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A few observations from Paris

The last time I was in Paris was in 2006. That’s a long time ago and so it was great to be back in the city earlier this week. I don’t know the city as well as I do many other cities, but I speak enough French to be dangerous and we spent a good amount of time on this trip just exploring. On average, we clocked about 20,000 steps a day. So here’s a list of some of the things I was reminded of or learned of on this visit. If any of you are more familiar with the city, please feel free to speak up in the comment section below.

  • I love Paris.
  • The Parisian art of people watching is alive and well. One of my favorite things about Paris is how so much of the cafe seating faces out toward the street. That’s what you’re supposed to be watching: urban life.
  • Most cities have a clear message. In Los Angeles, it’s probably that you should be more famous. In Boston, it’s arguably that you should be smarter. And in New York, it is perhaps that you should be richer. In Paris, the message feels loud and clear: You should be more fashionable.
  • Compared to Toronto, the center of Paris feels far more static. Less construction. Less change. Less that is new. That’s not such a bad thing given how beautiful the city is. But in my view, cities are about balancing preservation and progress. From what I could tell, a lot of the new construction seemed to be happening in the suburbs and in the outskirts of the city.
  • That said, COVID feels much further along in Paris. The city was very open and everyone seemed to be back in the office. Locals said that the city was operating at maybe 80%. It felt busy.
  • Dress shoes are dead in Paris. Everyone wears cool sneakers no matter how young or old. Think business suits with Nike Air Maxes. My hypothesis is that it’s just far more practical given how much people walk in Paris. I plan to adopt this strategy immediately.
  • In addition to walking, everyone seemingly bikes and/or uses an electric scooter. Again, it didn’t seem to matter how young or old. Paris also seems to have solved the scooter clutter problem, as has many other cities. There are designated spots (painted lines next to on-street car parking) and that’s where you’ll find the scooters. Toronto needs to get on board.
  • Traveling at 300 km/h on a train is a highly civilized way to move between urban centers.
  • There’s nothing wrong with having a picnic and drinking a bottle of wine (or two) in a park. In fact, it is probably something that should be celebrated. Let people be grown-ups.
  • When you purchase a baguette, you should immediately take a bite out of it to see how fresh it is.
  • The Eiffel Tower, much like the CN Tower, looks far better when illuminated.
  • Balconies of any size can be wonderful. We had a small Juliet balcony off of our hotel room in Nice and we used it every day for croissant eating and to dry our bathing suits. In a more permanent situation, I am sure we would have started growing things on it.
  • Midrise buildings do indeed create nice urban street walls. But it’s important to keep in mind that Paris’ midrise blocks are also deep and dense and with lots of courtyard conditions. That’s how the city is able to house so many people at such low building heights.
  • Facing conditions between buildings is less of a concern when you employ less glass. Smaller punched windows allow you to better manage privacy. I would go so far as to argue that if Paris were an all-glass city, much of its current built form would be fairly unlivable.

What did I miss in this list?

Photo by Alexander Kagan on Unsplash

13 Comments

  1. paolo

    Paris is finally awakening to vegan food and doing it with taste and class. If you follow Sebastien Kardinal’s vegan google map it will show great restaurants in almost all arrondissements! Great article. Where to next?

    Like

  2. iamolo

    Paris is finally awakening to vegan food and doing it with taste and class. If you follow Sebastien Kardinal’s vegan google map it will show great restaurants in almost all arrondissements! Great article. Where to next?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nancy Cohen

    Dogs, last time I was there the city was unwalkable due to the dog droppings everywhere. Toronto is approaching the same.

    Like

  4. Shana

    Paris invests heavily in maintaining their beautiful parks and streetscape. From my observation in 2018 when I was there, every park I visited (Place des Vosges, the Tuilleries, etc) were beautifully well maintained. Toronto needs to not just build parks, but maintain them with flowers, benches. Same goes for sidewalks. Parisian sidewalks appeared clean and litter-free (which is amazing given how many people use them everyday). Downtown Toronto sidewalks are tripping hazards, dirty, and a mixture of different building materials.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Susan Chow

    All great observations. Quality of food from ingredients, preparation, presentation also comes to mind. I would argue, quality is resonates in all aspects of French life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ben

    One of the great things about Paris is the diversity in scales of streets and public spaces. Where streets are concerned, you have the grand boulevards contrasted by the winding streets of the medieval fabric through which these street were “pierced.” Think of turning off the Boulevard St. Germain on to the rue Bucci and following the rue St. Andé des Arts to the Blvd. St. Michel. Think about following the rue Bonaparte to the Seine, where the city opens up, or the trek up the rue Mouffetard The constant closing down and opening up is fantastic. Where spaces are concerned, consider the contrast between, on one hand, les Tuileries or the Luxembourg Gardens with smaller, hidden spaces like the garden of the Palais Royale (thanks for the photo!), the Place des Vosges or even the Place Furstenberg. Each different route through the city represents a different narrative, punctuated by nodes and intersections.

    It’s important to remember that Paris has been at it since Roman times — with lots of ebbs and flows. We’ll get there in North America, but not in our lifetimes.

    Liked by 1 person

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