productivism. Planning and urbanisation became sources of economic leverage, with support from a powerful public and para-public system. To harness this leverage, the former dialogues between Paris and other global metropolises had to be strengthened. The 1960s saw numerous study trips and reports on new towns, going well beyond the British or Scandinavian models. Metropolitan examples were gathered from both sides of the Berlin Wall. Lastly, the SDAURP, as a source of French expertise, would rapidly be offered on the export market (in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Near East, etc.). Paris was a case study that held direct interest for other major European capitals (such as Brussels) and was also studied in provincial France, which, from Lyon to Bordeaux and from Rouen to Marseille, produced major development schemes for “metropolitan areas”.
The 1970s ushered in a paradoxical period. They were the golden age of metropolitan planning, yet implementation of these plans triggered multiple criticisms that challenged the fundamentals of planning. Publication of the SDAURIF (Schéma directeur d’aménagement et d’urbanisme de la région Île-de-France) in 1976 marked the symbolic beginning of this period, which can be interpreted as both the era of capitalistic globalisation of metropolitan planning (in Latin America, Egypt, Southeast Asia, etc.) and a period of embracing new paradigms. Paris is emblematic of the latter, with a renewed focus on the historical city, reflections on green spaces and on maintaining agriculture and silviculture in major urban areas, and limiting large-scale housing programmes. In certain countries (including the UK, Egypt and Japan), this changing paradigm resulted in a planning crisis, whereas other countries – including France – attempted to adapt it to the new social and governance challenges.