Course Guide: History & Urban Renewal - Baron Haussmann and Charles Baudelaire

The Transformation of Paris under Baron Haussmann and Louis Napoleon:

  1. The first major urban renewal project took place in the 1850s in France where, under the auspices of Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon), Baron Haussmann restructured Paris, modeling it after imperial Rome.
  2. In the process, Haussmann modernized the city, with the addition of sewage and sanitation systems, centralized rail transportation and markets, tree-lined streets and parks.
  3. Haussmann gave the city much of its current grandeur, but in order to build his impressive boulevards and vistas, he also disregarded the lives of the city's inhabitants, evicting hundreds of thousands from their homes and destroying the integrity of arrondissements around which Paris and the lives of the people were organized.
Charles Baudelaire and the Reaction to Haussmann's Paris plan:
  1. In "Tableaux Parisiens," from Les Fleurs du Mal, Charles Baudelaire tracks the stories of the forgotten people in Haussmann's Paris - the old women or men, minorities, outcasts, the despised, the artists.
  2. In "Le Cygne," or "The Swan," Baudelaire suggests that, after the ravages of Haussmann, we are all exiles in our own city. He compares the people to a swan who escaped from its cage in Paris and, choked by the dust on the streets, strained its neck looking and longing for its natal lake.
  3. In the course of his other work, Baudelaire also transforms the Romantic vision of the artist from lonely wanderer on the outskirts of society pondering the natural world (the image of the wandering Jew) to the "flaneur" who aimlessly walks the streets of the city, finding himself on the cutting edge of every new trend; the dandy, with a self-fashioned identity. See his essay, "The Painter of Modern Life."
  4. Baudelaire views poetry as constructed and artificial like the city itself, not the work of an inspired visionary.
Charles Baudelaire and the Influence on the Visual Arts:
Baudelaire's work can be effectively paired with the city paintings of the impressionists, particularly Edouard Manet. In the 1860s and 1870s, the impressionists tracked the transformation of Paris in art (those brought about by Haussmann and later by the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune). For more information, look at Paris Under Seige and Visions of the Modern City: Essays in History, Art, and Literature. New York: Columbia University, 1983.
Urban Renewal of 19th Century Paris and 20th Century New York:

Haussmann's nineteenth century transformation of Paris can be compared to Robert Moses' vast urban renewal projects in twentieth century New York City. "One Mile," a chapter from Robert Caro's The Power Broker and James Merrill's New York poem "Urban Convalescence" bring up similar concerns to the Baudelaire and Haussmann pieces.

Caro, Robert. The Power Broker. New York: Random House, 1975. (850-885).