The Making of Grand Paris is a joy to read and to put into conversation with other recent book-length contributions in urban studies. It is a detailed analysis of how those who govern one city- Paris – have sought to bring forth a particular future. Through three inter-linked and related sites, Enright renders visible the labour involved in moving forward these mega-projects, the stuff both of dreams and of nightmares. Acknowledging the existing literatures on large scale urban transformations, largely written from an urban and regional political economy perspective, Enright draws our attention to “the complex activities, practices, beliefs and behaviours through which power relations materialize in the built environment and in speaking subjects” (p. 5). For her there is a need to people the making of Grand Paris. She reinforces this point time and time again in the book, to good effect. This processual analysis about how a project of this scope and reach needs regular remaking is for me one of the book’s five take home points.
Second, this is a detailed empirical study. There are numerous quotes from a range of sources which are used to introduce and discuss the case study and its various elements. This gives the book a solid feel and I mean that in a very positive manner. Its arguments are premised on a clear empirical basis. This is not some flighty or superficial analysis. Rather it was crafted and curated in a careful manner, empirical evidence in its various guises marshalled productively. The book contains its fair share of diagrams, figures, maps and photographs for example. And yet I was left wanting more … much more … about how this study was done, so to speak. There are nine lines across pages 6 and 7 on methods, although really this relatively short section consists of a description of sources. And that is it! In a book of 313 pages! In the context of a growing literature on the doing of a more global urban studies, where the emphasis is on how to make good methodologically on the exciting work now being done across a range of disciplines this seems an opportunity missed. This is important to me for a set of reasons: first, rendering how we do our research visible is useful for others in the field, those who might want to know how to build upon what we already know; second, it draws attention to the work involved in these sorts of studies and values it, which is important given the labour can sometimes remain hidden; and third, there are discussions to be had about how to conduct studies of this sort and what is at stake in the use of some methods over others, particularly given that early in the book Enright claims that “Grand Paris represents a …new paradigm for urbanism” and that “grand urbanism is proliferating in urban practices around the world” (p. 5) (Cochrane & Ward, 2012).
Third, the notion of neo-liberalism appears and reappears throughout the book. Less a main character in a novel and more the marginal figure, in the background, the notion is first introduced and discussed between pages 17 and 20. A glance at the index reveals it gets 15 mentions across the book. And yet, I would have liked to have read more about its role in the study. In the book does neoliberalism do the explaining or is it neoliberalism that requires explanation? How does France/Paris fit within the wider geographies and histories of neo-liberalization? For example, Enright notes that “the influence of neoliberalism on French urban policy was until 2007 ‘only’ partial” (p. 18). And in what ways does the example challenge what we think we already know the inter-relationship between urbanization and neo-liberalization? (Brenner & Theodore, 2002; Wilson, 2002)
Fourth, there is the befores and elsewheres that Enright highlights on page 223. So, the book is really about the arriving at and the making-up of Grand Paris, like so many other similar sorts of urban policies (Robinson, 2015; Ward, 2006). So, it is about the different plans and strategies for Paris and the surrounding region. Yet, I wonder if there was scope to emphasise a little more about the ways in which these befores and elsewhere are present in the making of Grand Paris. That is perhaps to push the book’s conceptual contribution to thinking through and advancing the global-urban ways in which these sorts of mega-projects are assembled. Clearly the example of the architectural competition and the International Workshop of Grand Paris (AIGP) are detailed in the book. Yet, what these and the other examples that appear and reappear – most noticeably in the Moscow case towards the end – mean conceptually for thinking through the more-than-urban nature of urban politics and policy is given rather short attention (Rodgers, Barnett and Cochrane 2014). Where is urban politics?
Fifth, and finally, it seems to me that Grand Paris is an example of the ways in which cities of all shapes and sizes seek to insert or (reinsert) themselves into the world. It is a worlding strategy writ large (Ong & Roy, 2011). That is, the strategy is designed and delivered by elites as they envision and imagine the location of Paris in relation to other places and within a spatial division of capital attraction and retention and then seek to actualize these strategies. In numerous places through the book Enright draws our attention to what Jessop referred to as the extra-material aspects of these redevelopment schemes. That is the atmospheric, the ephemeral and the fleeting elements of generating a vision for Paris and its future. This is more than being able to be broken down into its constituent parts. This much is clear when Enright starts her second chapter with “A Dream Collectivized”. It is these aspects and how they sit with the more well-studied aspects of attempts to project a particular Paris into the world that I would have liked to have read a little more of, although I appreciate that this might take Enright out of her intellectual comfort zone (it takes me out of mine)!
Kevin Ward University of Manchester