Where does Paris get its Metro station names?

Wherever did all those names come from? Image: RATP.

A few weeks ago, I finally published the first draft of a piece I’d been agonising about for a while: an attempt to categorise the myriad ways cities name their metro stations, whether after streets, districts, notable people and so on. The article produced more correspondence than anything we’ve published in ages. Much of it was even polite.

Over the weekend, the architect and designer Jug Cerović, whose work we've featured on CityMetric before, got in touch with his own thoughts about naming conventions in his own city of Paris. I thought you might like to see them.

I grew up in Paris, so I'm quite familiar with its metro network and history. There are too many metro station names that fail at their task – namely providing an efficient and useful wayfinding tool. Many are simply too long and cumbersome; others are duplicated, vaguely pointing to a street name but failing to provide accurate location.

I’ve made an attempt at classifying all the stations in Paris. My first observation is that most stations are named according to roads. My second is that, when identifying a name’s origin, it can occasionally be difficult to decide whether it was named after a street or a person.

Usually stations that carry a person's name do it because a nearby street that has this same name: it would take much deeper historic research to tell whether a station was named after a person before the street was named, or whether they have been renamed simultaneously.

For now, I am keeping only two stations in the ‘people’ category: Montparnasse-Bienvenüe (named, in part, after the father of the Metro network, Fulgence Bienvenüe); and Robespierre, which according to Wikipedia was named French revolutionary Maximilien de Robespierre by a local communist mayor in 1936. Early in the 20th century, the nearby Rue Robespierre had a different name – so I’d guess it received its current name at the same time or after the station.

Robespierre metro station, in the eastern suburbs of Paris. Image: Google.

Another tough thing to work out is whether a station is named after a neighbourhood. I kept stations in this category only if there is nearby street with the same name: otherwise, I considered that the station name refers primarily to the street itself rather than the area, as is the usage in Paris.

Some more observations about streets.

1) Most stations take the name of a lateral street (that is, the cross street) – for example, Bolivar or Garibaldi. This is quite an accurate way to pinpoint their position, provided you know the name of the main street they run under.

2) Sometimes stations take the name of a nearby street, usually because both the one they run under and the one intersecting them are already taken.

Examples include Maraîchers on the Avron and Pyrénées intersection: both these names are already in use elsewhere.

These stations are surprisingly far apart. Image: Google/CityMetric.

3) Some stations take the names of two lateral streets, most often one on each side of the main one they run under – for example, Lamarck–Caulaincourt, or Richelieu–Drouot.

4)  Some stations have the name of the main street they run under, which is confusing, at best. These fall into two subcategories: stations located somewhere along that street (Commerce, Bercy) and stations located at the end of that street (Gambetta, Mirabeau).

Vaugirard metro station, marked on the Rue de Vaugirard (highlighted in yellow). Image: Google/CityMetric.

The best/worst example is Vaugirard, which is located along the Rue de Vaugirard, which, at 4.3km, is officially the longest street in Paris. Talk about accuracy.


5) Some stations have the name of two streets intersecting at its location.

Now this, sincerely, is what I call accuracy – the very definition of a unique point. For example: Reuilly-Diderot.

But of course Paris wouldn't be Paris if things didn’t get more confusing. The problem is that, when a station has the name of two streets, you do not know if the name refers to an intersection, or two lateral streets joining the main street. Sevres-Babylone, for example, refers to an intersection; but Sevres-Lecourbe refers to two lateral streets – or even the same street, which changes its name either side of the intersection with Boulevard Pasteur.

Another curiosity is Pont de Levallois–Bécon. Pont de Levallois is accurate – the station is indeed located on the eastern side of that bridge. But that side of the river is "Levallois", not – as the name suggests – Bécon, which is a district lying on the Western side of the Seine.

Image: RATP, amended by the author.

Then there’s the curious case of Versailles. While it’s not served by the metro, there are three RER or Transilien stations in the area called "Versailles-Something":

  • Versailles-Rive Droite
  • Versailles-Rive Gauche
  • Versailles-Chantiers

As you probably know, "rive gauche" means left bank and "rive droite" means right bank. Yet there is no river at all in Versailles.

The names actually refer to the Right and Left Banks– the areas north and south of the river – in Paris, 20km away. The stations in Versailles are named not according to the place where they are but to the places they are serving:

- Versailles-Rive Droite trains serve Gare Saint-lazare on Paris’ Right Bank;

- Versailles-Rive Gauche trains serve Gare Montparnasse on Paris’ Left Bank.

The same goes for several other nearby stations in Chaville, Viroflay and Sèvres: all are named according to the place they serve in Paris and not the local waterways.

I hope that this work will help users in the future, at least a little. Naming conventions on existing systems could be neater (shorter, more accurate, with less ambiguity); while newly built ones could use more poetry.

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Barcelona’s car-free “superblocks” could extend lives. So will they catch on elsewhere?

Barcelona. Image: Getty.

The world’s biggest cities have larger populations and higher economic outputs than some countries. But as they grow in size and complexity, cities are also facing thorny challenges that threaten the health and happiness of residents. Congestion, pollution and a lack of community spaces have become major drags on people’s aspirations and experiences of urban living.

In response, cities must manage their resources and priorities to create sustainable places for visitors and residents, and foster innovation and growth. Enter Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia, in Spain – where a bold stroke of urban planning first introduced “superblocks” in 2016.

Image: ISGlobal/FAL.

Superblocks are neighbourhoods of nine blocks, where traffic is restricted to major roads around the outside, opening up entire groups of streets to pedestrians and cyclists. The aim is to reduce pollution from vehicles, and give residents much-needed relief from noise pollution. They are designed to create more open space for citizens to meet, talk and do activities.


Health and well-being boost

There are currently only six superblocks in operation, including the first, most prominent one in Eixample. Reports suggest that – despite some early push back – the change has been broadly welcomed by residents, and the long-term benefits could be considerable.

A recent study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health estimates that if, as planned, 503 potential superblocks are realised across the city, journeys by private vehicle would fall by 230,000 a week, as people switch to public transport, walking or cycling.

The research suggests this would significantly improve air quality and noise levels on the car-free streets: ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) would be reduced by a quarter, bringing levels in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The plan is also expected to generate significant health benefits for residents. The study estimates that as many as 667 premature deaths from air pollution, noise and heat could be prevented each year. More green spaces will encourage people to get outdoors and lead a more active lifestyle.

This, in turn, helps to reduce obesity and diabetes and ease pressure on health services. The researchers claim that residents of Barcelona could expect to live an extra 200 days thanks to the cumulative health benefits, if the idea is rolled out across the city.

Space to play. Imag: Mosa Moseneke/Unsplash.

There are expected to be benefits to mental health, as well as physical health. Having access to such spaces can stave off loneliness and isolation – especially among elderly residents – as communities form stronger bonds and become more resilient.

Stumbling blocks

It was Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, who first championed the introduction of superblocks – and he argues that the idea could be used in any city. Even so, authorities looking to expand the concept in Barcelona or beyond will need to be mindful of some concerns.

Changes like these require capital investment. Even as the car-free streets are transformed with urban furniture and greenery, the remaining major roads will likely have to accommodate heavier traffic.

Nothing comes for free. Image: Zvileve/Flickr/creative commons.

Further investments in local infrastructure – such as improving surrounding roads to deal with more traffic, or installing smart traffic management system – could be required to prevent serious congestion. Then the question remains, how to finance such investments – a higher tax rate is unlikely to be popular.


What’s more, whenever a location becomes more desirable, it leads to an increase in property demand. Higher prices and rent could create pockets of unaffordable neighbourhoods. This may lead to use of properties for investment purposes and possibly, displacement of local residents.

It’s also worth noting that Barcelona is an old and relatively well-planned European city. Different challenges exist in emerging global cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America – and in younger cities in the US and Australia. There is a great deal of variation in scale, population density, urban shape and form, development patterns and institutional frameworks across the cities. Several large cities in the developing world are heavily congested with uncontrolled, unregulated developments and weak regulatory frameworks.

Replicating what’s been done in Barcelona may prove difficult in such places, and will require much greater transformations. But it’s true that the basic principles of superblocks – that value pedestrians, cyclists and high quality public spaces over motor vehicles – can be applied in any city, with some adjustments.

Leading the way

Over the history of human civilisation, great cities have been at the forefront of innovation and social progress. But cities need a robust structure of governance, which is transparent and accountable, to ensure a fair and efficient use of resources. Imposing innovation from the top down, without consultations and buy-in, can go squarely against the idea of free market capitalism, which has been a predominant force for modern economies and can lead push-back from citizens and local businesses.

Citizens must also be willing to change their perspectives and behaviour, to make such initiatives work. This means that “solutions” to urban living like superblocks need to have buy-in from citizens, through continuous engagement with local government officials.

A man speaks at a public consultation on the Eixample superblock in Barcelona. Image: Ajuntament Barcelona/Flickr/creative commons.

Successful urban planning also needs strong leadership with a clear and consistent vision of the future, and a roadmap of how that vision can be delivered. The vision should be co-developed with the citizens and all other stakeholders such as local businesses, private and public organisations. This can ensure that everybody shares ownership and takes responsibility for the success of local initiatives.

There is little doubt that the principles and objectives of superblocks are sound. The idea has the potential to catch on around the world – though it will likely take a unique and specific form in every city.

The Conversation

Anupam Nanda, Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate, University of Reading.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.