Transatlantic Views of the Durable City

Reports from the Field by • 11/24

Event: Paris/New York: Two Metropoles in Flux
Locations: “The Metropolis as Urban and Social Space,” Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, New Academic Building, Cooper Union, 11.16.2009; “Planning the Metropolis for Sustainability and Diversity,” Center for Architecture, 11.17.2009
Speakers: (11.16.2009) Anthony Vidler, Assoc. AIA — Dean & Professor, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, Cooper Union (introduction); Kareen Rispal — Cultural Counselor, French Embassy (introduction); Jean-Louis Cohen — Professor, New York University Institute of Fine Arts; Mireille Ferri — Vice President, Conseil Régional d’Ile de France; Amanda Burden, FAICP, Hon. AIA – Director, NYC Department of City Planning & Chair, NYC City Planning Commission; Pierre Mansat — Deputy Mayor in charge of the Paris Metropole project, Mairie de Paris; Christian de Portzamparc, Hon. FAIA — President, Groupement International des Architectes pour le Grand Paris; Sherida Paulsen, FAIA — 2009 AIANY President & Partner, PKSB
(11.17.2009) Sherida Paulsen, FAIA (introduction); Alexandre Chemetoff — Urbanist & Architect, Alexandre Chemetoff et Associés (opening keynote); Barbara Chénot Camus — Urban Planner; Emeline Bailly — Project Chief & Urban Planner, Mairie de Paris; Catherine Barbé — General Director, Sustainable Cities Institute; Djamel Klouche — Architect, l’AUC, & Participant, Grand Paris; David Mangin — Architect, Seura, & Participant, Grand Paris; Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY (moderator); Rohit Aggarwala, Ph.D. — Director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability; Adrian Benepe — Commissioner, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation; David Burney, FAIA — Commissioner, NYC Department of Design and Construction; Thomas Wright — Executive Director, Regional Plan Association; Alexander Garvin — Professor, Yale University (closing keynote)
Organizers: French Cultural Services; AIANY; La Maison Française of New York University; AIANY Global Dialogues Committee; Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University; The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and the Department of Architecture and Design; Museum of Modern Art


New York City (left) and Paris.

Courtesy Google Earth

“Great cities learn from each other,” as Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe suggested, and a pair of cities that are great in markedly different ways can each learn quite a bit from structured dialogue. New York and Paris have followed sharply contrasting historical paths, reflecting different values, geographic conditions, and political traditions, yet they now face common problems, and in certain respects they are converging on solutions of mutual interest. In Paris, questions of density, mobility, social justice, center-periphery relations, economic incentives, and quality of life evoke responses relying more on planning and central governance; New York, like the U.S. generally, has relegated more (though by no means all) authority over these decisions to market forces and local entities, with little direct federal guidance or assistance.

Yet the two cities do offer certain parallel or overlapping strategies. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Grand Paris plan calls for expansion and unification to eliminate disparities between the central city and its troubled banlieues (outskirts), while Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, as Rohit Aggarwala emphasized, responds to urgent demographic and ecological realities through targeted growth (zoning to steer new residents toward density and transit) and accelerating green-design approaches. Despite differing emphases, both cities’ leaders recognize sustainable urbanism on a fully metropolitan or even regional scale as an imperative — ideally, with increasing citizen engagement in design processes, despite the persistence of what Pierre Mansat called “the peculiar situation of Paris, secluded in an administrative straitjacket,” the corresponding forms of organizational sclerosis here, and the social imbalances found in both cities. The French term for sustainability, durabilité, carries connotations of broad long-range thinking that deserve to cross the language barrier.

The proceedings were in no way a competition, but the most attention-getting physical projects (at least in New York eyes) were presented by the French visitors. Christian de Portzamparc, Hon. FAIA, used the symbolism of the hearth-goddess Hestia and the messenger-god Hermes to analyze Paris’s developmental epochs and the evolving relations of place and movement. Alexandre Chemetoff’s evolutionary and participatory scheme (he disdains the term “master plan”) for redevelopment on the Île de Nantes, incorporating the forms and memories of the island’s rough industrial past, offered a series of case studies that New York developers might usefully study. His project’s guide maps, tellingly, present both existing and projected plans; “the map,” he said, “is the relationship between the two.”


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