Greater Paris developed as a series of villages
The City of Paris developed along the river Seine, then became a Roman town and was the largest city in Europe in the Middle Ages. A wall was built around it in the 12th century and it was surrounded by smaller villages along the river. The large boulevards like the Champs Elysées were built in the 17th and 18th centuries and the aristocracy and upper-middle classes moved into the centre.
Napoleon united all these smaller villages into one
When Napoleon III came to power in the 19th century, he had grand plans for Paris. He decided to merge all the small villages into one central city, without consulting any of the local civic leaders (starting the distrust between the centre and the suburbs which still exists today). And so places like Montmartre became part of Paris proper.
Paris’ poorer residents were marginalised in the furthest suburbs
He directed a man called Haussmann to carry out a huge urban renewal of Paris in the 1850s, under whom the city was totally redesigned. Much of what we love about Paris and its romantic nature today was born in his architecture and modernisation of that period. Paris’s inner city population had more than doubled and its sewer system, medieval streets and poor buildings couldn’t cope with the pressure. As many as 60 percent of its buildings were modified or transformed, boulevards were built, streets became wider and grander and parks were built. It was successful in showcasing Paris as a city of the future (as Napoleon had wanted) but it wasn’t without controversy; many of Paris’ poorer residents were moved out into suburbs.
The suburbs have suffered
While the centre of Paris underwent structured planning, many of the suburbs developed in an unorganised and chaotic way, meaning that many of the poorer residents haven’t had access to the same cultural amenities or economic opportunities as the 2.2 million residents in the city of Paris have had. Paris is no more unequal than many other major cities in the world but since the riots in 2005 in Paris, Paris has become more segregated, not less; there is still a huge division between its rich and poor residents. The problem is compounded by a lack of centralised or strong government; in direct contrast to many other global cities, the Mayor of Paris doesn’t actually have jurisdiction over the 10 million people in the ‘banlieues’ or suburbs of Greater Paris.
A new 300-mile track is aiming to unite the city
Under a new project called Le Sentier Métropolitan du Très Grand Paris, (translated as, Paris’ Very Big Metropolitan Path) there is hope to begin a period of reconciliation between inner and outer Paris. A group of architects, philosophers, artists and urbanists have developed a 600 kilometre path taking in much of Greater Paris. That’s over 30 days of walking. They have been working with Le Voyage Métropolitain, an organisation that takes groups of people out into the suburbs on guided tours and walks. The path is a big project that offers the chance of seeing the kind of Paris you rarely see, stretching from Disneyland in Marne la Vallée to Versailles. It’s a chance to do something culturally that will have an economic and social impact on the city. The path will be finished in 2020. Check out their events page for details.