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Can Paris Cool Live Beyond the City Lines?

Can Paris Cool Live Beyond the City Lines?
Reuters

Every city has boundaries, but those of Paris, demarcated by the Peripherique ring road, are firmer than most.

Real estate prices in the French capital have more than doubled in the last 15 years. Yet particularly compared to its geographically expanding counterparts in New York and London, the city's arts scene has floundered, obstinately, within the city lines. The gentrification of the center city is so thorough -- and so stifling -- that critics have proclaimed that Paris has, after more than a century of cultural supremacy, lost its edge.

A group of electronic music promoters is trying to change that. In an effort to find large, affordable space to work and play, they have looked beyond the Peripherique. Like young people in Bushwick or Shoreditch, they are heading to neighborhoods that weren't on the map a generation before.

A new Real Scenes film from electronic music magazine Resident Advisor -- the group has previously made films on Berlin and Detroit -- chronicles their efforts to breathe new life into a scene that was all but dead a few years ago, despite a history of nurturing groups like Daft Punk, Justice and Phoenix.

The question in Paris is why it took so long. Physically, the city is quite small. Excluding the two border parks, the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes, the French capital has the exact area of Manhattan: 34 square miles.

“People are starting to think about moving their studios and workshops outside of Paris," Anatole Maggiar, of Sira / Mad agency, says in the film. "It's kind of like an iron curtain. Parisians never go further than the Peri. But it’s gently changing."

He and others are convinced that extra muros is the place to be. The regional government is busy increasing transport connectivity in the banlieue; the ambitious suburban network of tram lines opened dozens of new stations last year. The T3 lines that will soon encircle the city have the potential to integrate the land beyond the ring road in the 21st century the same way the elevated metro (lines 2 and 6) did for the outer arrondissements in the 20th.

If Parisians start following their ears, that is. "The Paris scene is very elitist," says Jeremie Feinblatt of Die Nacht. "Usually you go someplace and there's a bouncer who says if you can come in. We're the other way around. If you're aware of the party then come. If you don't know where it is, then you're not curious to know about these alternative events."

HT: The Urbanophile.

Top image: A man cycles past the sculpture "Irma?s White Head, 2008" by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa displayed on the Place Vendome in Paris. (Jacky Naegelen/Reuters)

Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at The Atlantic Cities. He lives in New York. All posts »

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