April 1, 2023

Plan Aims to Enliven Paris’s Financial District, Long Called Soulless

The ceremony celebrated a decade-long building boom at La Défense, the sprawling array of office buildings long envisioned as Paris’s answer to Lower Manhattan or the City of London.

But La Défense, begun during the presidency of Charles de Gaulle in the late 1950s and built just west of Paris by bulldozing slums and paving over farmland, has always worked better in architectural theory than in anthropological practice.

Rather than the Parisian business hub its founders described, it often seems more like the isolated end of a spoke that has highlighted a crucial flaw in urban planning — a concern with making architectural statements — rather than an affinity for the people in and around the buildings.

When non-French planning experts assess La Défense, they say it shares the same problems as the Canary Wharf complex in London, where developers have tried to supplant the City with Big Architecture and whose artificial origins may be hard to overcome. The experts look more favorably on the somewhat organic mix of business and residential of Lower Manhattan, which has evolved over the last century.

“La Défense has always suffered from a creative hypothermia,” said Wojciech Czaja, an Austrian architecture critic. “It is a sad area because it is atmospherically and emotionally perceived as a business district only.”

The public agency that manages the complex has hired an architectural firm to draft a new master plan in hopes of making the grandiose vision for La Défense a livable reality. It is difficult to determine whether the plan can withstand the headwinds of Europe’s continuing financial woes, and France’s lingering recession and an unemployment rate near 11 percent.

But it would be wrong to call La Défense a business failure, because it is home to 1,500 head offices, including those of 15 of the world’s 50 largest companies. French corporations with their signature headquarters here include the oil and gas giant Total, the big bank Société Générale and Areva, a leading builder of nuclear power plants. And developers continue to build.

Critics have long derided the mixed commercial, residential and retailing complex, which covers 1.6 square kilometers, or 0.62 square miles, as dehumanizing. While about 20,000 mainly low- and middle-income people live here, the vast central plaza can feel like a ghost town after 5 p.m. and on weekends, once most of the district’s 150,000 office workers have left by train, bus or subway to more desirable parts of Paris or its less surreal suburbs.

“There is nothing good about living here,” said Carlin Pierre, 54, who works at a waste disposal center in the district and resides in one of the Brutalist communal, rent-subsidized housing blocks tucked amid the high-rise office buildings. “Sure, it’s a nice area to come as a tourist, or even to work,” Mr. Pierre said, “but it’s terrible to live in La Défense.”

Alessandra Cianchetta, a partner at AWP, the firm mapping the master plan, acknowledges the enormousness of her task. “La Défense as a concept is a bit obsolete,” Ms. Cianchetta said. “There is no interaction, no hospitality here.”

Vacancy rates at La Défense, long an up-and-down indicator of the French economy, are once more on the rise. Next to the Grande Arche is the site of what was to be a 71-story office tower, Tour Signal, commissioned with much fanfare in 2008 to the French architect Jean Nouvel. It has been canceled.

Still, three new, architecturally ambitious office towers are under construction at La Défense. And the recently financed Hermitage Plaza project on the Seine River at the easternmost edge of La Défense, if it opens as planned in 2018, will include Europe’s tallest residential building. Some of the continued activity, of course, has to do with the long lag between conceiving a commercial real estate project and getting it built — a speculative roll of the dice that has paid little heed to shorter-term considerations like France and Europe’s current economic travails.

Catherine Chapman contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/business/global/a-new-effort-to-bring-life-to-paris-financial-district.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: British Bankers Group Seen Losing Control Over Libor

Banks at Canary Wharf in London.Andy Rain, via European Pressphoto AgencyBanks at Canary Wharf in London.

LONDON – The British Bankers’ Association is expected to lose control over the interest rate at the center of a recent manipulation scandal, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The move is likely to be announced on Friday, when Martin Wheatley, managing director of the Financial Services Authority, the British regulator, outlines the findings of a review of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, added the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The British government called for changes to the benchmark interest rate, which underpins more than $360 trillion of financial instruments worldwide, after Barclays agreed to pay $450 million in June to settle charges that some of its traders manipulated the rate for financial gain.

In the wake of the scandal, Barclays’ chief executive, Robert Diamond Jr., and its chairman, Marcus Agius, resigned. Some of the bank’s traders may still face criminal prosecution over their role in the manipulation of Libor. And other banks, including UBS and Citigroup, are currently under investigation in a number of jurisdictions about the potential manipulation of the rate.

The move to remove the British Bankers’ Association from its role of setting Libor would be a blow to the organization, which established the rate in 1986.

Libor Explained

Regulators have continually questioned the trade body’s role in the recent scandal.

In documents released by the Bank of England in July, authorities called on the group to change the Libor rate-setting process, which includes a daily poll of a number of banks about what interest rate they would pay if they had to borrow money from the capital markets.

Despite calls from the British Bankers’ Association’s chief executive at the time, Angela Knight, for regulators to take a greater role in the rate-setting process, authorities balked at taking a more hands-on approach, according to the central bank documents.

By taking the Libor-setting process away from the bankers group, it is likely that authorities will now become more directly involved.

A spokesman for the Financial Services Authority of Britain declined to comment.

In a statement, the British Bankers’ Association said that it would work with British authorities about potential changes to the rate.

“If Mr Wheatley’s recommendations include a change of responsibility for Libor, the B.B.A. will support that,” the organization said in a statement.

A spokesman for the British Bankers’ Association declined to comment on whether the organization would lose control of setting Libor.

The expected overhaul of Libor comes a day after Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the United States, suggested authorities should rework or replace the interest rate.

“It is time for a new or revised benchmark – a healthy benchmark anchored in actual, observable market transactions – to restore the confidence of people around the globe that the rates at which they borrow and lend money and hedge interest rates are set honestly and transparently,” Mr. Gensler told the European Parliament on Monday in remarks delivered via video from Washington.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/british-bankers-group-seen-losing-control-over-libor/?partner=rss&emc=rss