Paris dreams of a 21st Century Renaissance

Nov 12, 2014
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When the City of Paris lost out to London for the 2012 Olympics, it was a big blow to the City of Light; a historical rival, London has been taking bites out of Paris’ attraction over the past few years, whether it be economically (through its Anglophone advantage), financially (through its historical business-friendly tax laws), and, then, culturally. Paris remains indisputably a Global cultural hub; however, re-branding the city as more than just a ville musée (“living Museum”) is among many of the ambitions of its new mayor, Anne Hidalgo.

Earlier this year, Anne Hidalgo inaugurated a new glass floor on the Eiffel Tower, where she evoked the regeneration of Paris, reborn through new works. Following on that theme, the city has launched a competition, “Reinventing Paris,” a project that will see the City of Paris put 23 sites around town up for grabs to anyone with an innovative plan to use them. Paris has long been criticized for being an outdated city, with many historic buildings and iconic monuments, but lacking renaissance – ironically, the very buildings considered emblematic of this were, at the time of construction, seen as industrial innovations. The Eiffel Tower, Gustav Eiffel’s demonstration of an innovative and structurally sound steel construction technique for lightweight, sturdy buildings (also used inside the Statue of Liberty), or the Notre Dame, an 850+ year old church that, as seen in the museum below its courtyard, was continually innovated upon over the years up until the 1800’s.

Reinventing Paris‘ official website is a .Paris domain, which launched earlier this year after ICANN announced .Paris would be a new TLD last year. It is one of over 1,000 domains that have been scooped up since pre-orders launched in September, the city of Paris announced this week. The .Paris TLD is managed by the city of Paris, and was a big win – there is no .London yet, and other city domains have not had nearly as much adoption.

The city of Paris will also be reinventing its renowned incubator network, which has virtually eliminated all trouble finding office space in Paris (historically very difficult). It has set a quota for 2020 to have 30% of companies incubated in Paris be international companies.

Paris.fr, the city’s official website, will also be getting an overhaul in the coming months, including the launch of a highly active English-language blog about the city. The French capital’s biggest weakness in the global battle for relevancy has been its language – beautiful, but inadequate in the global economy – and Paris hopes that communicating in English will bring transparency around what is happening in the city, often underestimated by anglophone analysts who benchmark Paris against other cities using only information they can find in English.

While Paris is submitting itself as a candidate for the 2024 Olympics, sources inside the government tell us that, internally, the city council is much more focused on its candidature for the Universal Exhibition 2025, a sort of World’s Fair for the 21st century that Paris hopes to use in order to demonstration its innovation. Some government representatives have been critical of the initiative, calling it a distraction from the reality of France’s economic woes.

Paris is going to fight an uphill battle to create the international, business-friendly, anglophone, reborn image that it has set for itself; however, distinguishing the “Paris” brand from the “France” brand may be the best hope for the capital to not get pulled down by the negative image that France has fabricated for itself in recent years. Still, convincing Anglophone is only half the battle – getting Parisians themselves to believe in their city will be a whole different battle, as most French people admit to living in Paris by professional obligation rather than by desire.