The presidents of the French Republic Nicolas Sarkozy are well known for turning to architecture to shape their image. The grand projets of President François Mitterrand included the Louvre Pyramid and the Arche de La Défense, while for President Jacques Chirac it was the more modest Quai Branly Museum.
The grand projet of President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) was as the initiator of Greater Paris, the Métropole du Grand Paris. This global plan became a reality in 2016, placing the City of Paris, with its 2.2m inhabitants, at the centre of a metropolitan area of 7.2m.
President Sarkozy was the opening keynote speaker at the MIPIM Urban Forum, held in Paris on 16 September as part of Paris Real Estate Week.
Interviewed by journalist François Lenglet, renowned for his weekly TV programme, Lenglet Déchiffre, Sarkozy shared his vision for cities, for France, for Europe, and his views on how to “embrace the change” – the theme for this year’s Forum.
Here are some highlights from his keynote at MIPIM Urban Forum:
The effect of Covid-19 on the future growth of cities
“There are two world phenomena that cannot be overlooked … the first is the change of the world axis to be completely towards the East and the second is the métropolisation of countries. The phenomenon of metropolises is a phenomenon that nothing and no one can stop.
“If you look at Africa, a continent of 1.25bn, which in 30 years will have 2.5bn inhabitants, Africa today is more 50 or so big metropolises than 50 or so countries… I’ll even go further, there will not be an economic development of a country if that country does not have one or several metropolises to pull the whole economic train of the country …
Life is more important than circumstances – Nicolas Sarkozy
“Life after Covid will resemble life before. To say otherwise, it is to want to blame humanity and, especially, to have understood nothing about the history of life on earth, where each time there is a crisis, we say that nothing will be like before, and the next day everything is like before. Because life is more important than circumstances.”
What makes for an ideal city?
“The ideal city does not exist … The ideal city is different from one continent to another, from one country to country, from one region to region. It is about loving the city and loving the city with its differences. There is no ideal model … the city must be at the same time faithful to its past and open towards its future … It is this multiplicity and difference that makes for quality of life and a happiness to live.
True equality is to let differences be. It’s not about treating all neighbourhoods and cities in the same way – Nicolas Sarkozy
“I am very sceptical about the word ‘equality’, because I will always believe more in the strength of what is different … True equality is to let differences be. It’s not about treating all neighbourhoods and cities in the same way …
“The city must adapt to its territory, its history, its culture, its demography. That is what makes a city beautiful …
A city must live, and a city lives by the quality of its architectural gestures – Nicolas Sarkozy
“I like the city where one is not paralysed by rules … because if someone has the idea tomorrow of building the Eiffel Tower, some association defending an orange-backed toad with blue spots would oppose it in the name of protecting species …
“A city must live, and a city lives by the quality of its architectural gestures.”
Cities that have “amazed” Sarkozy outside France
“One of the cities that has amazed me in its capacity to change is Moscow. I go to Moscow two or three times a year. I am impressed by the way Moscow has known how to conserve its historic patrimony and become one of the most modern cities on the continent of Europe. It’s exceptional. And I am not just talking about the new metro!
“The cities that they have created on the Persian Gulf, on the other side from Iran, are extraordinary. If you take Doha, Abu Dhabi, where the Louvre has been a considerable success, Dubai. Three generations ago there was nothing, and today there are exceptional architectural gestures that have even made Hong Kong appear out of date. It is impressive.
“When you go to Lagos, with 22 million inhabitants, ten times Paris. When you look at Mexico City … one of the biggest cities in the world, and in Beijing, today they’re now on their seventh ring-road.”
Is density good in cities?
“When you’re in Manhattan, do you say it is too dense? You say it is magnificent! As a child, I used to cross Nanterre at the time when there was no La Défense, was it better?
“That way of looking to the future with fear, with hatred, while being mistrustful of everything that is modern or new, of everything which has a bit of sense, everything that has a bit a force, is implausible…
“When Mitterrand wanted [to build]the [Louvre] pyramid, there was a big controversy, but it is normal there is controversy, it is healthy that there is controversy but controversy about the project, about the concept, but not about nothing.”
How to create a strong France
“Our country must innovate, create infrastructure. We wanted Grand Paris, but now we must do … Grand Marseilles, to make Marseilles the capital of the Mediterranean …
“We must do the Le Havre-Paris TGV [high-speed train], as Le Havre is part of Paris, it is the port of Paris. We should do a northern Seine canal, because it is the only way for Picardy and upper France to pull ahead. We should extend the TGV that we did to Rennes until Brest. We should do Lyons–Turin.
The answer to the recession is to take initiatives, and the answer to the crisis in France is to engage in projects bigger than us – Nicolas Sarkozy
“The answer to the crisis is in taking initiatives, and the answer to the recession in France is to engage in projects bigger than us. France is made for what is big. France cannot enjoy being small, narrow, without ambition. That is what will wake up our country. And that is what will wake up our economy.”
Was it a good idea to build Versailles?
“When there was the great recession [of 2018], I borrowed money… The size of the debt is of no importance …What counts is what the debt serves for. If your debt serves to finance infrastructure that will bring growth in the future, revenue in the future to repay the debt, that is not a problem …
It is the project that makes the money, it is never the money that makes the project – Nicolas Sarkozy
“Invest in museums, invest in big events, invest in infrastructure, invest in architectural projects that will make the French proud of their country. That is the way for the future … It is the project that makes the money, it is never the money that makes the project …
“If you wait to have enough money to do big projects, you will never do them. When Louis XIV built Versailles, he was accused of ruining France. In your opinion, has building Versailles paid off? In my opinion, it has.
To listen to the full speech of President Nicolas Sarkozy, in French, visit Paris Real Estate Week online.