by Anmol AhujaOct 15, 2021
If the past year has taught us anything it is that urban spaces are not equipped to handle the problems created by them. Discussions on the transformation of cities have been at the forefront of urban and architectural discourse since the ’70s. The idea of a universal and all-encompassing city planning system is perhaps even older. Fuelled by the effects of mega-cities and globalisations, urban studies have had to constantly evolve to respond to the shifting problems of rapid urbanisation.
In recent years the nature of these replanning and transformation schemes have evolved to address the experience of cities on a more human scale, rather than a large-scale perspective, as demonstrated by this year's Pritzker announcement. There is a basic duality in the nature of city planning. While there is a desire to build the city of tomorrow, there is a constant parallel study into the functioning of the city of yesterday.
Earlier this year, Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, announced that they would be going ahead with a transformative new scheme for the French capital’s most famous avenue, the Champs-Élysées. As opposed to a government-led scheme, this revitalisation project grew out of a community-based proposal. This idea was first presented to the public at Pavillon de l'Arsenal in 2020. In an exhibition titled Champs‑Elysees, History & Perspectives, a comprehensive study of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées was presented. This study was conducted by architect Philippe Chiambaretta through an appeal of the Comité Champs‑Élysées, a non-profit organisation. Chiambaretta, who is the founder of the architectural research studio PCA-STREAM, looks to better understand and respond to the increasingly complex challenges of contemporary life.
The exhibition itself presented a look back at the 350-year-old history of the Champs-Élysées and then presented the metamorphic re-planning. The transition from the past to the future is not arbitrary, and relies on meticulous documentation and study. Working in collaboration with researchers, historians, scientists, engineers, artists, and economic and cultural participants from France and abroad, Chiambaretta traced and analysed the current usages, and development of the Avenue to propose a new vision. Part of the exhibition even invited its viewers to participate in the feedback process. Community support and engagement is possibly one of the reasons why the proposal was eventually green-lit.
Two of the biggest concerns raised were the abandonment of the gardens along the avenue, and what was titled “problems associated with its contemporary ambitions”. This is a direct reference to the popularisation of the avenue as a tourist destination. Populated with expensive cafes and luxury stores, the study proclaimed the following estimate, “About two thirds of the pedestrians walking along the Champs‑Élysées are tourists, 85 per cent of whom come from abroad. If we subtract the people who work in the neighbourhood and those who are simply passing through (i.e., who spend less than 15 minutes in the area), Parisians represent a mere five per cent of the avenue’s users”. With such a large mass of the population to be accounted for during specific times of the day, a more dynamic and adaptable planning structure is required.
One could argue that all cities, irrespective of being tourist hubs or not, exhibit daily migratory patterns. Different sections of the city are active at different times of the day. The thing to keep in mind with urban foci such as this Parisian avenue is that the shift in volume is very dramatic. Chiambaretta’s study and proposal set up an operational framework defined by five urban layers: nature, infrastructure, mobilities, uses, and buildings. The proposal breaks the avenue down into distinct areas namely; Place de l’Étoile, the upper stretch of the avenue, the lower stretch of the avenue, the Champs Élysées gardens, and the Place de la Concorde. Each of them then individually addresses the issues of nature, use and mobility, while infrastructure and building create an interconnection that ties the entire proposal together.
The official statement of the re-envisioning states: “Our vision to re-enchant the avenue by 2030 invites us to bring together the research and resources of all public and private stakeholders in order to make this urban space a laboratory of excellence for more sustainable, desirable, and inclusive cities”. This is perhaps the best summary of the proposal's intentions and desires.