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The Haussmannian Transformation : An Involuntary Displacement of les bas-fonds
Benjamin Sparks
Brigham Young University
French Masters Student

Hired by Napoleon III on June 22 1853, as préfet de la Seine, George Eugène Haussmann was to renovate medieval Paris in order to create a more orderly and sanitary city. This transformation would take Haussmann from 1852 to 1870 to realize and inorder to complete this daunting task he was required to demolish a large portion of the heavily populated areas on Île de la Cité. This quartier was one of the central areas of the involuntary displacement caused by the transformation. This modification of the urban topography of Paris resulted in the displacement of the city’s poor working class, les bas-fonds. With this involuntary displacementof the bas-fond, the crime that inhabited that area was dispersed along with the people among the périphérie, while still remaining in the center of Paris. This transformation and displacement led to the annexation of multiple banlieue along the périphérie, of which the poor working class were forced to inhabit, and which is still today inhabited by the poor immigrants.
In order to more fullyunderstand the reasoning behind Napoleon III and Haussmann’s plan we will start out by analyzing medieval Paris, what can be termed as pre Hausmannien Paris. As we look at the following images, we can see how this city may appear to be in disarray and overpopulated, which leads to it being associated with filth. (slide 1) This first map dates from 1572 and the Ile de la Cité and its surroundingareas are already becoming very densely populated. We then move on to a map from 1618 (slide 2) and see that the city has continued to grow and become even more populated. As the years pass, this little area of Paris continues to grow exponentially. We move on to a map dating from 1716 (slide 3), after this time not much has changed from 1716 to the time of Haussmann (1850’s & 60’s) (slide 4).This information gives us a brief introduction to the growth of the center of Paris from the Middle Ages through the 19th century. Dominique Kalifa states, “More than ever, the city center became the place of congestion, overcrowding, material and moral poverty” (Kalifa 178). The transformation of this city center became the object of Napoleon III’s interest and therefore hired a competent man,not too much unlike himself, for the job. This medieval version of Paris will change drastically with the projects of Haussmann.
The great design of Napoleon III was the creation of an ideal modern city, a transformation of the old medieval city into a modern metropolis. “Son dessein fut grandiose et ses projets se réalisèrent presque entièrement, principalement parce qu’il accorda uneconfiance absolue à un ‘Préfet de Paris presque Ministre’ : Haussmann” (Touttain 40). Both Napoleon III and Haussmann had great plans for the city; “Haussmann’s term for his own transformation of Paris was, in fact, “regularization” (Choay 15) and he saw it as a victory over the anarchic tide of poverty, filth, and congestion which threatened to submerge Paris altogether” (Benjamin 144). Haussmann wasto regularize the format of the city, creating large boulevards lined with trees and buildings having the same height so as to create a sense of uniformity and ‘regularization’. This regularization was unsentimentally imposed on the city; Haussmann had no concern for what had to be demolished in order for this regularization to take place.
“The huge scale of Haussmann’s work is genuinelyoverwhelming. He dared to change the entire aspect of a great city, a city which had been revered for hundreds of years as the center of the civilized world” (Giedion 275). The transformation of Paris was not merely a renovation; it was a rebuilding of the city in order to attack and resolve the problems of the medieval city. This transformation thus had many objectives, as previously stated the city...
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