PARIS: Cal­gar­i­ans must be pa­tient

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Con­dos -

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.

Pho­tos, Cal­gary Her­ald Archive

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.

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