Gustave Caillebotte, Le Pont de l’Europe, 1876
Haussmann’s grand “restoration” of Paris gave birth to the modern-day banlieue as the site to which many Parisians (mostly from the working class) were forced to relocate.
Victor Hugo evokes the pre-1860 faubourg as the limit of the city of Paris, beyond which even the barefooted gamin (street urchin) will not go:
They can no more escape from the Parisian atmosphere than fish can escape from the water. For them, nothing exists two leagues beyond the barriers: Ivry, Gentilly, Arcueil, Belleville, Aubervilliers, Menilmontant, Choisy-le-Roi, Billancourt, Meudon, Issy, Vanves, Sevres, Puteaux, Neuilly, Gennevilliers, Colombes, Romainville, Chatou, Asnieres, Bougival, Nanterre, Enghien, Noisy-le-Sec, Nogent, Gournay, Drancy, Gonesse; the universe ends there. (Les Miserables)After 1860, the old faubourg is annexed and everything outside of the new boundary of Paris is dead. People forced to relocate there are like fish thrown out of the water. Relocating to the banlieue is more shameful than moving up the floors (and down the social ladder) in pre-Haussmannian Paris. It represents a stepping down on the grand escalier of social class. The city center gains an unprecedented importance and the post-1860 banlieue becomes even more of a space with a secondary status. This increases people’s feeling of loss: there is an intensified feeling of belonging to and nostalgia of the urban entity that is Paris.
Paris, too, loses something essential. Higgonet writes about the “mixing rather than the separation of people of different conditions” in old Paris: “‘Unique city,’ Louis-Sébastien Mercier exclaimed in his Tableau de Paris, ‘in which a simple dividing wall finds a pious choir of devout and austere Carmelites living on one side and wild and libertine scenes of a joyous seraglio on the other.’” This richness and serendipity is no longer to be found in the new Paris of straight lines.
While the destroyed homes of many Parisians in the city-center were permanent and invested spaces, the banlieue is an open, neutral space. It lacks the dense architecture of the city that acts as an anchor and foil for social traditions and provides a sense of shared history. The banlieue forces the inhabitant to relocate constantly and is marked by a sense of placelessness. This helplessness can be seen in the representations by Honoré Daumier (below) and other artists at the time, in some more obvious than in others. The worker whose home Paris once used to be is now seen in Caillebotte’s painting (above) wistfully gazing out at a city which he can no longer call home, and from where, even today, each day, he takes the RER train out to the banlieue.
Honoré Daumier, “Haussmann”
Honoré Daumier, “Locataires et propriétaires obligés de déménager pour cause d'expropriation”
(“Tenants and owners have to move due to expropriation”)