The Zone

The Zone:An Alternative History of Paris

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In The Zone, Justinien Tribillon takes the reader on a tour of an eponymous Parisian hinterland. The site of dreams and nightmares, from Van Gogh’s paintings to the cinematic violence of La Haine, the Zone, so often misun- derstood, is the key to understanding today’s Paris, and even France itself.

Originally the site of defensive walls, alongside which mushroomed makeshift housing, allotments, and dancehalls in the nineteenth century, the Zone has performed many functions and been a place of contention for two centuries. Dismantled in the 1920s, the fortifications were first replaced with gardens, stadia and homes. After the war came the Boulevard Périphérique, a ring road promising seamless travel in a futuristic car-centric Paris. With the ring road came new dreams of modernity in reinvented suburbs: new towns, high-rise architecture and social housing built at record speed. Yesterday’s Paris made way for tomorrow’s banlieue.

But the metropolitan dream was never realised. The Zone became a symbol of division: between inner and outer cities; between the bourgeois centre and the working-class immigrant outskirts; between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The Zone, both a physical space and a powerful myth, came to crystallise the social, spatial and ethno-racial differences between Paris and the banlieue.

The Zone is a brilliant anatomy of the true heart of Paris. An essential book for urbanists and historians.


  • Shows how to read the recent history of Paris from its edge towards its center. How do the complicated conditions in the banlieue shape life for the Paris of tourists, monuments and bourgeois amenities? This book is innovative in its methods and absorbing in its analysis. More than this, Justinien Tribillon has worked out a way to understand other cities from the outside in

    RICHARD SENNETT author of The Performer
  • An indispensable guide to the real Paris, The Zone offers a succinct but comprehensive urban and social history laying bare the politics of class, race and planning that have shaped the impoverished environment and marginalised communities of the capital’s banlieue.

    JOHN BOUGHTON author of Municipal Dreams
  • This captivating book admirably challenges the constructed myths about Paris and the banlieue. It dismantles the fabricated oppositions between the two by scrutinizing the spaces, politics and voices of the Zone. The book is a remarkable examination and a groundbreaking critique of "the most unknown yet quintessentially Parisian space"

    SAMIA HENNI author of Architecture of Counterrevolution