I am so disappointed with my regular readers. I gave you the tiniest window of opportunity to expose yourselves as anti French bigots, and you showered me with blog comments and direct emails, telling me how much you agree the French are retarded and smelly. Shame on you. Can’t you tell I’m a francophile! I love everything about the French people, especially their willingness to try new things with architecture.
The ink was barely dry on William Gilpin’s earliest texts on picturesque beauty, when Marie Antoinette was building herself an “English” style picturesque garden. Peter and Alison Smithson did a lot of talking about footbridges making a new ground plane one level up from the roads, but it was the French who actually built such a district, in La Défense. The English are talk. The French are people of action! And mark my word, the French will have transformed their former industrial sites, waterways and old rail lines into a network of parks serving cycling, while conservative Brits are still making excuses.
I have just spent the morning at the Parc de la Villette, a former slaughter yard site, converted into a park filled with buildings—or, as the architect Bernard Tschumi preferred to say, it is a building spread so thin that one can use it as a park, if they prefer. Tschumi was reading Derrida at the time he designed this, so was enjoying being perverse with his words, letting signifiers and signs slip like crazy. And in true deconstructionist fashion, a park built by someone focused on walking, slipped into becoming a park more suited to cycling.
Stage One of Paris’s cycling conversion, was the making of capillary bike paths—the ones I complained about in my previous post. What Paris needed before those, were bicycling arteries. Modern bikes, and e-Bikes, prefer long and straight routes, completely uninterrupted. Such routes don’t need to connect homes and shops. They need to connect opposite sides of a city. This idea that bikes are only good for short trips, or extending the reach of train stations, is completely absurd. On wide open greenways, urban cycling has a range of 10 or 15km., before overall time penalties start to make driving look better.
Paris has a disused network of tram lines, called La Petite Ceinture. And it has a river and some canals. Get these working as arteries, for fast bikes and e-Bikes, and people will tolerate the spaghetti of right angle turns, bollards and bike paths nullified by illegally parked cars, that they have to contend with on this city’s streets.
Where the capillary ends this city has laboured to make were necessarily built as a chore, because they were built in conflict with voters who drive, a broad brushstroke network of greenways, incorporating Parc de la Villette, can be designed to be beautiful. Hell, it could even be deconstructionist, in the manner of Jacques Derrida’s poststructuralist linguistic philosophy, if that’s what these crazy frogs prefer in their green space.