A thunderous noise rises from the bottom of the vast roundabout on Place Skanderbeg between Paris and the suburb of Aubervilliers. Beggars stroll around every turn. On the greenery in the middle, people sleep in the street.
A large white complex stands on the Aubervilliers side. Modern glass, steel and concrete construction will house the new workshops from the fashion brand Chanel. A road sign reads “PERIPH. FLUID ”.
the ring road of Paris, the ring road, is the busiest in Europe. It transports 1.2 million vehicles per day.
To illustrate the importance of the road for the city, the geographer Luc Gwiazdzinski calls the occupants of these cars “temporary residents”.
Together, they could make up the 21st arrondissement of Paris – one with five shopping centers, 13 car parks, 22 service stations, 28 hotels and around 1.6 million workers.
High above the road, Skanderbeg Square is one of the many inhospitable places on or along the periphery‘.
The 36 kilometers Outlying street almost perfectly coincides with the administrative limit of the City of Paris.
It follows on from what was once the Thiers enclosure, last rampart of Paris. Today, the city is considering options for transforming its famous ring road – and those options are the same as when it decommissioned the rampart just over a century ago.
In 1919, the city demolished its rampart after it proved useless against modern artillery. Outside stretched an expanse of land 250 meters wide.
By law, the land was not aedificandi: no one could lean on it.
It quickly became inhabited. The area became known as the Zone and its inhabitants were called zoniers or, more dismissively, zonards, as most were camping or in makeshift huts.
In 1925, the City of Paris annexed the non aedificandi.
Over the course of the more than three decades that followed, many, often contradictory, plans have been proposed for this.
Some large autonomous complexes have emerged, such as the Cité internationale universitaire.
In the interwar period, the largest low-rental housing in the history of France was built on the base of the rampart.
Gradually, the zoniers were evicted and the area became the green belt (green belt) – the idea for a walk has sprouted.
The rue Militaire inside the old rampart being congested, the city decided in 1954 to build a motorway: the ring road.
In 1973, Paris was surrounded by a two-lane ring road.
The two sides of the ring road are distinct: the Parisian side is home to apartment buildings but the other side often features uninviting monofunctional constructions such as office buildings or vestiges of a bygone industry.
To the left of Chanel’s future workshop is a massive wall of reflective facades, while the right hides an old train station. A ticket is hung on the facade of the station: Demolition permit. Due to its importance, getting rid of the ring road is almost impossible – it can only be transformed.
In 2008, a 20 hectare project proposed bridge buildings: buildings that would span the road.
The Greater Paris project, launched by the Sarkozy government in 2008, aimed to create a metropolis by unifying the two sides of Paris.
For nearly two centuries, first by the rampart then by the ring road, the area not aedificandi had confined the city.
The bypass allows access to the Haussmann center only through the main gates of Paris. It is a physical barrier between Paris and its 29 neighboring municipalities.
Today, the administrations of the Parisian agglomeration are faced with the same challenge as when they decided to demolish the rampart: will the district accommodate a promenade and how much of the land should it be vegetated, and how much? constructible?
In line with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s well-known pursuit for a progressive car mitigation policy, she proposes to reduce speed limits on the peripheral at 50 km / h – which is low for a fully separate highway – and reserving a lane for public transport, zero-emission vehicles and carpoolers. But Valérie Pécresse, who was running for a second term as president of Ile-de-France in the regional elections in June, wants to take over the management of the Paris circular. She proposed a referendum in the fall to ask locals for their opinion on the future of the road.
In 1991, the Paris Center for Architecture and Urbanism organized an exhibition on the ring road. A book accompanied the exhibition: From forts to perif. On the occasion of the centenary of the demolition of the rampart of Thiers, the authors have updated their book, which now contains more than 400 plans.
Co-author Jean-Louis Cohen calls the transformation project “a cemetery of plans”: due to budgetary and political constraints, these plans did not materialize.
Recently, the City of Paris launched a series of workshops to which it invited neighboring municipalities.
The town hall of Paris favors a mixture of housing, infrastructure and greenery.
According to Emmanuel Grégoire, the right arm of Hidalgo, the neighborhood must offer housing. Otherwise, history will repeat itself and slums will emerge – just like the area.
However, to describe the transformation of a motorway with 156 ramps, 50 interchanges and 253 crossings “technically difficult” would be an understatement.
In affluent municipalities, such as Neuilly, the ring road has been covered, protecting residents from noise and pollution. In the poorest communities, especially in the north, the ring road is at the same level or higher.
“There was a success: the reconversion of the Porte des Lilas”
At this point, the ring road merges into the city. At the same time, Paris fits almost perfectly into the adjacent commune – Paris and Les Lilas collaborated closely on the project. However, this type of conversion has proven to be extremely expensive.
On the Place Skanderbeg, the neighboring municipalities rejected the 2008 project, mainly because Paris had not sufficiently involved them.
Now, the city is organizing a public inquiry for a new sports site that will host the 2024 Olympic Games.
Ambitious projects are emerging in the region, which is about one sixth the size of Paris.
The demolition of the Thiers rampart gave birth to the largest low-cost housing project in France. From now on, the transformation of the ring road will create the largest real estate project in France, if not in Europe.
The less attractive the ring road today, the more attractive the light-traffic promenade will be, especially once electric vehicles mitigate both noise and pollution.
However, the transformation of the Paris ring road raises the same questions as the dismantling of the rampart of the capital all these decades ago.
It is a massive and long-term project, which will have an impact on the lives of many people.
The earlier plans were limited to one discipline, such as architecture or town planning, but the new ones combine several disciplines.
The success of the whole project will depend on its ability to unify rather than separate the city.
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