Urban Planner. He will be most remembered for his transformation of Paris, France during Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, III's Presidential reign. He employed huge numbers of skilled and unskilled workers along with the most talented architects, engineers and landscape gardeners to work under his directions to develop an ancient, dirty city into one of lights, parks, and wide boulevards. Working in close collaboration with Napoleon III, he made his blueprint for a new Paris. Politically, he had unswervingly loyally to Napoleon, and in returned he protected from his adversaries. He never actually had any experience as an architect or an urban planner, hence some of his plans did not work as well as intended. He was commonly referred to as “Baron Haussmann” but was never officially a Baron. Coming from a wealthy family, he was the grandson, on his father’s side, of a member of the Revolutionary Convention and, on his mother’s, of a Napoleonic general. With an out-going personality, he was a handsome 6’3" man who had studied law and music in Paris. In 1831 he first entered the office of civil servant as the secretary-general of a prefecture; rapidly advancing to sub prefect from 1832 to 1848; prefect in the provinces from 1848 to 1853; and finally prefect of the Seine department from 1853 to 1870. It was in his last office that he embarked on the enormous task of developing a public works system, which would set a precedent for urban planning in the 20th century. Haussmann cut wide, straight, tree-lined avenues through the chaotic mass of small streets of which old Paris was composed, thus connecting the train terminals and making rapid and easy movement across the city possible for the first time. The construction of new roads and the widening of streets would require the expropriation and demolition of 19,730 historic buildings and the construction of 34,000 new ones. The tri-purpose of this change was partly economic, promoting industrialization by enabling goods and services to be transported efficiently; partly aesthetic, imposing a measure of unifying order and opening up space to allow more light; and partly military, eliminating constricted streets where rebel barricades could be erected. He also created a system of clean drinking water and a sewer system, thus removing the sources of disease and foul odors; the sweet smelling Paris become a favorite spot for tourism. With his handpicked staff, he opened parks modeled on English gardens both in the center of Paris and at Boulogne and Vincennes. Throughout the city, he increased the number of streetlights and sidewalks which gave rise to the kiosks and sidewalk cafes that enliven Parisian street life. He built five-story buildings that had first-floor shops and apartments above. While the outside facade of his buildings was ornate, he employed cost saving measures beneath the exterior, and since all were made in the same style, he were able to cut the building cost. Housing was a concern as from 1800 to 1850 the population of Paris doubled to become over one million. On the boulevard named for him, he led the construction of the beautiful Palais Garnier Opera House; it typified the very opulent neoclassical style that Napoleon III loved. Also, he developed the marketplace known as Les Halles, which survived to the 1960s. His success was furthered by the autocratic nature of the regime under which he served, for this allowed him to raise enormous long-term loans and to use them almost without parliamentary or other control. His questionable handling of public money roused increasing criticism among the liberal political opposition. With the beginning of Émile Ollivier’s liberal government in 1870, a great change occurred which led to Napoleon III firing Haussmann. Brokenhearted, he took a six-month vacation in Italy. Upon his return, he was given a management post with the military, which lasted less than a week before Napoleon III was defeated. At this point, he went into retirement. Some of his noted staff members were had been given grand state funerals, yet upon his death, he did not receive one as he had fallen from graces of the Parisians. Visiting European Royals publicly hailed him as a pure genius, yet Parisians said he was a crook. This was, and still is, debated whether he was the man who destroyed the old historical Paris in seventeen years, or the man who created the new beautiful Paris of today.
Bio by: Linda Davis