Michael Kimmelman reviews an exhibition of photographs by Charles Marville, the 19th-century Parisian who documented the city during its Haussmann transformation, “when luxury apartment buildings were replacing old shops and homes, and many working people could no longer afford to live in their own neighborhoods.”

Paris 2


The parallel with our times, whether in New York or Vancouver, is obvious – and Kimmelman runs with it:

I wonder, here in the early third, whether photographers are now out and about, in the spirit of Marville, documenting 57th Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and East Harlem, Willets Point, Long Island City and Hell’s Kitchen.

Big cities change. That’s urban life. But the best cities don’t leave the vulnerable behind. Some 20,000 working poor were said to have lost their homes on the Île de la Cité when Haussmann’s renewal forced them out. Centuries-old tanneries along the Bièvre — the impoverished “faubourg of misery,” as it was called, but a community rich in history and pride — got the boot, too. …

All these years later, it’s easy to forget the criminal gangs cleared from the Île de la Cité, the sewage-filled gutters and filthy water drawn from barrels that spread misery and disease across Paris. In retrospect, Haussmann’s redevelopment produced wealth and a miracle of well-proportioned, grand and gracious public spaces, a cosmopolitan model of light and air — on which many displaced Parisians were now compelled to gaze from afar.

Full column here.