Leaving Paris for her suburbs

Pedestrians gather in La Défense business district in Hauts-de-Seine on Oct. 10. (Raphaël Fournier/Divergence)

Each year millions visit the streets of Paris to take in its sprawling gardens, grand museums and cozy sidewalk cafes. The city’s chic fashion and sparkling culinary reputation have contributed to the “art de vivre” that Parisians have so effortlessly defined.

Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, but though 2.5 million people live inside the city (inside the ring road), more than 12 million live outside the city, in the so-called suburbs. Paris center is becoming a museum for tourists, or a comfortable nest for the rich, while the surrounding suburbs find themselves more and more distant, both economically and socially, from the capital center.

In order to reconnect central Paris with its suburbs, where the vast majority of Parisians live, a massive urban project called Grand Paris has been underway, aimed in the next few years at creating a more metropolis-orientated urbanism — similar to New York or London — in which frontiers between old and new, rich and poor, central and outside can eventually disappear.

Photographer and native Parisian Raphael Fournier spent a year documenting the suburbs of Paris in his series “Grand Paris.” The series was inspired by the book “La Révolution de Paris,” by the urbanist Paul-Hervé Lavessière. The book discussed urban evolutions, “real” Parisians and landscapes, theorizing that for Paris to survive, it has to become a metropolis where its historical suburban areas and culture will be more mixed with the city center. Lavessière’s book is based on a 130-kilometer (80 miles) revolution around Paris by foot that goes outside the ring road through the suburbs.  Fournier’s photographs transcript this book into photos and show a Paris that’ not seen on postcards —  the Paris that most Parisians experience every day, away from the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame and the city center’s upscale dining.

Fournier follows Lavessière’s  steps through specific neighborhoods: Saint-Denis (north of Paris); Seine-Saint-Denis (the youngest and poorest department in France), Val-de Marne (southwest of Paris, residential working class and middle-class), Hauts-de-Seine (west of Paris, residential and   middle class, upper middle class to very wealthy neighborhoods), Yvelines, (west of Paris, residential).