Thursday, August 12, 2010
The Making of Modern Paris, or, the demolition of prime real estate?
Title: Haussmann, His Life and Times, and the Making of Modern Paris
By: Michel Carmona
This is a critical biography of the ultimate urban planner, Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann. A re-evaluation of the controversial urbanization of Paris, Dr. Carmona (professor of Urban Studies at the Sorbonne) does a fantastic job of laying out the truly hideous public hygiene problem, famously described as "a choleric swamp", and the wretched traffic situation of early 19th century Paris before the big plan, "Grands Traveaux," transformed Paris forever. Haussmann was a bureaucrat but also a man of vision, and being a political ally and intellectual friend of Napoleon III, helped to get things moving along. Under Haussmann's direction, the cramped, crime-ridden tenement buildings were replaced with an even skyline design of maximum six story high apartments. He made a clean sweep of the dark, winding medieval streets and Paris became a network of wide, tree-lined boulevards newly illuminated by gaslight. He oversaw civic improvements such as a fresh water supply system, and the plan and construction of railway stations meant a more efficient distribution of goods and benefited the entire country. Haussmann also had built the large public gardens and fountains enjoyed today. However, the author doesn't just accentuate the positive; the demolition and construction took a very long time, displaced tens of thousands of people, was a huge financial mess, and generations of people are still furious! Perhaps the tourist/visitor will walk about holding a photo-illustrated guidebook describing the city as it was and as it looks now, for the neighborhoods "saved from demolition" are much treasured. (Also available in the library is "Walks Through Lost Paris; a journey into the heart of historic Paris" by Leonard Pitt, 2006.) Haussmann is buried in Le Cimetière Père Lachaise near Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Delacroix, Oscar Wilde, Isadore Duncan, Marcel Proust, and Gertrude Stein.