Just as surprising as the recent discovery of a Mayan city in the jungles of Mexico I linked to on Thursday, it seems that a river was discovered flowing through Paris by pedestrians!
Yes, a real river; who would have thought?
I am kidding of course as the Seine was always there but if you check the pictures below, it was unlikely that you’d walk by it since the opening of the riverside fast lane ( voie rapide in French ) to cars in 1966. Existing segments of street were joined to allow a transit along the river’s axis.
Not the best of places for a walk, right? But since modernity called and Paris was blessed with a decent number of parks by the big 1850-1870 clean-up plan of Baron Haussman commissioned by Napoleon III, few protested. But parks are in most cases islands of sorts even though in some places such as Central Park in New York they can be crossed in daily use of the town. A linear park is something different than an enclosed one. It can become the way to work or shop; it goes places!
And for big urban centers that sprawl for kilometers, if a river goes through them, it is an excellent base for that dual use green space. The same having been done in other French towns such as Bordeaux and Lyon, the very citizens-oriented Mayor of Paris Pierre Delanoë targeted those ugly fast lanes and transformed part of the Right Bank or Rive Droite for an urban “beach” project back in 2002.
The four weeks long event meant to offer the residents that for any reason could not go on a regular vacation the possibility of enjoying themselves “as if”. Its huge success made it a perennial activity and led to a change in the layout of the fast lane. Compare with before :
That only need a reduction in width of the street by a meter and offered a walking path near the water to people. To which floating installations contributed and the re-conquest of the Seine had begun! The same just happened to the Left Bank ( South shore ) this year and here are the results :
All of that is part of what the weird dreamers called ecologists think should become the norm for most if not all human habitats. Habitats, mind you, as there is no disputing that industrial areas are not concerned here. But living space, even when urban, even when work and business related should be first and foremost made for the living less it makes no sense? And there are many ways to do so!
A long time back, we discussed the concept of shared streets on definitive Lapse of Reason and are now coming back to it.
Streets have a dual function themselves; they always did. From the lowliest village, from the cities of the Middle-East cradle of civilization to Rome, roads and streets were meant to allow displacement of goods and people. Before that even, paths were but the most used way between abodes and food or materials locations. When cities appeared, one use won, that of moving around. Moving food in from the field to the market, moving waste in the gutter from the houses to the outside and so on. Rivers also already served the exact same purposes. With the centuries, sewage moved underground to allow the surface to be kept for humans and vehicles. pavement of some sort made transportation more convenient and insured relative cleanliness. And with relative modernity, that came to be expected and encouraged. Until the Industrial Revolution did something strange.
Allowing more comfort, the tools it brought along made streets safer with efficient lighting, cleaner by doing away with animal dung as cars took over transport duties and so on. But at the same time, trains brought along concentration of folks in cities on a never before seen scale and since that seemed a good idea, urban areas grew in size up to the point where most moves were intended to facilitate automobile traffic culminating in the fast lanes of our Post’s first picture. This was true not only in towns but also in the adjacent suburbs that surrounded them. And something fell out of sight in the process.
Streets are lined with buildings used by … people! Some live in those and some work in those buildings but all are people nonetheless. Cars do not live there. While it is true that cars are stored in street side entrances, garages and parking spaces, the main use of buildings is still that of containing people for one reason or the other. This is why when car numbers rose, we built sidewalks all around to allow a safe space for the displacement of pedestrians. Just compare a residential street to a boulevard and you will find that the latter has much wider sidewalks to compensate for its much wider paved area. But, as evidenced in the Post linked to above, the last few years saw a reversal of that tendency. After all, even in North America where the use of the car reached a level that bordered on such fondness of these machines that bicycles have in places almost disappeared and many motorists consider people on foot to be a nuisance, true residential areas have streets without sidewalks, simply because they are not needed!
A basket or goal can be found on the curb and kids will regularly use the pavement to play. Once the 20 to 40 automobiles on the block are parked, people can move around freely so that the sidewalk only comes in such an instance to mean a loss of useful acreage. Why would we then not do the same if to a lesser extend in more central parts of our cities? There is no good explanation save force of habit. Apart from highways, freeways and other assorted arteries with heavy traffic and other thoroughfares, it should not be preferable to limit the movements of the reason for their existence : the users or namely persons, humans. Cars are not why towns and cities exist, people are!
And all around, we find examples of how the urban space can be modified back, away from the unnatural excess of recent years. Paris has found a river in its midst by thinking so. What else will we discover as we explore that avenue? 😎
I’ll be back with concepts derived from that way of thinking as soon as possible but in the meanwhile, here is a small depository of links about the future of urban living that you can peruse and maybe draw ideas from with which to fuel your reflections on the matter and if the temperature allows, go out and play; reclaim the streets, Tay.