A Map of (Greater) Paris for the 21st Century

Paris is a city which, in order to face an uncertain future of global competition and climate change, has to reconcile itself with its past. Throughout the 20th century, Paris developed as two distinct, and on many occasions, antagonistic cities. At the centre, the City of Paris itself, known, visited, praised for the beauty of its monuments and streets. And all around, the banlieue or suburbs, some of them opulent, but for the greater part run down and deprived, inhabited by working class and immigrant populations held at arm’s length from the riches and luxury of the centre.

For the past fifteen years a political process has been on the go aiming to remedy this situation. The mayor of Paris initiated a dialogue with the mayors on the outside, and connections were set up. The French president organised an international consultation of architectural teams to study prospective models for the city’s development. A new regional master plan took into account a far-reaching ecological vision. A project for a new 200 km long metro network going round Paris is underway. Laws have been passed that will institute a new organ of local government at the beginning of 2016, the Metropolis of Greater Paris.

All these changes, profoundly impacting the lives of the 10,5 million inhabitants of the metropolitan area, are happening within a frame of political and technical action within which the people themselves have been given, up to now, very little say. How might one go about enabling so many people to express themselves about their shared future, within such a complex urban context? For very many, the idea of Greater Paris is an abstraction: how might one give it substance and signification, fostering a new identity capable of federating and magnifying the fragmentary destinies of its so many parts?

Make a map…

“Mon Grandparis” is a sensitive mapping of the places of Greater Paris, made collectively by its inhabitants. It is sensitive in the sense that over the technical, geographical representation of streets, rivers, buildings, hills, forests and fields is woven a perceptive and emotional net of attachment to place. It is an interactive map that allows anyone to represent the places that they find important, and discuss those other places already on the map, put there by their fellow inhabitants.

These may be the places of everyday life; those magnificent landmarks that make the city such a beautiful place to live in; those places unworthy of dwelling which demand healing; those places where projects, small and large, carry the city forward towards its future. Placed on the map they form an experiential inventory of city knowledge, the expression of the expertise of each participant who has added to the map. Taken together they tell the multitude of narratives that found Greater Paris. And each place materialises the right of every inhabitant to say “here I am, I am here” – and as one amongst a network of many places demonstrate that wherever “here” might be, each existence takes on meaning as an integrated part of the greater Parisian whole.


Anyone can put places on the map. All it takes is a title, a description, one or several images, and – most importantly – the person adding the place has to outline the area it occupies on the map… where it will appear as a transparent, coloured patch. For the moment, this is done via computer: in a coming version, it will be possible to put a place on the map in situ, directly from one’s smartphone.

Each place placed on the map becomes its own place-blog to which any participant may add. The blog accumulates all the knowledge, perceptions, feelings, experiences, stories, poetics, pictures (and soon other media) that each participant contributes, forming an on-going conversation about each place that all can follow and comment upon. From that multifaceted collection of things, a group of participants will be able to compose a place-narrative, in the form of a multimedia presentation.

We like to think of the map as being a sort of “Placebook”: all the places are its members, each a representation constantly being developed upon by the discussions and contributions of the map’s participants. In this way “Mon Grandparis” constitutes a metaphorical mirror of the metropolis in the form of a territorial social network. It is a space of dialogue where the future inhabitants of Greater Paris might partake together in the shaping of a novel metropolitan reality.

Each participant will also have access to their own place-journal, containing all the places they have added, contributed to or commented upon. The map will highlight these places, so that each person will be able to see the constellation representing their particular embrace upon a segment of metropolitan space. They will also see which parts are foreign to them; see how their personal Greater Paris connects to the rest; see how other inhabitants’ personal version of the metropolis exist alongside their own in a collective act of appropriation.

Of points and places

Traditional internet maps rely on the point to indicate elements on the map: this is the “POI”, or “point of interest”, popularised by the balloon shaped pin on Google maps. Pinpointing individual objects of different sorts tends to reduce the map to the level of a spatially annotated catalogue of resources, which in its one-dimensionality has difficulty telling us how such a territory is actually dwelled in by its inhabitants.

Conceiving a map based upon the notion of place attempts to surpass the limit of the point – a place is represented on our map by a perimeter-receptacle able to contain a multitude of things. Our conception of place is founded upon the idea that any particular place is an absolute singularity – a unique occurrence on the face of the earth. As such, each place is to be considered in terms of a multidimensional, heterogeneous taxonomy that is as multifarious and open ended as human experience – a taxonomy that, nonetheless, can be defined in terms of a general dichotomy between the spatial and the social.

Thus, on the one hand, a place is to be known by its spatial, material, morphological aspects – its geographical, biological and architectonic physicality – that are the realm of perception, aesthetics and sensual contentment. And on the other hand are the aggregate of symbols, of values, of social, cultural, artistic, political, historical, religious (and so forth) contents, of ways of life and usages, of services offered or denied, together marking our collective existence and which we name stakes-situations-narratives.

The colour of each transparent patch representing a place on the map indicates its most salient feature: is it a place of activity, of residence, of leisure, of heritage, of movement, of infrastructure, and so on? At close quarters each patch defines the extent and limit of each place and lays out what it contains; from further away, the multitude of places will compose, as more and more places are put onto the map, a mosaic of multi-coloured flakes, mapping a completely original cartography of Greater Paris, where the clustering and the mixture of different colours will symbolically and aesthetically represent the particular character of each part of the metropolis.

About the project

“Mon Grandparis” is a production of the Atelier International du Grand Paris (AIGP) and Paris Métropole, two public organisations engaged in the development of the Metropolis of Greater Paris. The map was designed by, and is being developed under the direction of Joseph Rabie in the framework of a research contract and thesis, the subject of which is “What makes Place”. The doctoral supervisor is Thierry Paquot, philosopher in urban studies.

A team of people is engaged in the production of the map: Mélodie Martin, cartographer and GIS specialist at the AIGP, Sandrine Buchet, computer engineer at iCUADD, counselled by Emmanuel Jouannais, in charge of internet at the AIGP, and Sylvie Rabie, multimedia and application expert. Flora Dancourt, urbanist-geographer, and Mélodie Martin are engaged in the deployment of the map and the organisation of workshops. Etienne Florentin moderates new places. The project is produced under the directorship of Pierre Mansat and Mireille Ferri, respectively president and managing director of the AIGP.

The map is based on Openstreetmap data, overlaid with custom, constantly evolving cartographic data representing the places. The map is made with the Mapbox suite of tools: interactivity is programmed with the Mapbox API, based on Leaflet; graphic display is designed using Mapbox Studio using the Mapnik visualisation engine. The content management system is built on a WordPress core. Everything is bound together using jQuery and (as of the coming version) Angular.

The version 1 of “Mon Grandparis” went live in May 2015. Version 2 will be released at the end of the year.