PARIS: Calgarians must be patient
It was amazing to see elderly Parisians negotiating the stairs — no ramps and elevators here, it’s every man and woman for themselves.
Calgary seems very pastoral compared to Paris when it comes to traffic, transit and sidewalks.
Besides being the government and commercial capital of France, and a leading world business and cultural centre, Paris is also a much older city than Calgary,.
It dates back about 2,000 years to the Roman settlement of Lutetia.
By contrast, although what is now Calgary contains First Nations sites dating back thousands of years, it only became a town in 1884.
Paris oozes history. There seems to be a monument or building on every block that celebrates the life of a historical figure who not only helped shape this city, but the world.
While Calgary has been the home of two Canadian prime ministers as well as people such as pioneer feminist Nellie McClung, most people would be hard-pressed to find a single city resident who has shaped the world like the famous alumni of Paris — the likes of which include French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, American writer Ernest Hemingway, French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, and French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
The best we can do are places like Fort Calgary, Memorial Park, the Famous Five and a few other statues to celebrate our history.
Paris is a city of the past; Calgary is a city of the future.
The art exhibitions available in Paris are mind-boggling.
There are more cultural options in Paris in one month than in all of Western Canada — maybe all of Canada. In a few days, you could see major exhibitions of art by such world figures as Kandinsky, Calder, Picasso, Hockney, de Chirico and Utrillo, each located in grand historic buildings.
Even if it took decades, you couldn’t see such artworks in Calgary. Our city is definitely not on the same planet as Paris when it comes to being a creative place that would inspire young writers, artists and musicians.
We can only hope that we are planting the seeds today that might make us a creative city in the 22nd century.
We have to be patient — after all, even Paris wasn’t built in a day!
Calgary will need at least another century to create the layers of urban patina, diversity of architecture and cultural events needed to be a creative city.
But it is not just age that makes Paris seem like it is on a different planet. It is also a city built by people with absolute power.
There were no year-long Plan It discussions with community consultation to create the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.
The palaces, cathedrals, monuments, bridges and boulevards were built by kings, queens, emperors, bishops and cardinals — in other words, people who were not hampered by things like policy, planning and democracy.
If they wanted something to get built, they just built it.
Calgary, on the other hand, is a city designed by committee, which often means innovative design and ambitious developments lose out to more conservative ones.
If we thought the window shopping in Frankfurt, Germany was fun, it was truly amazing in Paris.
The Parisians call it “lechevitrine,” literally meaning “licking the window.”
Be it a bakery or bistro, fromage or fashion shop, the windows are always enticing you to stop, come closer and salivate over the items in the window.
Some call it the greatest spectator sport in Paris, jockeying for the best spot to see what is in the window — especially at Christmas time.
Paris is known as the “City of Light.” There is a glow on the sidewalks at night from the storefront windows that create a wonderful atmosphere for an evening stroll.
Unfortunately in Calgary, the storefront windows along most of our urban streets for the most part lack interesting window displays.
Lights are turned off at night and often the shutters and blinds are rolled down.
Paris is one of the densest cities in the world, yet you would never know it.
Part of the reason is the abundance of parks and public spaces, but the main reason is the lack of 20-, 30-and 40-story office and condos buildings.
In Paris, buildings are rarely taller than eight stories, which mean they don’t dwarf pedestrians walking below.
The buildings also extend from corner to corner, like a 30-or 40-storey highrise lying down; there are no gaps or set-backs.
With shops at street level and offices or residences above, every building and block has a mix of uses, helping to keep the streets animated morning, noon and night.
Paris’ revolving street markets are also on a human scale, with tents along a neighbourhood street or tucked under an overhead transit bridge — there is no mega farmers market.
It still puzzles me why we continue to propose highrise villages for our inner city communities in a winter city like Calgary.
It was interesting to see most of the modern buildings and public places built in Paris since the 1960s suffer from the same problems that plague Calgary.
The designs seem to be dated already; they lack the timelessness quality of the older buildings.
The plazas and parks are void of people and the shops generate very little pedestrian animation.
I can’t help but wonder if somehow over the past 50 years, the world has lost the ability to create new vibrant urban public spaces.
It appears not just to be a Calgary phenomenon. I have observed this in many other cities as well and will speak to this more next time.
Next stop, Lyon in France.
Paris is full of incredible artworks, like the Mona Lisa.
Unlike Calgary’s Bow River, the Seine in Paris, above, has been so tamed that sand must be trucked in to create a beach for sunbathers.
Many of the important monuments in Paris, like the Arc de Triomphe, were ordered by France’s autocratic kings and emperors.
The Emperor Napoleon is one of several Parisians who changed the world’s history.