The Metropolis is not a closed club

Jean-Michel Roux, 2013

Monde pluriel

This fact sheet presents the major challenges of capital cities and draws a comparison between London, Paris and New York, for which the metropolitan development policies are very different.

The metropolitan phenomenon is amply described, in writing, in images and in speech. But the resulting metropolises are far from being accepted as coherent spaces: the same people who praise their power and their modernity complain about their instability and their disordered territorial expansion (urban sprawl). The confusion is compounded by the fact that the same term designates, for example, Amiens and Shanghai, and thus different things. It follows that everywhere political institutions and public services struggle to keep up, and that the diversity of intentions or projects defies any reasoned catalog. The subject must be treated frankly.

If we consider comparable situations, in terms of size, influence and precedence, why is it that the election of the mayor in New York or London is an important moment in international news and that in Paris it is a mundane event, far below Fashion Week? In London and New York, the candidates speak about housing, education, security, etc., while in Paris, they argue about the future of the country. While in Paris they argue about towers (for or against), vélibs and the noise of the terraces at night. The Parisian frivolity is well known, nevertheless, explanations are needed.

The main one is contained in a table, which links the areas and populations of the cities concerned.

Paris, London, New York : comparison of orders of magnitude
Jean-Michel Roux, 2014

In other words, the mayor of Paris must deal with a territory fifteen times smaller than that of his counterparts, and with a population four times smaller. Since Paris is the historical center of the agglomeration, established a century and a half ago, its perimeter is almost entirely occupied and the game is up. The city is museumized even in its conflicting aspects, since even the protection of a reserve of poor people (of good education, however) is part of the projects (the charm of the popular districts). In truth, the problems are on the other side of the ring road, in unknown territory. The mayor thus assumes the exquisite function of embodying the world capital of the arts, letters and sciences (at least what is left of it), without having to assume any of the responsibilities that go with it.

The Metropole du Grand Paris project creates a confederation of 124 communes (at least), grouped into «  territories ", with assemblies and therefore leaders designated by very indirect suffrage. The implementation will raise innumerable questions of protocol, all the more so as the rare inter-municipalities in a state of functioning will be dislocated. The role and division of the communes, departments and regions, the « sacred cows » of national institutions, have not been reviewed.

What is true of our capital city is more or less true of the others, and comparisons with smaller but solidly established European metropolises (Berlin, Madrid, Rome, etc.) are no less interesting. Of course, we will never catch up with the phenomenon within firm borders. At least it could be discussed among a limited number of legitimate institutions. It is therefore the capacity to define a metropolitan policy that is in question, not only the relevance of this policy, but its very nature.


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