Le Grand Conurbation, Tour de France

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I’m facing backward on the train to Holland.  Looking back/reflecting on the places I’ve just recently been….

Public space in Paris

Mireille helped me understand the city through its amenities.  The public, Parisian or Foreign, live in the public space of the city.  Most activity, esp. in the summer months, centers around the meandering embankments, ramps and bridges of the Seine.  Cramped living quarters (small apartments) in central Paris produce surrogate urban living rooms….outside.  Picnics on the Seine are a daily phenomenon and the gathering and condensing of people and activities lasts well into the night.  The best part about living in the city is that you don’t have to clean up after the party.  If you get up early enough to run, you beat the city sanitation crews and splash through puddles of pee and shards of broken glass bottles.

Paris reeks of urine in the heat….but this is what happens when wine is so available, delicious, and cheap.  In Paris, the homeless population drinks champagne.  The recycling bins are overflowing with empty wine bottles and there isn’t an outdoor cafe not filled with people imbibing something.

The French will sit anywhere.  Witness the cobblestone clearing (covered in Pigeon shit) outside the Centre Pompidou.  Filled with families, couples, loaners.  At Eurolille, people were sitting in the most bland, horribly designed spaces I’ve seen.  Just because people will sit anywhere doesn’t mean they should have to.  My favorite spots to sit and to see sitters is at the unobstructed, unrailed edges of the Seine.  This type of freedom is rarely possible in the states.  I’m painting maybe a dirty picture of Paris, but it is in fact really beautiful and nice.  It ranks high on the favorite places I’ve been list.

Really interesting to see was the Viaduct of the Arts – the precedent that originally appeared in the competition brief for NYC High Line.  See Photos.

After taking in much of the city for the week, and seeing the influence of Haussmann from above (via de la Tour Eiffel), Manuela Koelke (SOM 2005) and I spent the day at Le Grand Paris exhibit, familiarizing ourselves with the design proposals for 2030.

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Make no mistake, Paris is anti new cities:

The ten multidisciplinary teams, headed by architects and urban planners, have each explored a new type of urban planning, which excludes any notion of creating cities from scratch.  The days of untrammeled development – such as the new towns that emerged in the post-war years – are over.  Today it is time to remodel our capital region.

It’s not hard to understand why the negative reaction is portrayed after you’ve been to some unsatisfying French solutions to new cities including La Defense (1964-ish Financial District on the periphery), Cergy Pontoise (one of several new towns built in the suburbs of Paris, this one more garden city like, 1960s), Euralille (Transit/convention/exhibition hub and parasite to Lille, master planned by Koolhaas, 1990s), and the new neighborhood development around La Bibliothèque nationale (began in 1985).

It was hard to find any physical, concrete design solutions at the exhibit.  Most proposals for Paris 2030 were violently against the concept of the master plan (which is respectable but questionable, what then?).  Nothing like Corbusier’s Plan Voisin….except maybe the blue foam concept animation from MDRVD.  See the you tube post on the latest blog comment section.  Then, kindly post a comment yourself.

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The Axe majeur of Cergy-Pontoise belongs to the historical tradition of great urban layout.  Its three kilometers length is marked out by 12 stations.  Twelve is the number of time, year day and night.  The number which rythms (I’m quoting the placard with exact precision) the life of man.

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