Part 3 of a series: Eurapan Transportation Vacation (ETV) 20 May 2013 After two hours on a high-speed train from Amsterdam, I stepped into Paris.
Paris grew substantial and dense before the French Revolution. After the 1850s, at the direction of Napoleon III, the French government transformed the city over 20 years, carving straight, wide boulevards through an existing dense maze of streets. Apparent motivations for this massive intervention include suppressing dissent, modernizing the city, and retaining the bourgeois class in the center (as British and American upper classes fled to the periphery).
Robert Fishman, in his book Bourgeois Utopia: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia, characterized this renovation of Paris as an “effort to create a zone of privilege in the urban core based on monumental apartment houses whose facades imitated Baroque palaces and whose apartments housed the bourgeoisie.”
Paris Today and Beyond
Parisian society takes place today in the networked space between these monumental apartment houses. Modern observers experience the grand avenues at full maturity within a central core that remains uninterrupted by freeways. Opposite to the socio-economic geography of US cities, the industrial, working-class, and poor neighborhoods are found at the periphery of Paris, with greater density and wealth in the central city.
Hence, I planned a self-guided bike tour to cover the layers between center and rural edge of Paris. (Not quite reaching the rural edge.)
Paris recently made significant livability enhancements in the central zone. As Streetsblog reports, under mayor Bertrand Delanoe, the city
…created bus lanes on nearly every avenue in the city, overhauled wide boulevards with new bikeways and pedestrian spaces, reclaimed the banks of the Seine from cars during the summer with Paris Plage, and launched the huge Velib bike-share system with its 20,000 bicycles.
Near-future plans are even more promising. Current mayor Anne Hidalgo is pushing to gradually restrict automobile usage in the central city, and double the bike network by 2020 as part of a $147 million cycling development program.
Photographs below, therefore, are of a city transforming once again, if more gradually, towards modern livability.
1 – Avenue des Champs-E’lyse’es – Paris’s grand avenue – emerged from a 1994 rehab with two of the world’s widest sidewalks. 2 – New “green ballast” light-rail tracks along Boulevard Ney in the 18th Arrondissement 3 – Paris was is in decent supply of protected bike lanes, including granite curbs and other treatments. However the cycle network was disconnected, and far from the Dutch standard of safety and convenience. 4 – Avenue Aristide Briand in the commune of Les Pavillions-sous-Bois – 11 km from the center of Paris – reminded me of too many American suburbs, juxtaposed with high-rise (presumably low-income) apartment buildings. 5 – Multimodal transport connections: the Paris bikeshare service Ve’lib in full force outside Gare de Lyon railway station. From there I wooshed to south east France… Bon Voyage!