Paris, one of the global capital hubs of the world, has been through tremendous transformation throughout history. Find out how urban design helped the city to overcome disease and derelict spaces to become the global hub it is today.

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Paris, one of the global capital hubs of the world, has been through tremendous transformation throughout history. The city has withstood poverty, disease, underdevelopment, deindustrialisation, criticism and many hardships throughout 19th Century and was redeveloped during the second empire of Napoleon III. A famous figure, Baron Haussmann, comes to mind when identifying Paris’s urban regeneration. Haussmann, as he is commonly known, was responsible for changing the landscape of Paris into the wide boulevards, cafes and shops, public parks and monuments and the entire urban architectural façade the city boasts of having today. To understand Paris’ present urban structure and prosperity, it is therefore important to look at some of the city’s historical prominence.

Some Background

Map of Paris in late 18th Century (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Map of Paris in late 18th Century (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The pre-industrial revolution period brought huge immigrant flow into Paris, increasing the population and resulting in a chaotic urban structure with many local Parisians forming illegal colonies and suffering from prolonged famine and hunger.

“Chronic hunger and malnutrition were the norm for the majority of the population of the world including Britain and France, until the latter part of the 19th century. Until about 1750, in large part due to malnutrition, life expectancy in France was about 35 years, and only slightly higher in Britain.”

The urban structure was poorly constructed, with disease and death surrounding the city. Living conditions were poor and there was a very high level of social hierarchy in the city.

With the advent of railroad and steam locomotive in the early 19th century, a network of railways was created, leading to more immigrant flow and consequently increasing the population of Paris to almost 861,400 in 1831. Wages were meager, factory workers worked long hours, lived in squalor, spreading diseases which were highly contagious around the condensed city. The poor living conditions of the working class led to many labour strikes causing a major recession that disabled the economy in 1846 before the rule of Napoleon III. The recession came to an end in 1947, and soon after the French invasion of Algeria, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) was elected as the new president of France.

Haussmann’s redevelopment of Paris

The avenue de l'Opéra from the Comédie-Française. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Haussmann’s avenue de l’Opéra from the Comédie-Française. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Influenced by the architectural landscape such as parks and cafes of London, Napoleon III sought to improve Paris by electing Baron Haussmann as the Seine Prefect to modernise Paris in the late 19th century between 1853 and 1870. Thus, urban redevelopment began considerably  in Paris, with most of the slums and poverty stricken areas either being moved or completely discarded. Although some of the poor were given compensation, it has been argued that the poor were not well taken care of during the redevelopment. However, clearing these vast underdeveloped areas provided Haussmann more space to urbanise and reconstruct Paris.

“The project encompassed all aspects of urban planning, both in the centre of Paris and in the surrounding districts: streets and boulevards, regulations imposed on facades of buildings, public parks, sewers and water works, city facilities, and public monuments. The planning was influenced by many factors, not the least of which was the city’s history of street revolutions.”

Importance was given to widening of the streets in order to cater for the growing population and the basic outlook of the city:

The rapidly growing industrial areas in the suburban communes he (Haussmann) linked to the centre by radial highways. The boulevard Malesherbes opened up Batignolles in the north-west; the boulevards Barbes and Ornano served Montmartre and Clignancourt in the north; the rue de La Fayette brought the main artery from La Villette in the north-east right in the centre of Paris.”

Such significant developments revolutionised the city, with many other of Haussmann’s developments emerging. Adjacent suburbs were seized and connected to Paris, leading to large buildings, avenues, circular roads, transurban routes, the advent of parks and the famous Parisian bars and cafes. This plan became very successful and many cities around the world followed by example.

Haussmann’s architecture and plans continue to exist to this day and seem to have left a lasting impression, not only on the city of Paris, but on many renowned cities around the world.