City of lights, of romance and fine food, the French capital is gearing up for a mighty new challenge: to create a Greater Paris that reaches outside its historic walls to compete with global rivals London, Tokyo or New York.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared it a priority to reshape Paris for the 21st century: to attract investors, preserve the environment and build bridges with the capital's poor, restive suburbs.
As the world's major cities "hunt to attract the best", the fight to draw investors is especially fierce within Europe, where workers and capital can move easily from one country to the next, according to urban planning expert Charles Lambert.
Paris still holds its rank as a global player alongside Tokyo or New York, according to geographer Nadine Cattan, but French leaders agree the city needs to expand outside the ring road to compete in the coming decades.
London already outranks Paris by number of company headquarters, attracts more foreign capital and beats it as an international hub for air travel, says Cattan.
"We are still attractive, but we are losing our competitive edge," said Jerome Dubus, a leader of the MEDEF employers federation in the Paris region.
"Over the past 10 years, Greater London has grown by eight per cent, Madrid by four and Paris 2.5," he said, while Milan in Italy has recently built Europe's biggest congress centre.
To meet the challenge Sarkozy named Christian Blanc, the man credited with turning around Air France in the 1990s, as junior minister for the Paris region and asked a panel of 10 architects to draw up visions for a Greater Paris.
Their first job is to decide what a Greater Paris should include. The 29 towns that border the capital? The greater suburbs? Or should it even, as some suggest, reach as far north as the Channel port of Le Havre?
Next comes the question of government. Unlike its European rivals London, Madrid or Lisbon, or even other French cities such as Lyon, Paris has no overarching metropolitan structure linking it with surrounding towns.
Built in the 1970s on the site of the capital's wartime defences, the eight-lane Paris ring road, or Boulevard Peripherique, creates a clear barrier between the city proper and the suburbs.
Two million residents live squeezed inside the ring road, spread over 100 square kilometres - an area 15 times smaller than Greater London -- with another 8.5 million living in the greater suburbs.
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