By Stephane Kirkland
St. Martin’s Press, $29.99, 327 pages
Stephane Kirkland’s Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann and the Quest to Build a Modern City is not just for Francophiles and historians, but for anyone interested in a real-life example of transforming an existing urban center into a modern city. Kirkland gives some background but primarily focuses on the renovations done in the mid-19th century during the Second Empire.
“At a time when the quality and sustainability of our urban environment seems to be rising rapidly among our priorities, Paris makes a timeless case study.”
Modernizing a city is a complex issue. On one hand, residents benefit from the sanitization, beautification, and reconfiguration. Society advances with wide streets, new apartment buildings, gas lamps, trees, shops, sewers, parks, art venues and more. Tourism flourishes. The grandeur and prestige boost national pride. On the other hand, the historical characters of neighborhoods are changed by the destruction of old buildings; the construction process is disruptive and many people are displaced. It’s expensive and is usually paid for through taxation or debt.
How can the effects on arts, politics, society and the collective unconsciousness justify the financial undertaking? With contemporary excerpts from famous authors’ accounts of Paris during the renovations, Kirkland gives us something to consider as we strive to modernize existing cities.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins