The city of light

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The City of Light

Paris, the City of Light, has always been one of the most important and influential cities in the world. Located in the North-central part of France, in the region of Île de France, Paris is divided by the river Seine, forming two islands named île Saint-Louis and île de la Cité which are the oldest parts of the city. The city has continuously reconstructed itself throughoutthe centuries, changing according to its time. How were the major events such as colonialism, industrialization, organized and disorganized capitalism reflected throughout the spatial development of Paris?

The most important transformations of Paris were made during the Second Empire under the reign of Napoleon III who assigned the Baron Haussmann to redesign the city. Indeed, until the midnineteenth century, the heart of Paris was still partly medieval-like, made up of numerous, small, narrow streets. The urban configuration, in addition to the lack of sewerage and running water was the cause of numerous diseases and general insalubrity. Furthermore, the considerable population growth and rural exodus of the 18th century over-crowded the city center with a rather poor population.Moreover, this period was characterized by political unrest, and the narrow streets of Paris were easy to barricade. The pauperization of the center and the risk of political uprisings were the main causes of the big works of Haussmann which took place from 1852 to 1870. Thus, Haussmann built long and large avenues all throughout the city, which would be much more practical for the circulation. Thecity slaughterhouses and cemeteries were sanitized and moved out of the center and a sewerage system and running water was put in place, all of which contributed to a cleaner, healthier city. Haussmann also highlighted various monuments which were important to its heritage. (Daniel Noin, Paris 1997)

fig. 1 : map of the transformations done by Haussmann.

The spatial organization of Paris hasundergone many changes heavily influenced by Haussmann's work. During the 19th century, the upper class moved from the center to the western part of the city, which is still the most expensive neighborhood today. The working-class also moved from the inner-city to the east, closer to the factories. However, the city center has undergone the process of gentrification, or restoration of run-downurban areas, with the result of a high increase in the value of these areas. A good example of a gentrified neighborhood is Saint Germain des Prés, located in the 6th arrondissement, which was once the home of bohemians, artists and intellectuals, is now one of the most expensive in Paris.
Fig. 2: Map of Paris showing the distribution of annual salaries in the different districts.The city isdivided into twenty clockwise-spiraling arrondissements, or administrative districts.

Industrialization also contributed to decreasing the price of glass, which was then widely used in architecture. A big part of the cobblestoned streets of Paris were also covered with bitumen pavements, which were more practical and prevented the locals from using them in barricades. The industrial advancement alsobrought gas lights to the streets, illuminating the city by night.
After World War I, the suburbs expanded quickly, marked by social estates called cités, and the development of the Périphérique highway circling the city, the métro and the RER, or Réseau Express Régional, connected the suburbs to the center, facilitating pendulum commuting for workers living in the outskirts. However, since the1970s, the process of ethnic and social ghettoization has also taken place in these cités, where the poorer classes and immigrants settle. Until today, this unequal and excluding disposition creates much discontent and tension, which was expressed during the riots in the suburbs in 2005 (Sauvadet, Les jeunes de la cité- Processus de ghettoïsation et mode de socialisation).
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