Paris (20) Noisy Mont d’Est-RER



Paris (as a municipality)  is a small footprint city when compared to other capitals. A central matter for the current French planning scene is how to ensure a coherent urban project with  an administrative fragmentation, in which Paris has 2,2 million residents and an additional 8 million residents live in hundreds of municipalities seldom over 50.000.

Public transportation is essential. Noisy- Mont d’Est is a RER (a kind of metropolitan rail network) station created during the 1980s to serve what was to be the center of one of the new towns whose inception can be traced back to the Gaullist 1960s. As a child I saw the station, the neighborhood and the lake being built… and over time I have seen what was to become a city core fail somehow, despite a strong public cash injection. In part the station contributed, as it had a clear functional project linking rail and bus, but an architecture that relied on scarcely lit underground spaces that contributed to a climate of insecurity (one of the factors fueling the “seismic” result of last Sunday European elections).

A renovation program has moved the station outside, limiting the underground spaces to the platforms themselves, leaving the buses on open air. I’m not sure to see the centrality of the area improve that much (despite the fact that employment exists), but many people can use the bus with a different feeling.

Centrality is in such places a more complex issue: those new towns have obtained over time a set of roles, including universities and corporate headquarters. But two factors have played against these projects up to date. On one side, a configuration in which, despite a presence of public transportation, car has remained central. On the other side, the asymmetry between a public power that is to make its strategies explicit through planning and a private sector not bound to this, which has, especially in the first years of the new towns, having no constraining laws, created big box retail in peripheral locations that prevented other retail operators from locating in planned centralities. And an urban core without a strong retail base is a complex thing to get…



París (17) Autolib


The image is that of yet one more car dealership. But it is something else. After having developed a bike location scheme (velib), the City of Paris has begun a pioneer project: electric car renting. The idea has some attractive elements: for many Paris residents car ownership is not so practical, but rather a chore, having to pay high parking prices and car maintenance for something you finally use just some days. A number of parking spots on the streets have been reserved for this system, in which you take your car at one station and can leave it at any other in the network. Besides, the high initial cost of acquiring an electric car is balanced, favouring a technological evolution that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

When you see these cars on the street, they see prematurely old and not that well-tended, but they seem rather useful for their public, that could be more important than you could think at first sight. It seems Indianapolis has been convinced…


London (5)

Two years ago the London Mayor inaugurated a new pedestrian passage at Oxford Circus. The interesting point is in a design that allows diagonal crossing. This is common in some Asian cities as Tokyo, but seldom used in European cities. There is a reason to make that here, as this is a crossroads at a really frequented retail area, where this design allows a more fluid pedestrian traffic in all directions. The only thing to know is how sales have progressed in the stores right on the ancient pedestrian “gridlock” points…