Battlelines drawn on grand design for Paris skyscrapers

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The Independent Online

The future of one of the world's most visited and most admired cities will be shaped today by an acrimonious meeting of the Paris city council.

Proposals put forward by the Socialist Mayor, Bertrand Delanoë - carving out a large, new park in north-western Paris and creating new spaces for offices - will be angrily opposed by his Green and Communist allies.

The Communists believe that Paris should build upwards, allowing large forests of skyscrapers on its periphery for the first time. The Greens and others want the city to spread outwards, rubbing away the physical and psychological barriers between Paris and its vibrant but sometimes troubled suburbs.

The decisions taken today on a new master plan for Paris - or Plan Local d'Urbanisme (PLU) - will shape development until 2020 but may, in practice, decide the social, economic and architectural fate of the French capital until late in the 21st century. M. Delanoë was badly shaken by his city's failure to grasp the 2012 Olympic games. He has put forward a plan which attempts to preserve the character of Paris while arresting the seepage of jobs and citizens to the suburbs.

Paris has lost one tenth of its jobs in the past 15 years. Its population, just over two million, is shrinking by more than 1 per cent a year. M. Delanoë wants to create new areas of affordable apartments but also attract national, and international, business headquarters back to the city.

A large park, and cheap homes, will be created out of derelict railway sidings in the 17th arrondissement, north of the Gare St-Lazare. If Paris had won the Olympics, this area, the quartier Batignolles, would have become the athletes' village. M. Delanoë has now partially reverted to his original plan to boost the open, green spaces.

He also wishes to convert derelict, or underused, railway yards near other main-line stations, such as the Gare du Nord, into new "office parks". There is also a plan to create a linear "forest" and a shopping mall on top of the north-eastern section of the city's 10-lane ring road, the Boulevard Péripherique. The Delanoë plan has been attacked, variously, as too "timid" and as a dangerous lurch away from the traditional character of Paris. Most visitors to the city marvel at how little Paris has been disturbed by 20th-century urban planning following its renewal under Baron Haussmann in 1853. No one is suggesting that it is time for the city to be carved up and remodelled once again à la Haussmann. However, many people - including M. Delanoë - argue that a great city cannot stand still. His Green allies on the city council accuse him of selling out to the commercial sector by placing too much emphasis on office space and not enough on "social" housing.

One Delanoë ally, Jean-François Legaret, the mayor of the first arrondissement in the heart of the city, commented: "We are squeezed between the Greens, who want everyone to have a house with a shed at the end of the garden and the Communists who want vast buildings in the style of East Berlin."

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