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TRANSFORMING PARIS by David P. Jordan

TRANSFORMING PARIS

The Life and Labors of Baron Haussmann

By David P. Jordan

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1995
ISBN: 0-02-916531-8
Publisher: Free Press

 A useful reevaluation of the 19th-century bureaucrat who created modern Paris. Most students of French history are taught that Georges-Eugäne Haussmann (180991) rammed wide, straight boulevards through the narrow, winding passageways of Old Paris at the behest of Emperor Louis NapolÇon to ensure that the streets could never again be barricaded during a popular uprising. Jordan (History/Univ. of Illinois, Chicago) replaces that glib assertion with a deeper understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of the dramatic changes Haussmann wrought on the Parisian cityscape during his tenure as prefect of the Seine from 1853 to 1870. His thorough account of Haussmann's projects shows that, on the one hand, the prefect brought light, air, and proper sanitation to a dangerously overcrowded city whose design and services had not maintained pace with its growth; on the other hand, the order, harmony, and free circulation of traffic Haussmann sought were achieved at the cost of destroying some beloved landmarks, most controversially a portion of the Luxembourg Gardens. In addition, the prefect's assiduous encouragement of luxury housing drove the working class from the city, which became largely a playground for the haute bourgeoisie. Detailing Haussmann's ruthless methods (expropriation of property, methodical demolition, and devious deficit financing), the author retains an appreciation for his achievement: ``The uniformity of aesthetics and scale...gave the city harmony and proportion, qualities all too lacking in most urban landscapes.'' He paints a fair if not especially sympathetic portrait of Haussmann as a 19th-century Robert Moses: arrogant, contemptuous of democratic processes, a fervent believer in the power of disinterested bureaucrats to create a better public life. The text lacks elegance: The oblique background material will confuse those not familiar with French history, and points are made with unnecessary repetitiousness. Nonetheless, a stimulating look at the modern world's first- -and arguably still best--urban renewal project; a must for anyone interested in urban planning.