Paris is presently at a crossroads that, if unchecked, will ripple through the city for years to come with detrimental effect, says Leonard Pitt. High-rise projects are planned for the 13th, 15th and 17th arrondissements, as well as La Defense, and he is committed to stopping this from happening.
Paris at the Brink
The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, wants to build skyscrapers in Paris. The 59 story Maine-Montparnasse building that went up on the Left Bank in 1973 was a shock to everyone and out of it were created restrictions on building high in Paris. That building, today, is the most despised building in the city. For years that prohibition held. Then came 2008 and Mayor Delanoe maneuvered the overthrow of those height limits. He had skyscrapers in mind and while a majority of Parisians are against them, there are still many who would love to see the silhouette of the Paris horizon change.
In April of this year, the newspaper Le Monde stated, “We must understand that to wage an all-out fight for urbanism at a human-scale in Paris, that to argue for preservation, risks embalming the city, sterilizing it, sapping it of its vitality and turning it into a ville-musée, charming but frozen.”
The Mayor, like Le Monde, believes that skyscrapers will give Paris a luster that it lacks. Paris is getting dowdy around the edges, old-fashioned and is in need of renewal. At present there are three giant projects ready to go. More are on the way. The question we must ask is what will Paris look like in a hundred years. This is a reasonable question. My fear is that someone driving into the city will pass signs along the way pointing to “Centre Historique.” And central Paris will be at the bottom of a bucket surrounded by skyscrapers.
The center of the city is safe and will not be touched. But everything beyond that will be up for grabs.
If Mayor Delanoe thinks the that the world will be impressed by a Paris with skyscrapers, then it’s up to us to tell him that, contrary to his belief, the world will not be impressed, but rather will be depressed to see Paris come to look like every other city in the world. Paris got the Starbucks, Macdonald’s, the KFC. Now here is the finishing touch on removing from Paris that which makes Paris Paris, its human scale skyline: soft, gentle, and welcoming.
You can do something by taking part in a world-wide letter writing campaign (that’s right, old-fashioned letters) organized by SOS Paris, a Paris group interested in preserving all things Parisian that we love. Email is too easy to dismiss with a click. Letters in bulk inconvenience and that’s what we need. We must inconvenience to get their attention. Visualize a million letters flooding City Hall in Paris. Think of the mail bags, the bulk.
Think of the Paris we want to leave to our children and grandchildren, the Paris that inspired us all. Will it still be there? Doing nothing assures that nothing will be gained. Doing something opens up a possibility. And with that sliver of hope great things have been accomplished.
Leonard Pitt is an author, actor, and teacher. He has written three books about Paris and one book about the life of the 17th Irish healer, Valentine Greatrakes. For more information on saving the Paris skyline
visit his site.