rethinking infrastructural landscape and Paris’s metropolitan identity via the périphérique
Conference by Justinien Tribillon* for the Global Cities Chair
Discussant: Mathieu Flonneau**
Landscapes can be deceptive. Sometimes a landscape seems to be less a setting for the life of its inhabitants than a curtain behind which their struggles, achievements and accidents take place. For those who, with the inhabitants, are behind the curtain, landmarks are no longer only geographic, but also biographical and personal. (John Berger & Jean Mohr (1967) A fortunate man: the story of a country doctor)
The 1st of January 2016 has been set as the birthdate for the Métropole du Grand Paris. The new political institution comes as one of the outcomes of the institutional momentum started almost ten years ago and that has seen the idea of a ‘Greater Paris’ back at the forefront of local and national political scene. The impetus led to a wealth of architectural competitions, academic colloquia, and institutional initiatives that sought to think and design the ‘Grand Paris’, yet it only included a timid attempt at reconsidering the relationship between Paris and its Banlieue. The main tangible results of almost a decade of ‘Greater Paris’ bonanza are a political institution—the aforementioned Métropole du Grand Paris—and an ambitious public transport scheme that will impact the regional landscape of Paris.
Yet, right on the edge of Paris proper, an infrastructure embodies the divide between Paris and its Banlieue. The périphérique, achieved in 1973 has come to symbolise the frontier between the “Grande Cité” and its “adornment” in the word of Baron Haussmann. While the vision of the périphérique as a frontier is now such as commonplace it has become a cliché, it should also be pointed out that there is much prejudice—from academic and non-academic discourse—on this specific space, but also on the reasons why the périphérique still remains the symbol of the divide Paris/Banlieue.
For this seminar, Justinien would like to explore the space of the périphérique using Matthew Gandy’s notion of “infrastructural landscape”, which combines the prosaic physical and organisational structures of Paris with the notion of landscape inherited from fine arts. He will explore the concept of ‘landscape’ and dissect the term ‘infrastructure’, the latter being too often taken for granted.
The larger doctoral research Justinien is undertaking on this topic also arises from questioning his own assumptions about Paris’s edges. As a Parisian born and bred, based in London for many years, he has come to question his own understanding of his hometown and its relationship to the suburbs. This seminar will also be based on observations and pictures from a walk around the périphérique completed within twenty-four hours in September 2017.
* Justinien is an urbanist, writer and editor. Born and bred in Paris, he is based in London. Justinien explores cities with ideas, concepts, images, quantitative and qualitative data. He works with architecture practices, municipalities and research centres in Paris and London. Justinien writes for publications such as MONU and The Guardian, he is a co-founder and editor of Migrant Journal. Trained in social sciences, urban strategies and design, Justinien holds a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Strategies from Sciences Po and an MSc in City Design and Social Science from the London School of Economics. Justinien is also a PhD candidate researching the divide Paris/Banlieue at The Bartlett, University College London where he also teaches urban studies.
** Mathieu Flonneau is a historian and academic, a lecturer in contemporary history in Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne (SIRICE-CRHI, LabEx EHNE), specialist in urban history, mobility and motoring. He is the director of the Institute for Economic and Social Administration in the Sorbonne School of Law. He is the founder of the Passé Présent Mobilité P2M group and co-directs two collections: at Descartes & Cie, "Cultures Mobiles", and at the Sorbonne Publications: "Mobilities & Societies". He co-directed with Annie FOURCAUT, Emmanuel BELLANGER, Paris-Banlieues. Conflits et solidarités, Paris, Creaphis, 2007.