Inventing Greater Paris: Visual Culture, Regeneration and the Right to the Global City

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of Modern Languages


'Inventing Greater Paris' works on and with socially engaged artists and arts organizations in Seine-Saint-Denis to explore the cultural politics of urban regeneration in this disadvantaged suburb. Principally, it examines the antagonism between the French state's regeneration programme, 'Grand Paris' - a large-scale strategy aimed at transforming Paris into a global megalopolis - and artistic practices that promote the 'right to the city' (Lefebvre 1968) by asserting the voice and visibility in public of socially marginalized groups. Launched in 2007, the Grand Paris programme aims to transform the capital on a scale unseen since Haussmann, and to reassert Paris's hegemony on the global city index by 2025. Central to this programme is the integration, through high-profile infrastructural projects, of suburban satellites, or 'banlieues', with the historical centre. In this context, Seine-Saint-Denis represents a particular challenge: the suburb constituted ground zero of the 2005 urban riots; it is the most heavily surveilled territory in France having housed the Jihadi terror cells responsible for the 2015 attacks on the city; it constitutes the poorest department in the country despite being part of the Europe's richest region (the Ile de France) and, finally, high unemployment, racism and police brutality have consolidated the suburb's image as space of 'threat' to the coherence of the Republic.
The site on mainland France most emblematic of the consequences of decolonization and deindustrialization for urban communities, Seine-Saint-Denis constitutes the project's locus as it here that issues of visibility, visual culture and spatial justice tangibly intersect. Firstly, the rehabilitation of this suburb is crucial to the success of the 'Grand Paris' project. Secondly, recent urban policy, seeking to counter Paris's reputation as a 'museum city', has identified the ethnic diversity and subcultural capital of this 'badland' as central to rebranding a globalized Paris. Given the interlinked drivers of the neoliberalism and integration, culture is at the forefront of state-led regeneration, but the promotion of 'creativity' raises significant questions around whose culture and in whose interests art and creativity operate. Socially engaged public art has a key role to play in articulating these antagonisms which are an expression, on the one hand, of state strategies that work to remake the city's image and, on the other, of localized struggles to make places that promote egalitarian and emancipatory forms of urban belonging.
Where analyses of urban regeneration typically focus on high-profile rebranding enterprises, this project innovates on current scholarship in two primary ways: firstly, in theorizing the relationship between urban policy, visual culture and community action, it positions Seine-Saint-Denis as a contested symbolic space, wherein creative practices reforge the meanings of spaces for communities and produce new bonds of social, political and cultural identification. Secondly, the project's critical impetus lies in reframing the question 'what do images say' to ask 'what can images do?' and how do art practices engage in constituting and contesting urban democracy, recognition, inclusivity within the context of large-scale regeneration? Setting a new research agenda, its value lies in its 'bottom-up' approach to understanding the monumental regeneration currently underway in Paris, exploring the possibilities for art to generate a new 'sense of place' (Agnew 1987). Working with artists and stakeholders across ten arts organizations, the project uses practice-based methods to produce a co-creative visualization, 'Affective Territories', while the project's monograph 'Inventing Greater Paris' explores how socially engaged art practices are remaking the meanings and materialities of the suburbs to suggest models for urban relations that empower marginalized communities in the global city.

Planned Impact

'Inventing Greater Paris' is a project that problematizes conventional understandings of the banlieues as 'outsider', riotous or liminal zones, to focus on their centrality to the profound urban transformations underway in 21st-Century Paris. It is the first project of its kind to examine how the suburbs are being reimagined and regenerated through the large-scale state-led 'Grand Paris' project, and the considerable role played by artists in reordering the socio-spatial visibilities of these disadvantaged areas. Through its bottom-up approach to urban regeneration and its co-creative collaboration with artists, it will not only impact traditional academic understandings of Parisian urban space and of state-led regeneration more widely, but will also integrate community artists into its impact strategies.

These strategies target three main non-academic beneficiaries:

The first is public sector government agencies for whom a 3000-word bilingual report outlining the views and approaches of community artists to regeneration will be produced. The government-funded committee, the Atelier Parisien d'Urbanisme (APUR), the key working group dedicated to exploring the socio-cultural and environmental dimensions of Grand Paris projects and policy, have expressed a keen interest in the findings of such a report. This report will also be sent to dedicated members within local government, as well as to the Forum Métropolitain du Grand Paris - a major association of local municipalities who engage the public in debate on 'Grand Paris' planning initiatives.
The second main group of beneficiaries is arts associations whose practice coheres around working with marginalized communities. These associations will be targeted through the production of a bilingual website and a digital visualization, 'Affective Territories'. The website will collate around 30 associations' interventions in Grand Paris, serving as a central hub through which to connect individuals and collectives to one another and to their publics. Strategically organized around practice-based, embodied categories (seeing; walking; playing; building; tracing), the conceptual outline of this site has been developed to appeal both to activist associations (such as Synésthesie) as well as to global private-sector art and design organizations (such as BETC). Moreover the practice-led categorizations will serve to link different artistic communities not normally engaged with one another, for example artists working in local primary schools with those engaged in digital architectural practice. By providing a platform where such diverse practices can encounter one another, this website aims to foster innovative collaborative endeavours into the future.
The final key beneficiary is residents living in three strategic sites in Seine-Saint-Denis (the high-rise estates of Les Courtillières, Les 4000, and l'Etoile), which are the focus of government-led cultural and architectural regeneration. Engagement with these residents will be initiated through the co-creation of a visualization, 'Affective Territories', that works with artists to explore affective responses to regeneration in these sites. Residents will be invited to the screening of this work and to participate in the round-table event at 6B arts centre in July 2019 and sustained engagement encouraged by free access to the visualization on Vimeo.
All of these activities have been designed to facilitate debate on the role of art in regeneration and its potential to benefit vulnerable communities in advance of the 2024 Olympic Games and the World Expo in 2025, for which Grand Paris is a candidate. These major global events promise to impact on the socio-spatial dynamics of housing, visibility and accessibility in Seine-Saint-Denis and, therefore, it is imperative that we begin formulating critical frameworks to engage affected communities and explore creative alternatives to gentrification in advance of such events.


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Title Line 16: Travels in Hypoplace 
Description This is a short experimental documentary made with artist Ronan Devlin. It documents the speculative space of the future Line 16 metro line, currently under construction as part of the Grand Paris programme and due for completion in 2024. It will connect the most disadvantaged suburban towns across Seine-Saint-Denis. This film draws on interviewee voiceovers, found sound, layered images and an original soundtrack to explore the affective experience of speculation around this future metro line. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The project is still underway and impact will be monitored upon the film's first screening in May 2020. 
Description This project set out to analyse the role of cultural production in 'Grand Paris' - the French Republic's large scale infrastructural planning programme, in place since 2009. It's key findings are that culture, and in particular for this project, visual culture, is important to rearticulating the spatial and social imaginaries of disadvantaged suburban neighbourhoods or banlieues. The work has begun building a theory of 'Hypo-place' or hypothetical place, in order to examine infrastructural but also affective, emotional changes as regeneration is taking place. This is to to approach place not as some settled, steady ground, but rather as a speculative site. The need for these theoretical advances have been the result of ethnographic practice in a terrain where regeneration is as yet unfinished and asking the question of how we might analyse something which has not yet happened, but which is in process. This has enabled me to develop new arrguments which posit that how places and people are made visible, and how marginal communities make themselves visible are political questions. In recent writing I have reframed the old issue of, 'what do images look like, what do they say', to place emphasis on the image's relationality and ask instead, 'what do images look at?'-what kinds of pasts are they concerned with, what futures do they speculate?-and, 'what can images do?'-what kinds of actions do images promote, what tensions do they reveal? In the Grand Paris context, this kind of approach allows us to engage critically with this new metropolitan urbanism's discourses of 'creativity', 'authenticity' and 'integration', and to explore the ways art and design practices can be at once resistive to, but also complicit in, corporate and state-led placemaking practices.

These theoretical strands have been developed through long-form interviews with artists and inhabitants in Seine-Saint-Denis. They are therefore based on responses and uncertainty surrounding what Grand Paris means. In particular, I have found that gentrification and social cleansing are a key concern, and have been developing work that addresses the limits of either the 'emancipatory' discourse of gentrification (ie. that it is a good thing for disadvantaged areas) or the 'revanchist' discourse (that it automatically leads to displacement). The Paris case is revealing tensions and critical discourses that refute one side or the other, so that it has become more productive to think of urban regeneration as an 'agonistic' procedure.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of the research thus far will enhance perspectives on gentrification studies. Meeting the objective to expand and enrich the Anglo-American dominance of work in this field.
Sectors Creative Economy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description March 2019: This award is still ongoing and in the first six months of its lifetime. However, findings have been disseminated informally through conversations and participant interviews and these are already beginning to generate impact. For example, the PI has begun working with an artist based at the Atelier Médicis in Clichy-sous-Bois to record the voices of inhabitants and their responses to the Grand Paris renovations and infrastructural changes happening in their town. This is to form part of the artwork planned for exhibition in Seine-Saint-Denis. February 2020: The PI has now completed a poetic documentary in collaboration with the artist Ronan Devlin. This film is entitled 'Line 16: Travels in Hypoplace' and was made over 6 months in Paris. The film is experimental, using layerd visuals, found sound and the voices of interviewees to explore the speculative terrains of the future metro Line 16. This automated trainline will connect previously enclaved and impoverished suburbs to the city centre by 2024. Many of the towns which will house its new metro stations were engaged in the 2005 urban riots which caused a government crisis in France. This film explores people's hopes and fears in relation to this future infrastructure. The film will be first screened at Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle on May 7th as part of an event organised by the PI, 'Speculative Cities', at which Christoph Lindner, dean of the Barlett School of Architecture will present a keynote speech. The film has also been pitched to Benoit Le Dévédec, the French attaché and has been suggested for screening at the insitut français in London. It will be entered into short film competitions, and pitched to a number of venues in Paris - inlcuding the Ateliers Médicis in Clichy-sous-Bois.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Impact Types Cultural

Description 'Speculative Cities' Event. Funding from School of Modern Languages Impact and Engagement Fund.
Amount £1,300 (GBP)
Organisation Newcastle University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2021 
End 11/2022