From the Colonial City to the Banlieue: Cartographic Archives and French Urban Planning

For decades, French colonies served as a laboratory for the French government to experiment with policymaking and socio-spatial control, from urban planning to policing. From Algiers to Casablanca, indigenous districts were segregated from European settlements by a cordon sanitaire and subsequently neglected by colonial administrations. It has been argued that these early forms of racialized spatial practices in the colonies were later imported back to France in the form of public housing projects to house North Africans immigrants after decolonization (Celik, 1997; Pouliot, 2011). This paper aims to explore this parallel by comparing colonial maps of Rabat, Morocco, to contemporary online maps and aerial photographs of La Grande Borne, a public housing project outside of Paris. I provide a more detailed picture of how Pouliot and Celik’s argument operate in specific and previously unexamined contexts, through an untapped source of knowledge on this subject matter: archival and digital maps. I argue that through a close reading of visual representations of space, we can unearth further analogies between colonial cities and the Paris banlieuesand gather insights into the aspirations of powerholders, thus revealing the continuities of socio-spatial control in French urban planning. My visual analysis is complemented by examining essays and interviews by the two architects who led the development of Rabat and la Grande Borne – Henri Prost in Morrocco in the 1910s, Emile Aillaud in France in the 1970s – to understand what underlying rationales and values guided their projects.

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