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Paris seeks to reinvent itself, only greener

For many, Paris is almost synonymous with architectural magnificence. But among its abundant historical splendor, green spaces are few and far between. A new project worth billions of euros aims to change that.

Its walls are crumbling, covered with graffiti and its windows broken – the old Gare Masséna in southwestern Paris is a far cry from the renowned splendor of the French capital. Artifacts of its past function are overgrown tracks and a little blue sign saying SNCF, the French national railway's logo. The decaying structure however became an object of desire for 17 international teams of architects taking part in the Réinventer Paris competition which asked for ideas for giving the Gare Masséna a complete make-over.

Frankreich Paris ENTWURF Bahnhof Gare Massena

Sketch for the Gare Masséna in Paris

The jury decided the best design came from Lina Ghotmeh, a Parisian Architect from Lebanon. In three years' time, a futuristic wooden tower inspired by Bruegel's Tower of Babylon is to rise up in a spiral above the grounds. Six million euros are to be spent on constructing apartments, offices, an organic farm, studios and laboratories for nutrition research on the old station grounds.

22 sites in Paris are to be re-developed

"Urban agriculture is a true challenge for major cities. It will be playing a major role in metropolises during the 21st century," says city planning commissioner Jean-Louis Missika, who is also a member of the jury for the project. The Paris city council has invited concepts and bids for re-developing 22 sites around the urban area. 372 teams of architects have submitted ideas for Réinventer Paris, some of them quite spectacular.

Frankreich Paris-Plages 2015

The "Réinventer la Seine" Project ist intended to integrate the river better

The 22 winners are to be entrusted with the task of reinventing old office buildings, vacant lots, a hotel, protected historical sites and even parts of the belt highway that rings Paris. Altogether, the project encompasses 150,000 square meters (492,000 square feet) of the city. In the end, the project is expected to turn a profit for the municipal budget from the sale of the properties involved, valued at a total of 560 million euros ($ 638 million). The 1.3 billion euros for the project come from private investors. City planner Missika points out that, "the concepts must be presented along with investors and developers to expedite the process."

Sustainability and environment are pillars of Réinventer Paris

"The jury's highest criterion is innovation! Réinventer Paris is meant as a laboratory of ideas. Each one of the premises and buildings offer architects opportunities to try out whatever they want, so they can see what works and what doesn’t," Missika explains. Sustainability and environment are the foundation "with a strong emphasis on making areas greener and urban agriculture". Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told Le Monde newpaper: "A total of 26,300 square meters are to be used for planting." With so few green spaces in Paris, that will mean the creation of community gardens, public vegetable plots, broad green spaces, roof gardens and façades and an artificially laid-out forest on the belt highway.

Frankreich Paris Park Place des Vosges im Marais

Still a rarity - green places like this, the Place des Vosges

As sense of community is another key aspect. Public squares, community centers and doorless offices are meant to encourage contact and co-existence. Half of the planned 1,341 apartments will be subsidized housing. The project is expected over the next three years to provide some 2,000 additional jobs in the construction sector. So Réinventer Paris addresses several pressing issues in the capital: urban crowding, unemployment, housing shortages, air pollution and the lack of green spaces.

A follow-up is already planned for 2017: in cooperation with Rouen and Le Havre, Réinventer la Seine is to coordinate projects along 365 kilometers (226 miles) of the river from the capital to the seaport at its mouth. City planner Missika envisions a better integration of the river into the city's day to day life.