The ring of towns adjacent to Paris known as the Petite Couronne is currently the most interesting part of the metropolis.
As separate entities from Paris proper, each municipality has developed its own identity and unique history. Now, however, with the gentrification of Paris pushing more and more middle-class people outside the city limits, they are changing. These are territories full of projects and ideas, often with young populations and key protagonists who tend to be more on the margin of the Parisian establishment.
The extension of the subway lines, the building of new tramway lines, and the future Grand Paris high speed metro network will better connect these towns to Paris and to one another. In a number of places joint development projects span Paris and adjacent municipality, creating new connections. And perhaps some day they will be administratively incorporated into a new, larger Paris (see The Struggle for a Bigger Paris).
But for now each of these towns remains a charming mix of its history, of the distinctive groups of people who live and work there, and of the unique challenges of change that it faces.
I begin my exploration with Malakoff, a municipality of 30,000 south of Paris. Malakoff began in the Second Empire era as a real estate development named New California and first grew due to the eviction of workers from central Paris for the construction works prosecuted under Prefect Haussmann. It has retained its markedly working-class identity and political orientation since that time, even though its factories are closed and the local economy is dominated by education and services.
The town is now a mix of architectural typologies from residential houses to big public housing blocks, from little workshops and commercial buildings to the sculptural 1970s headquarters for the National Institute of Statistics by Serge Lana. This rich and multifaceted history makes it a fascinating territory for exploration.
In 2005, Malakoff and three neighboring municipalities formed the Sud de Seine community in order to coordinate environmental, housing and economic development strategies. Sud de Seine, which has 150,000 residents, is one of the many examples of the new entities created to overcome the highly fragmented governance of the Paris metropolitan region.