The Transnational Urbanism of Paris: An Interview With Assistant Mayor Jean-Louis Missika

In the past century, the rise of globalism, of relatively cheap international transport, and above all, of the "world city" has fundamentally changed the way we think about citizenship and the nation state. To accommodate that change, we have also had to invent a new kind of "Transnational Urbanism": at the more esoteric end of this scale are ideas such as JG Ballard's "city of the 21st century," a geographically scattered "city" made up of the interconnected no-man's-land of international airports, which was recently exemplified by Eduardo Cassina and Liva Dudareva's hypothetical proposal for Moscow's Central Business district. At the other end of the scale are pragmatic choices that must be made by cities such as New York, London and Hong Kong that truly affect the lives of people not just living in the city, but around the world.

To probe this topic, MONU Magazine has dedicated their latest issue to the topic of Transnational Urbanism. In this extract from the magazine, MONU's Bernd Upmeyer and Beatriz Ramo interview French sociologist and Assistant Mayor of Paris Jean-Louis Missika to discover how the city is positioning itself as a 21st century global city, and how it is absorbing and adopting change in everything from the creative class to smart cities and 3D Printing.

The Transnational Urbanism of Paris: An Interview With Assistant Mayor Jean-Louis Missika - More Images+ 12

Courtesy of MONU Magazine

Transnational Cities

Bernd Upmeyer: We would like to talk to you about a phenomenon that we call “Transnational Urbanism”. The motivation to dedicate an entire issue on that topic was born several years ago when we published an issue entitled “Border Urbanism”, which focused on urban phenomena that appear in cities that are located close to nation-state borders. And with this new issue of MONU we would like to expand on the topic of “Border Urbanism” through the topic of “Transnational Urbanism” as cross-border processes are not just limited to cities that are located close to nation-state borders, but impact cities anywhere else as well through trans-border relations. That is why we wanted to investigate how trans-border and transnational relations between individuals, such as people from Paris, Moscow or Rome, groups, firms or institutions have consequences for cities and create transnational urban landscapes and transnational urban lifestyles.

Jean-Louis Missika: And you have also the transfrontier, transborder cities like Basel, which has a governing body consisting of French, German, and Swiss people. A study once showed that in 2040 there will be more than 30 Global Cities that will be in-between two or three nation-states, mainly in Africa, some in Asia. In Africa you can have, for example, a conurbation of 70 million people connected through four different nation-states. This is interesting, because, as I state very often, the Global Cities, the World Cities and the nation-states are developing in very different ways. While the nation-state is declining - not the concept, but the reality of the nation-state - the World City is growing. And there will be some big difficulties in the future between nation-states and Global Cities as well. You already have some problems, for example, between New York and the United States. In Paris it is different, because the state is in a relationship with Paris that is based on the assumption that Paris and France is the same thing, which is actually not true. And in Great Britain, the United Kingdom, it is different too. There, the nation-state is at the service, and is a servant of the city of London. So, the relationship there is totally reversed.

Aerial view of Ivry Bercy. Image © City of Paris

Beatriz Ramo: In some of your recent interviews and texts you talk a lot about the opening of Paris and “Grand Paris” to the world, making Paris a very attractive city that welcomes investment, entrepreneurs, artists, researchers to settle in Paris, and also to participate in, and to contribute to, the richness of the city. All of this will generate more transnational lifestyles in the city. We would like to analyze, together with you, what impact this will have on Paris. If we call these transnational lifestyles in the city “software”, what would be, in your opinion, the “hardware” of the city that is needed for those lifestyles, in terms of, for example, infrastructure, urban logistics, etc., that is probably different from the hardware that is needed for people that do not live transnational lives in Paris? How can the city prepare itself for these changes?

JLM: You have given the answer already, because, in fact, Paris is in that sense like all the World Cities, I mean all the World Cities that are truly World Cities, like a seismograph of all the conflicts of the planet. When there is, for example, a war in Afghanistan, we have Afghan people coming to Paris. When there is coup d’état in Chile, we have Chileans coming to Paris. When there is crisis in Syria and in Libya, we have Syrians and Libyans coming to Paris. But not only to Paris - also to London, or to New York. But not to so many cities, you know. So we have to manage all these movements of populations. Some of these are due to conflicts, civil wars; some of them are due to climate change or the poverty of the population. And for those things you must have strong logistics to be able to provide, for example, what we call “logement d’urgence”, “emergency housing”, and housing for all the NGOs that are dealing with these kinds of people. So, this is one aspect, I would say. But, in fact, a city like Paris attracts highly creative people from all over the world as well; yet it attracts also a lot of people who are very poor from all over the world. Thus, a Global City can be defined by that too: that it attracts the poorest, the richest, and the most creative people.

Creative Class and Innovation Economy

BU: However, the assumption that cities that are successful in attracting the creative class will grow economically has been criticized and doubted quite a lot. What do you think about this criticism?

JLM: Paris has made an economic choice that is very important. It is the choice for an innovation economy. Generally speaking, you contrast an "innovation economy" with an "imitation economy." An imitation economy is what a lot of countries and cities do by saying “ok this kind of product works, and we are going to do the same thing”. An innovation economy, however, is the idea that you invent something new and that you are creating companies in order to be always at the edge of innovation. And we have made the choice for an innovation economy, because we believe it is the key to create value and growth. So, attracting creative classes is linked to this choice of specializing in an innovation economy. It does not mean that we are leaving behind the traditional economy with things such as tourism, or luxury goods, but we want innovation, we want new technologies, and all the markets that will help Paris to prosper. And we think that when, for example, artists are working with researchers and with entrepreneurs, this is the best way to boost an innovation economy. I think it is the best strategy for a city like Paris.

Aerial view of the École polytechnique campus in Paris-Saclay. Image © Wikimedia Commons user Barande

BR: But how will such an innovation economy manifest itself physically in a city and especially in Paris? What kind of urban forms will be created by the creative class? When the immigration of the 1950s and 1960s generated to a certain extent the grand ensemble, are the creative class and the researchers now generating urban forms that are like Saclay or like Paris’ campuses? Could we see a relation there? Can two different types of immigrants generate two different urban forms?

JLM: Yes, of course. The urban forms of the 1960s are obsolete and they have proved that they were not a good idea. We have to move away from a very engineering concept of urban planning to a more sociological oriented version. I think that now we have people in charge, political people, architects and urban planners, who are very aware of the mistakes that were made in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. So we have been trying to do it differently ever since. One of the main ideas now is, for example, the participation of the citizens in processes. I think that a government that is open to innovation in projects, in which a lot of people are working together, can make a difference. Of course, it is impossible to do things perfectly and without mistakes. But I think that all the big mistakes of the past in urban planning are in our minds and that is why we try to think differently today. And, of course, the new urban forms will be related to the new lifestyles of the creative classes.

BR: And how will these creative classes that will come to settle in Paris and in Grand Paris live?

JLM: Well, Grand Paris is a good scale, because for example, in Montreuil, in Saint Denis, in Saint Antoine, you have people who are members of the creative classes and who don’t have enough money to live in Paris. These areas are becoming creative areas, because creative people find it actually interesting to live in such places with low prices, like you find them, for example, in Berlin.

BR: We were even thinking about Ivry. When one decides to move to Paris, Ivry is a very serious alternative. It has extremely interesting architecture.

JLM: Exactly. There we can invent the urban forms adapted to new lifestyles. For example, places for living and places for working, with less private space and more common space. This would be much more related to this new way of thinking.

Aerial view of Ivry Choisy. Image © City of Paris

Transnationalism in the Digital Age

BU: Because of the internet, with all its social networks and communication possibilities, it is easier than ever for immigrants and cross-border commuters to sustain closer and more frequent contacts with places and people in different cities and countries. How do you see the impact of these possibilities on cities and especially on Paris? How can Paris make use of such resources?

JLM: In relation to the information age we have in Paris a mission to realize something that we call the smart, clean, and compact factory, which is related to 3D printing. In fact, I believe that there will be a global transformation of all human activities in relation to 3D, the internet, and digital technologies.

BR: In relation to 3D, you are probably talking about fab labs, right?

JLM: Fab labs, yes. But fab labs are only one part of the concept; it is about sharing hardware. Fab labs are the beginning of a revolution. In fab labs you have, for example, startups that share the machines, which are very costly. So you have the incubators, the fab labs, and the co-working spaces. These I would call innovation sites and clusters. And, in fact, there we find the beginning of the revolution, because in the future all factories will be 3D factories. This is a transformation from what we call destructive technology into additive technology. In the factory of the past, you took a piece of wood, cut it, and then you were left with waste. But in the factory of the future you add what you need. So you have no waste. And also, the process between conception to production will not be cut anymore. So, either the conception phase of a production process will leave and go, for example, to China, or the production will come back to these compact factories. And we want to have such factories in the heart of the city of Paris.

Halle Freyssinet. Image © City of Paris

BU: How do you think such factories could be installed in a Haussmann block? You probably need more space.

JLM: Well, first of all there will be a lot of products that will not need much room to be fabricated. Of course, I have seen that the Chinese are making 3D printed buildings. And some people say that some day we will produce trains and planes in 3D. For sure, these kinds of things you cannot do in the heart of Paris, but you can still do a lot of other things. We have not yet totally understood all the consequences of the digital revolution, which is not only a communication revolution. It is an industrial revolution too. So, the industrial path of the digital revolution is ahead of us. We are at the beginning of what we call the “Internet of Things” and I do not know exactly how far this is going to go. But it is very interesting, because this is modeling a totally new city.

BR: Yes, indeed, places of production can remain in the city again. Do you think these fab labs can become the new icons of the city in the digital age?

JLM: Yes, I think so. The Halle Freyssinet that we are going to launch in 2016 will be the biggest incubator in the world, created by Xavier Niel in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. Halle Freyssinet was created by Mr. Freyssinet, who was a very famous engineer in the beginning of the 20th century. This place is absolutely fascinating: 16,000 square metres in one block. We showed this place to Xavier Niel and now we are going to make an incubator there of 34,000 square metres, the biggest in the world.

Interior of the incubator in Halle Freyssinet in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. Image © City of Paris

BR: That place has probably the potential to be really emblematic.

JLM: Yes, this will be as emblematic as the Eiffel Tower, with an emblematic programme, the renovation of the past, new concepts, new ways of working, and fab labs.

BU: That reminds me of the presence of data storage centres such as the “AT&T Long Lines Building” in New York that is a huge building with an iconic presence and fully integrated into the fabric of the city.

BR: Imagine a city with skyscrapers of datacentres. But data may also easily be stored in the basements of buildings.

JLM: We think that datacentres can usefully be placed in basements, because this way you can catch the heat and use it to heat the housing on top of it. So we are much more in favour of having datacentres in the heart of the city. There are many ways towards energy consumption, recycling, and production. We are only at the beginning of this experiment.

AT&T Long Lines Building in New York. Image © Wikimedia Commons user Picasa 2.0

BU: Another example where the new digital possibilities are used for cities can be found in “Smart Cities”, where digital technologies are utilized to improve certain urban aspects. However, recently there has been a lot of criticism of Smart Cities as well. People such as the sociologist Richard Sennett stated that no one likes a city that is too smart and that yesterday’s smart city is today’s nightmare. Rem Koolhaas also questioned the name “Smart City” recently and said that by naming cities “Smart Cities” we are actually going to condemn them to become more absurd, if not stupid. What do you think about making Paris smarter?

JLM: I am very skeptical of the concept of smart city as used by digital companies, because it is mainly about the cybernetic modeling of the city. But the city is too complex to be modeled. So, modeling is necessary, but only partial modeling. My friend Carlos Moreno, for example, is using the concept of the human smart city, which is useful, because you put humanity and citizenry in the heart of the concept. I used to say that the smartness of a city is the smartness of its citizens. Cities have always been smart, because in the first instance people got together and said “we can be stronger if we stay together against our enemies, make walls to protect us, and share fire to get warm”. I often say to my students that the term “Smart City” is a pleonasm, because cities are smart by definition. But what you have in the invention of this concept is the idea that digital technologies, plus energetic transition, plus human aspiration of participation, can change the economic and energetic model of a city that makes it necessary to use new ways of communication between people, and to invent new ways of governing cities. So, in fact, when you are speaking about Smart Cities, you are speaking about three things: an open government, a connected city, and ingenuity applied to the city. The smart grid has been the heart of cities since the beginning of times, but now there is this idea that each network has its own information system. If you make a connection between these networks you will gain in energy, you will gain in quality of life, and you will gain in economic growth. This is the topic of the Smart City. Of course, you have to be careful not to forget the marketing use of the Smart City. But there is something behind this concept and this you can use. But you may as well call it the resilient city or the sustainable city, etc… all these words are converging to the same point. We are changing the paradigm of the city and this is the main subject of the 21st century.

BR: Don’t you think that all this collecting of data and monitoring of people will start to blur the public domain and the private domain, because even if you are in a public space you are being watched?

JLM: But the concept of public space is changing too. This is a main problem, of course. But nobody forces young people to put so much information about them on Twitter or Facebook. People are inventing a new way of defining what is public and what is private, and of course, countries will have to regulate that, but it is very difficult to regulate, because our politicians do not understand this new world.

For the full interview, and more articles and interviews on the concept of Transnational Urbanism, buy issue 22 of MONU Magazine from their website.

The Transnational Urbanism of Paris: An Interview With Assistant Mayor Jean-Louis Missika - More Images+ 12

Jean-Louis Missika is a French sociologist. He is a member of the Council of Paris and assistant Mayor of Paris in charge of urban planning, architecture, projects of Greater Paris, economic development, and attractiveness. He is a graduate of the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and the University Panthéon-Sorbonne in economic sciences and philosophy. Since 1984 Missika has taught media sociology at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and has published several essays and books on the subject, particularly on the place of television in society. As an analyst of political strategies and media, Missika engaged in political activities in 2008.

Beatriz Ramo founded STAR strategies + architecture in 2006 in Rotterdam. STAR is a practice dealing with architecture in all its forms. The office has won several prizes in architecture and urban development competitions in France, the Netherlands, China, Iceland, Lebanon, Norway, and Spain. Since June 2012 STAR is part of the Scientific Committee of the AIGP - Atelier International du Grand Paris working in several researches for the development of the Parisian metropolis such as the ‘Co-Résidence’. Beatriz Ramo is managing and contributing editor of MONU magazine on urbanism. She lectures frequently at universities and cultural institutions such as at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal in Paris, the National Art Gallery in Vilnius or the SCA in Buenos Aires. Her work has been featured in publications such as Casabella, AAfiles, Domus or Abitare... and exhibited at centers such as the NAi in Rotterdam, the Storefront Gallery in New York or the Ludwig Forum in Aachen. Before founding STAR, Beatriz worked at OMA- Office for Metropolitan Architecture.

Bernd Upmeyer is the editor-in-chief and founder of MONU Magazine. He is also the founder of the Rotterdam-based Bureau of Architecture, Research, and Design (BOARD). He studied architecture and urban design at the University of Kassel (Germany) and the Technical University of Delft (Netherlands). Since June 2012 Upmeyer and his office BOARD are part of the group, led by STAR - strategies + architecture, that has been choosen as one of the new six teams of architects and urban planners appointed by the Atelier International Grand Paris (AIGP) to be part of the Scientific Committee for the mission: Grand Paris: pour une métropole durable. He holds a PhD (Dr.-Ing.) in Urban Studies from the University of Kassel (Germany).

About this author
Cite: MONU Magazine. "The Transnational Urbanism of Paris: An Interview With Assistant Mayor Jean-Louis Missika" 27 May 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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