A tale of three cities
The Haussmannian Paris
The Paris that we know today was not born by chance of several centuries but rather it was the completed vision of Baron Haussmann (1809-1891) who was entrusted by Napoleon III with a program for the reconstruction of the city. to rediscover and commemorate the greatness of his uncle Napoleon Bonaparte, First Emperor of the French Republic.
Like all great ideas, there were other good reasons, most of them dealing with the free movement of people, food and sewage for a city that had doubled its population since 1800. It was also a mechanism for control civil unrest. Previously, the city was a maze of small streets – such as still exist in the Marais district – and these had been difficult for the government soldiers to defend when the proletariat was in turmoil.
The creation of wide boulevards (up to 120 meters in the case of L’Avenue Foch) and an elegant and harmonious building style was also – being French-style – architecture as an art. These large boulevards which crisscross the city are closed off by monuments or magnificent buildings, such as the Opéra framed by the avenue of the same name, or the boulevard Beaumarchais leading to the Place de la Bastille – the revolutionary equivalent of our Place Cuffy. The Arc de Triomphe is the star in the center of a wheel of eight perfectly rectilinear boulevards from which it can be seen, amplifying its symbolism of French military prowess. Hitler made sure to hang a swastika there in 1940.
Haussmann built large sewer tunnels under each boulevard, created stylish and uniform newsstands and benches, and he planted trees along the extremely spacious sidewalks, making Paris one of the most pedestrian and pedestrian cities. also a joy to “people watch” from a chalkboard cafe.
The New York of Moses
Robert Moses (1888-1981) did not have quite the same impact and did not add art to New York; it was a horrible time for American public works despite the lashes of federal money spent on them. Today we could enter Manhattan via the Triborough Bridge – a great sight if you like skyscraper egomania, but the bridge has no aesthetic value. It was a project of Moses that characterized his determination to bring humans in and out of the city via bridges and highways at a time when Americans were in a true love affair with the automobile.
Over a career spanning six decades, Moses acquired extraordinary power despite being an unelected bureaucrat. He’s quoted as saying, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs” and he certainly did. Its Cross Bronx highway remains a horrendous scar across the southern part of this borough that has decimated and impoverished minority neighborhoods. Equally ruthless was his cleaning up of the poor neighborhoods of the West Side of Manhattan to create Lincoln Center. Worst of all was his construction of low bridges over the freeways leading to Jones Beach, meant to deter buses used primarily by African Americans. Its widening of avenues in Manhattan meant narrower sidewalks and to this day the borough often features a cramped Indian promenade, though its energy and color still make it entertaining. And it’s still a collection of distinct neighborhoods, too, especially in the inner city – Little Italy, Noho, and Soho, although gentrification over the past 40 years has homogenized its residents into a majority white and wealthy.
Dubai’s instant urbanism
Dubai was little more than a fishing village at the time when Baron Haussmann was building his boulevards. And it was not until the end of the 20th century that Sheikh Mohammed ibn Rashid Al Maktoum began creating a modern metropolis. His greatest advantage was having a blank canvas for his plans and the political power to move them forward. Democracy can slow this stuff down. It is nonetheless a staggering achievement of “snap town planning” in terms of size and speed made possible by cheap Asian labor whose seedy neighborhoods are hidden away from tourists.
Dubai contains some of the most exciting architecture in the world, including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and the sail-shaped Burj Al Arabhe hotel, as well as huge man-made islands. But it is a city on four wheels, not two feet, and as such it has an enormity, anonymity and contrived character that some say is dystopian. Many of its villas are empty, simply investments for the rich of the world to park their money. Real estate like Bitcoin.
The shaping of public spaces determines the behavior of its inhabitants. Build parks and sports facilities and more people will use them as part of their daily routine. Build more freeways and more freeways will run there and more often. For all of his sins, Moses built eight municipal swimming pools around New York City, many of which are still open. The flâneur de Paris strolling through the city, or the Italian family indulging in their evening passeggiata around the square in their neighborhood, have been helped by shrewd town planners. New Yorkers, on the other hand, invariably jump in their cars when evening arrives, or take a rambling subway to their nondescript suburban homes as part of the daily inspiration and exhalation of commuters.
What could Georgetown residents learn from these different cities as they reflect on their future and prospects for transformation? In colonial times without a combustion engine, the Garden City could have been a pleasant place to stroll in the shade of the blazing trees, of which there are a few precious ones left. The city’s parks and its sea wall still offer some relief from the heat and claustrophobia and more could be done to improve these common spaces. More basketball courts could bring an energy and a sense of community that those in Lower Manhattan have generated. A daring proposition.
Perhaps the main and most immediate problem is the city’s level of motorization. The increase in the number of vehicles in the country and the inability to provide safe and reliable public transport have plagued the city streets to the point where traffic jams are the norm. This Christmas season is already promising to be bumper to bumper. The absence of sidewalks either because they are not there (North Road) or because private cars block them, makes walking anywhere an obstacle course rather than an enjoyable one. And while the Diamond Freeway at Mandela Avenue and the proposed East Bank / East Coast Bypass could provide relief to commuters, the city’s roads will only increase congestion as more cars pour in. , part of a vicious cycle of road building and vehicle ownership. There is a term for it – induced demand. Unfortunately, we don’t hear of light rail service along the eastern shore – a possible solution.
Meanwhile, the president’s plan to build Silica City, southeast of the Soesdyke junction, reflects the current government’s lack of interest in the capital and looks more like a political abandonment under the pretext of fighting the rise in standards. from the sea. It may not be (Guyanese are a coastal people), but one would imagine that this “shining city on a hill” would be as soulless as Dubai and bland as downtown Dubai. ‘Orlando. However, the exodus could give Georgetown residents a chance to finally breathe and perhaps some autonomy to create a city that celebrates its complicated history and is more livable than one where people survive. Given our policy, we probably won’t have a Haussmann or a Moses to move the plans forward and that may be the best. Grassroots urban planning involving all citizens is preferable as long as the business class is limited in its influence, as it has destroyed much of the city’s old buildings and built their ugly boxes from top to bottom. Regent St.
Any initiative or master plan will take decades to come to fruition, but maybe we could start with a few small steps: pedestrian-only Saturdays on Regent St; parking on the side of the street on main arteries; prioritization of parapets for two feet on four wheels. Cities are the soul of countries and therefore must be cultivated. Georgetown is injured but not irreparable.