April 1, 2021

 Marie Karel

Plans for the first three of a number of possible high-rise buildings threaten to alter inexorably the skyline of Paris and the urban cityscape inside the Périphérique. The three skyscrapers are the courthouse called the Cité Judiciaire in the Batignolles area in the 17th, the Duo towers on avenue Masséna in the 13th arrondissement, and the Tour Triangle at Porte de Versailles in the 15th. Still more projects located in surrounding cities and suburbs would also profoundly alter the skyline of Paris.

The whole notion of the skyline is quite new in France, both in urban planning and in terms of heritage protection. At a time when several European cities see protest rising and conflicts multiplying about the impact of high-rises on landscape, France lacks a clear concept of the skyline. The Agence Nationale de Recherche (National Research Agency) has accordingly launched a scientific program to study the issues.

What do Parisians think about these projects? The survey conducted by the Paris City Council in 2007 demonstrated strong opposition of Parisians to high-rise buildings. Since then, there has never been another opinion poll. But associations do have a voice and make their views known in different contexts and, in particular, in the framework of consultations with the authorities.

Concerning the “ZACs,” the so-called “Concerted Development Zones,” the Ministry of the Environment prepared a charter in 1996 that provided for a dialogue between the City Council, the associations, and other institutions. This charter stipulates that the developer must finance consultations by supporting an office, a staff, meetings, documents, and so on, just as the developer finances preliminary studies and architectural plans. Subsequently, Paris City Hall produced its own “Paris Charter of Participation,” also called the Bouakkaz charter (for the deputy mayor who was in charge of it), which is quite different and does not require consulting associations but only individual citizens. Neither of these texts is legally binding.

The consultation concerning the ZAC Paris Rive Gauche in the 13th arrondissement is a good example: during a public inquiry in 1997, thanks to the intervention of the late Remi Koltirine, architect, and Project Inspector at the time (and, later, a member of SOS Paris), the associations succeeded in assuring that the charter of 1996 would be imposed on the developer on a mandatory basis. Since that time the Comité Permanent de la Concertation (the Standing Consultation Committee) has held regular meetings, organized by the city council (“Mairie”) of the 13th arrondissement and attended by elected officials, the developer, partners such as the French Railways (SNCF), Paris 7 University, associations of residents, and neighborhood councils. SOS Paris has participated in this Consultation from the start and has adopted a critical and combative attitude, especially against the Duo project.

In Paris Rive Gauche, SOS Paris has in general been able to win some battles while losing a few others, but concerning the plan for the Duo, the association has been unable to obtain any concessions.  For more than a year, the associations were allowed to do nothing but participate in the jury that would select the architect. SOS Paris chose not to participate. Subsequently, a study under the environmental laws, called an Enquete Publique, went forward. It was a preliminary to filing for a building permit for the Duo. The permit was granted, and now construction has begun.

In the 17th arrondissement, the ZAC Clichy Batignolles, created in 2007, did not follow the model of the ZAC Paris Rive Gauche. Employing the “Bouakkaz” charter and implementing  “citizen participation” (significantly different from the opportunities in the charter prepared by the Ministry of Environment, as stated above), the developer and the Municipality did not consult the associations, but only individuals living in the area. To these were added primary school children, a significant fact in the context of the “Child-Friendly Cities” operation! Here, the planner financed only activities that would glorify the project: films, exhibitions, and so on. In other words, “citizen participation” meant a public relations campaign.

Considering that the territory of this ZAC includes an area belonging to the State, which by means of the official unit called the Public Establishment of the Palais de Justice, is building the highly controversial tower of the Cité Judiciaire, the courthouse, this so-called dialogue is totally insufficient. Because no dissenting voice can make itself heard, opponents have no chance. The project for the Cité Judiciaire, which would empty the center of Paris of core functions and has been attacked in court by an association of Paris lawyers seeking its annulment, ends up being steamrollered through. Who can seriously talk about consultation in the ZAC Clichy Batignolles?

Regarding the Tour Triangle in the 15th arrondissement, the case is quite different: because this is a private project, there is no “institutionalized” dialogue like that in either of the “ZACs.” Hence the need for associations to act together in the Collective against the Triangle Tower, step by step. First applying the Local Urbanism Plan (“PLU”), then challenging the building permit, and so on, while organizing events and alerting the press at each phase. A battle has been going on for years between the developer and, often, the City Council, on one side, and the associations, joined by some elected officials (EELV and MoDem), on the other.

Only the world economic situation and a shortage of funds will delay or cancel these projects. 

MARIE KAREL is a journalist and writer of television documentaries. A member of SOS Paris for 20 years, she set up and formerly managed the website of SOS Paris at She represented the association in the consultative bodies concerning the Paris Rive Gauche development plan.

Last modified: April 1, 2021

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