A tale of two cities (mostly one)
Ever since the days of Haussman, Paris has been the epicentre of centralised planning, with its much-feted Grands Projets in the latter part of the last century the most recent manifestation.
Now it seems it wants to do something radical again. According to the Independent, Anne Hidalgo, currently deputy mayor of Paris and keen to become the next mayor, has thrown her weight behind a plan to redevelop Avenue Foch as part park, part social housing. Avenue Foch is not any old Paris street. It is the widest road in Paris, running from Etoile to Bois de Boulogne, and apparently also the richest. Which is part of the problem.
The super-rich (and in some cases super-criminal) who own the buildings are largely foreign and are rarely there. As a result, the buildings are largely dark, the gardens in front of them unused, and the traffic thunders past a dead environment. Yet Paris desperately needs more public open space and more social housing in the centre, so the proposal makes great sense.
Imagine the equivalent in London, though, where areas are becoming similar super-rich ghettoes. It just couldn’t happen in Mayfair could it? Wholesale redevelopment of Park Lane? Forget it. And local authorities can be as intransigent as private individuals, so that it looks as if Boris will have to knock heads together in Camden and Islington if redevelopment at Mount Pleasant is to go ahead.
Should London be more like Paris? Well, Paris has plenty of problems as well, not least with the poor being driven out of the centre. But along with French centralism goes a charming kind of occasional laissez faire, as in this tale of a man living in a bridge in the centre of the city. He is an allowed squatter, he has free electricity and he has even had a visit from the mayor of Paris. I can’t quite see Boris tolerating the London equivalent.
This story came my way through a friend in Australia – the internet is a wonderful thing.