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Designating urban forms: French boulevards and avenues

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The study of the evolution of words used for naming urban forms can be a helpful element in studying the development of attitudes towards city building. This article, focusing on boulevard and avenue, sketches their development in the context of a few other words, mail, cours and allée. The success of the word boulevard, originally a military term for city wall, follows the success of Parisian promenades, the Grands boulevards. As a result, in the nineteenth century, all French ring roads and many other major roads were given the name boulevard. Another term was, by then, in vogue: avenue. The two curtailed the use of mail, cours and allée used frequently during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During most of the twentieth century, avenue was the dominant term. In the 1980s, however, boulevard made a spectacular comeback due to its association with the term Haussmannian Boulevards, a reference to nineteenth century Paris, a model for those who rejected modernistic town planning. Through the evolution of these two terms, this article aims to show that the use of generic terms functions, to some extent, as does the importing of models. Naming is, however, used much more frequently as it is less expensive than actually making a new place or thoroughfare on the imported model.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Ecole d'Architecture de Versailles 5 avenue de Sceaux BP 674 78006, Versailles France, Email:

Publication date: 2004-04-01

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