Sunday, May 24, 2009

Then and Now: le boulevard périphérique near porte d'Orléans looking west, Paris


Paris' last ring of city walls, the mid-19th century Enceinte de Thiers, had by the early 20th century fallen into total obsolescence in the face of modern warfare technology. Though the city began its dismantlement at the end of the First World War, redevelopment of the massive ring of leftover land on the city's periphery took decades to complete. Despite the construction of many working-class housing projects, much of the land remained vacant, and soon became a ring of slums known simply as "la Zone," pictured below in 1940.

Almost as soon as WWII had drawn to a close, France once again entered an age of massive public works projects, which included the construction of a national highway network deemed essential for any modern nation. Thus, the boulevard périphérique came into vision, an expressway circling the capital to satisfy the urgent need to bring fast automobile transportation into the region (and surely as a handy pretext for slum clearance). Construction of the ring road began in 1958 on the cleared remains of la Zone, with its final sections completed in 1973.

The path of the expressway runs largely along the admnistrative boundaries of the City of Paris, and the périphérique has quite naturally to represent the powerful physical and symbolic barrier between the city and its generally dowdy suburbs, certainly much greater than any other city I've known.

Original photo: "RV-894584" Feb. 1977. Collection Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 26 Feb. 2009.

La Zone photo: "PARIS - LA ZONE." 1940. Collection Roger-Viollet. Parisienne de Photographie. 26 May 2009.

No comments: