Georges-Eugene Haussmann's Urban Renewal of Paris

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  • 0:01 George-Eugene Haussmann
  • 0:59 Rebuilding Paris
  • 2:34 Results of the Renovation
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the renovation and renewal of Paris, led by Georges-Eugène Haussmann. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Georges-Eugène Haussmann

Cities are interesting places. Some cities are carefully planned, built for a reason, and reflect the needs of the people as it grows. Others are less conscientiously designed. Paris, for example, was originally founded in the 3rd century as a small village and with every passing generation, it grew in size and importance. It grew from a medieval city to a modern city, but the transition was not always smooth.

By the 1800s, the population of Paris had grown so much that the small, medieval streets were crammed tight with people, the markets were overcrowded, and the sewage system... well, let's just say it was inadequate. So, Paris needed a makeover. But they couldn't just apply for one of those home renovation TV shows we all love so much, so Emperor Napoleon III had to hire someone to oversee the rebuilding of Paris. The man he chose was Georges-Eugène Haussmann.

Rebuilding Paris

In 1853, Haussmann began the process of renovating France's capital city. His basic instructions were to bring light and air into the central districts, improve the sanitation and living areas, and make Paris a more modern, beautiful city. Not your average weekend renovation. Haussmann's projects included the destruction of old, medieval neighborhoods, widening of streets, building large parks and public squares, and addition of fountains and sewer lines. To add to all of this, the size of Paris had to be increased - doubled, actually - and Napoleon III issued official decrees annexing nearby suburbs to make them part of the city.

One of the main priorities of this massive renovation was to connect all of the districts together. If we think of Paris like a house, each district was its own room, existing essentially independently of the other districts. Napoleon III wanted it to be easier to travel between the most important districts and to create a sense of this being one unified city, not a series of independent neighborhoods.

So Haussman created large avenues that connected the districts. More than that, he made all the avenues look roughly the same. Buildings on a major avenue were required to be roughly the same height and style, and even had to use the same cream-colored stone for the façade. The result was to remove any local characteristics and create a uniform Paris. For the first time, the city had a specific look, a style that people began to associate not with a district, but with Paris itself.

Results of the Renovation

Haussmann worked on his project for 17 years, from 1853 to 1870. The results were pretty spectacular. Haussmann built more than 80 kilometers of avenues, laid hundreds of kilometers of pipes, and installed thousands of new streetlights. He created four major parks and refurbished the existing parks with new trees and shrubs and the like.

When I say he created four major parks, we're not talking about your average neighborhood playground. The largest of these, Bois de Vincennes, is 2,459 acres. That makes it three times larger than Central Park in New York. And Haussmann wasn't finished. Two new train stations were created to connect Paris to the rest of France, and the central area of the city was rebuilt with the most extravagant, modern buildings money could buy. The famous Paris Opera, the largest opera house in the world at that time, was part of this.

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