Modern Paris has been defined by the Boulevard Périphérique: the multi-lane ring road that divides the city proper from the sprawling suburbs that surround it. Some 80 per cent of the metropolitan population don’t live in Paris at all.
The suburbs contrast with the picture postcard Paris most tourists visit. Take a trip north on the notorious Line D and you leave behind the sparkling lights of the city for areas that feel a whole lot darker. The banlieues might as well be a million miles away – in terms of their size, infrastructure, facilities, space and access. Some 13 percent of their residents live below the poverty line; 20 percent are in subsidized housing.
Many of the problems of these areas stems from their division into autonomous administrative entities, governed separately without the budget or prestige of the city itself. As a result, the peripherique has come to stand for the divide between inclusion or exclusion, for the huge a social and cultural gulf central Paris and the areas that surround it.
All that could soon change, however. In 2016, the French government will create Métropole du Grand Paris, a huge metropolitan authority encompassing both city and suburbs; the plan will see a tripling of the official population of Paris, as well as a range of other initiatives such as business hubs, new metro lines, and fast trains to the regions’ airports. Pierre Mansat, a deputy mayor who’s worked on the plan, has said that it will create “a new image of Paris as more inclusive, integrated, fluid”.