If you have been living in the Île-de-France over the last few years, you may well have been struck by the amount of building work that is taking place in Paris itself and on the outskirts of the city. The chances are that most of the development sites you have seen, be they for housing or for transport infrastructure, are part of Le Grand Paris programme.
This extremely ambitious project was first conceived in 2007 by the then president of France Nicolas Sarkozy. His idea was to reorganise and enhance Paris, a relatively small capital city (105,4 km²), by developing a better and more harmonious integration with its suburbs. The intention was to break through the psychological barrier created by the Boulevard Péripherique (Paris ring road), which separates Paris intra muros from the circle of surrounding suburbs where the majority of the Paris workforce lives.
Le Grand Paris is, in effect, a huge urban development project to create a more modern, functional, sustainable and attractive capital region for France by 2030. On a similar scale to the project that created the Greater London region in 1965, Le Grand Paris is transforming the Parisian agglomeration by establishing a new governance structure. This structure will redistribute taxes between the capital and surrounding towns, to improve the living conditions of inhabitants and reduce inequalities between the different areas.
Central to the project is the development of a high speed public transport network to link all the major economic hubs around Paris to each other, to the capital’s airports, TGV railway stations and, of course, to the city centre. For the first time it will be possible to use rapid transport between the suburbs around the capital without having to cross Paris itself. A dedicated public institution, La Société du Grand Paris, was established in 2010 to manage the creation of this new, automatic métro, Le Grand Paris Express. Ultimately this new rail network will cover 200 km of tracks and 75 stations in the Paris suburbs for an estimated cost of 32.5 billion euros.
Another key feature is the development of a technological cluster, Paris-Saclay, on the plateau of Saclay, 20 kilometers to the south of Paris. The aim here is to create a French version of the Silicon Valley to encourage technological research in the Paris area.
If all goes according to plan, Le Grand Paris programme should be completed by 2030. In the meantime the residents of Île-de-France will be able to progressively benefit from it as different sections of the transport network are completed, even if the interim disruptions caused by the development works may be annoying.