Placemaking at the Edge of Paris
University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA, USA
Creating a sense of place in the built environment is always a challenging task, particularly when attempting to infill a brownfield. Too many examples of urban renewal have stripped industrial character, gentrified beyond recognition, or both. A notable exception is the revitalization of the far southeastern end of Paris. The Bercy neighborhood, straddling the Seine along the 12th and 13th arrondissements, has traditionally been an industrial and immigrant center. Encircled by railyards, this neighborhood was long all but cut off from the rest of Paris. However, starting in the 1980s, the Bercy quartier has experienced extensive urban renewal, starting with its namesake concert/sports arena in 1984 and culminating recently with the completion of the Josephine Baker swimming pool, which floats on the Seine at the foot of the Bibliothèque François Mitterand (one of the president’s Grands Travaux). Far from being just a series of buildings, this urban renewal effort is characterized by the retention of neighborhood character as well as improved linkage with the rest of the city. While wine has not been bottled in the Cour Saint-Émilion since the 1960s, the 19th Century stone warehouses have been retained and now form the commercial, pedestrian-oriented spine of the neighborhood. Parisians routinely visit this area, but it remains tourist-free and has largely kept its immigrant residents. This paper will discuss the history of the urban renewal of Bercy, paying particular attention to current urban design discourse. Efforts at placemaking, walkability, cultural heritage, and limitation of gentrification are all notable in this project, and will be discussed within the context of other large-scale urban renewal in Western cities.