In Paris you can easily add-in the tourist’s point of view (This is such a lovely city!), that of the Minis- ter of Agriculture (On Paris’s doorstep you will find the largest quantity of agricultural land in the country), and that of the Minister of the Economy (In 2011, the economy of the Paris region was evaluated at 30% of GNP), as the agricultural world is fighting against the urbanisation deemed favourable by the service-based economy. Not to mention the forcible encounter between the luxury culture and the immigrants, refugees, and unemployed that are trying to survive, or between drivers and pedestrians, all of which are prevalent in most urban zones. Paris is where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born, and the city continues to recall that Baudelaire’s poem was the only successful attempt to reconcile the Spleen and the Ideal.
WHAT THE HELL?
Since then, the Atelier du Grand Paris hasn’t produced much else apart from cocktails, promotional brochures, and videos, and whenever it employed a consultant, s/he would engage another consultant, and so it went on ... until nobody knew which needs they were responding to anymore. On the City Hall side, the Deputy Mayor of Urbanism became the Mayor of Paris in 2014 and has since increased the level of input concerning the architectural renewal of the city. We must commend Anne Hidalgo on her interpersonal skills and her knowledge of jargon. She is definitely bold. Still, in order to maintain her own myth, she needs money. The contract with Decaux for bus shelters is a great idea: City Hall doesn’t need to pay a penny, and on top of that it receives royalties. But, as all magic comes with a price, Decaux has multiplied the cost of the advertising panels in the shelters and doubled the height of useless signage poles for the installation GSM towers serving to charge cellular devices. The result: blocked views and exposure to electromagnetic waves at first floor level, lack of shelter in bad weather conditions, and a saturated pavement. And that without addressing the senseless design itself.
The Western world has the wisdom to freewheel within the capitalist system without forgetting good taste and good conscience. More than ever, we critics are allowed to comment, just as long as we accept one of the shams that has been proposed, as long as an ideological right-thinking network backs us up. Those who want the power know how to gather people under their name, and Nicolas Michelin (architect and urban planner) tries with his ‘making of the city’ manifesto, which highlights the discomfort in using financial logic. Signed by more than 120 people, it claims: “Everybody in the city planning department (elected local officials, contractors, developers, architects, landscape architects, lessors, and promoters) is stuck in a financial mould that wreaks havoc.” Correct, but still far from being new, and likewise the solution it is aiming at: participative workshops. Furthermore, when it comes to discussions among representatives from all factions, each of the partners is frozen in their own position – Follow my lead and then share! And there is not a clear answer from the architects when questioned about their individual capacity to say no when politicians, contractors, or lessors compel them to change their projects – Do as I say not as I do!
And as this bunch is busy verbally abusing the well intended plan, it is raining outside and people are packed under a badly conceived bus shelter; the homeless wonder about the deterrents designed into park benches and the forbidden access to public spaces, while demonstrators ask for a higher salary, and inhabitants of the suburbs, who don’t have local public transport, either take the car and keep overriding crosswalks and violating traffic rules in order to get home earlier, or get wet walking, cursing and contemplating the possibility of becoming a rioter or a terrorist. And simultaneously in Laos, Syria, and Somalia, people either survive or don’t.