Paris: Europe's Megacity

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13.09.18 – 845 42510:56
São Paulo: South America's MEGACITY
Published on 15 Jul 2018, 21:15
Paris, France is the grand megacity of Europe at the forefront of human progress.

Video by Bryce Plank

Hyper-lapse footage courtesy of:
Tyler Fairbank
Pavel Tenyakov

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One MegaCity always seems to be at the forefront of progressive movements. Whether it’s innovation in its cuisine, couture, infrastructure, or governance, this refuge for the rebel, artist, philosopher, and scientist, has always held a place in the hearts of romantics and vanguards alike. Because here, in The City of Light, engineers and artists often share a line of sight. This is Paris, the Grand MegaCity.

Twenty-three hundred years ago, a group of Celtic Gauls called the Parisii settled on the Île de la Cité, a small island in the middle of the Seine. After falling into the hands of the Roman Empire, the town grew, until the Empire collapsed a short time later. Clovis, the first king to unite all the Frankish tribes is the origin of the name Louis, taken by 18 subsequent French monarchs.

For the next thousand years, or the period known as the Middle Ages, Paris saw rulers, religions, wars, and plagues come and go as it became the largest city in Europe. Home to one of the first Universities and the birthplace of Gothic architecture, Paris was ground zero for the enlightenment. Philosophies embracing individual liberty, religious tolerance, and the scientific method, were perfectly captured by the phrase Sapere aude, “dare to know.”

In the end, the monarchy and the Church were simply overmatched by the sheer power of a set of ideas whose time had come--ideas that were spread far and wide by books and pamphlets.

The stage was set for Revolution.

On the afternoon of July 14, 1789, the Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison symbolizing royal authority in the center of Paris, was overtaken by force. It was the opening move in a ten year struggle that featured the overthrow of the monarchy, the establishment of the French Republic, and violent political turmoil. The dictatorship of Napoleon followed, delivering many principles of the revolution to much of Western Europe.

By the middle of the 1800’s, Paris had well over a million people, but was made up of tight streets and overpopulated, filthy alleyways. Life for many was a miserable, day-to-day struggle in disease-ridden slums. So Napoleon’s nephew, who had become emperor himself, set out to make the city healthier, less congested, and grander.

He turned to a clever man described as big, strong, energetic, and full of audacity and skill: the visionary urban planner Baron Haussmann. He imagined the modern city as a living organism with the boulevards its arteries.

Over the next 17 years, the duo oversaw the most epic public works spree since Ancient Rome. Tens of thousands of workers were hired to carry out their plans, which included a new aqueduct and massive reservoir to bring clean water from the Vanne River, and hundreds of kilometers of pipes to distribute it throughout the city; completely rebuilding the sewer system and installing hundreds of kilometers of pipes inside of it to distribute gas for thousands of new streetlights; two brand new rail stations connecting Paris to the rest of France; and more than twenty parks to ensure that none was more than a ten minute’s walk away. Four of these ‘lawns of Paris’ were major parks, inspired by Hyde Park in London which Napoleon remembered fondly from his time in exile.

But the innovation that most transformed the city was Haussmann's dedication to wide boulevards, twelve of which converge on the roundabout circling the Arc De Triomphe. Throughout the thirty year undertaking, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced in phases as the entire city became a construction zone. This sacrifice - which wasn’t always appreciated by the residents of Paris - was well worth the end result. The discipline to keep the buildings lining these avenues the same height, all faced with similar colored stone, created a striking visual effect.

Over the next 100 years, Paris was thankfully spared the widespread destruction suffered by many other capitals in the wars and conflicts that unfolded across Europe. When the unthinkable happened in 1940, and flags were raised throughout Paris during the German occupation, the city was declared too beautiful to destroy.

Famous photos show him posing like a tourist at the base of the Eiffel tower, which was the tallest building in the world at the time of its construction in 1889. Originally planned to be dismantled after 20 years, converting it into a radio tower saved it and today it is the most visited landmark on the planet.