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Fabric of Paris

Stories of the streets, railways and buildings of the most beautiful city in the world

November reads

A roundup of interesting content from around the web

Remember, remember: what I've been reading and listening to this month and think you might like

Today’s post is the first in a new feature I’ll be publishing intermittently, with things I’ve been reading and listening to and think you might find interesting.

Americans in Paris

Shortly after publishing my piece on traces of American history in the streetscape and toponymy of Paris, I stumbled upon this article for the ever-fascinating Paris Unlocked, about key sites in Paris with a link to the American Revolution. There’s very little overlap with my own piece, so it serves as the perfect complement if you’re interested in learning more about the US’s legacy in the French capital (and vice-versa).

Cats in Montmartre

Those who’ve seen my Twitter know all about my beautiful cat. Since Clemmie came into my life I’ve become a real cat person, and love to hear stories about and see pictures of other cats. So I was delighted to hear Oliver Gee of the Earful Tower podcast talking about the 50 or so stray cats that have made their homes in the Montmartre cemetery. If you’re not a big podcast listener but just want to see photos of cats loitering around famous graves, the podcast’s page features a gallery especially for you.

Insights from an architect from railway projects in Paris and the UK

The latest instalment of Architecture Masters, the podcast from the London Festival of Architecture, is an interview with Frank Anatole, Principal Architect at Network Rail, which owns and manages the railway infrastructure in Great Britain. In the late 1990s, he worked for AREP, architecture practice of the SNCF, on major TGV station projects, before moving to London to work on the new St Pancras International station. I was especially interested to hear about his time at AREP, because this was the firm behind some of my favourite stations, like Orléans, Paris Saint-Lazare, and the underground stations of RER line E in central Paris.

While his time working for the SNCF isn’t the main focus of the interview, he does note some interesting differences between the UK and France, notably that architects seem to be more highly regarded – and better paid – in France, and that major French projects tend to happen significantly more quickly and less expensively than in the UK. The flip side to the latter point is that technical specifications are less rigorous and the final product doesn’t always meet the same quality standards. The episode ends on a rather sad note, with Anatole lamenting the fact that the international experience which served him so well will be much harder to achieve for new generations of British architects.

The rest of the interview is also well worth listening to. And for a deeper dive into Anatole’s work at Network Rail, check out this interview at The Beauty of Transport, where Daniel Wright speaks to Anatole and his colleague Anthony Dewar, Professional Head Buildings and Architecture.

Paris making waves internationally

In recent months and years, Paris has made headlines around the world for its policies to combat pollution and climate change. In this article for City Monitor, Patrick Sisson looks at the city’s approach to preparing for rising temperatures. Most notably: planting tens of thousands of trees; opening up school yards into public parks; and reducing dependence on cars.

The discussion of Paris’s dearth of green space, especially in the poorest, most crowded areas of the city and suburbs, is especially relevant during the ongoing lockdown, during which French residents leaving the house for “individual activity and pets” must stay within 1 km of home. The 1 km rule aggravates existing inequalities, leaving what few parks there are in these areas crowded while open spaces elsewhere are out of reach. But Paris’s efforts to squeeze new greenery wherever it fits have already borne fruit: personally, a number of the parks within my lockdown radius didn’t exist when mayor Anne Hidalgo took office 6 years ago.

Meanwhile, in this July episode of the Reasons to be Cheerful podcast, Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd spoke to Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman about his work as cycling and walking commissioner in Manchester, and to Janette Sadik-Khan about her work as transport commissioner in New York. I would have been disappointed to hear a discussion of working to make cities more walkable and cyclable that didn’t mention Paris, but fortunately Sadik-Khan referenced Paris’s “coronapiste” cycle lanes as well as the “15-minute city” idea championed by Hidalgo, who was reelected in June.

On accessibility, or the lack thereof

A recent episode of the Talking Headways podcast got me thinking about accessibility in Paris. In Jeff Wood’s interview with Sara Hendren, the researcher talks about her book, What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World. Hendren raises two points that have stuck in my head. Firstly, that when thinking about disability it’s helpful to think of the ways in which the built environment disables people, rather than just attributing it to the individual. For example, is it a person’s paraplegia which disables them, or is it the stairs and kerbs they are forced to navigate? Secondly, that accessibility affects all of us, not just those with disabilities. Having navigated the Paris metro with heavy suitcases, and having lent a hand to people with pushchairs, I can attest to this.

Naturally, this podcast got me thinking about accessibility in Paris. It’s not an issue I’ve covered in any great detail on Fabric of Paris (though I did note my concern about the obstruction of walkways in some places where temporary restaurant terraces were occupying too much of the pavement), but it is important.

It’s well-known that the Paris metro is very inaccessible, with almost all stations requiring passengers to take the stairs. Indeed, just 9 stations out of the network’s 303 – those of line 14, opened in 1998 – offer step-free access from street to platform1. But even on the RER, which does have step-free access to platform level, travel can be difficult, as this blog post by writer Charlotte de Vilmorin explains. In the post (in French) she describes a journey she planned to take from La Défense to Charles de Gaulle – Étoile, the next station along on line A, to buy macarons. Unfortunately, broken-down lifts, communication failures and dehumanising staff made what should have been a simple experience into an hours-long ordeal. Spoiler: she didn’t even get the macarons.

Over to you

Have you seen anything recently that you think might interest other Fabric of Paris readers? Get in touch to let me know, and I might just include it in a future roundup. In the meantime, join me next time for a return to our series on the history of the Parisian tramway.

The thumbnail for this article is by Alexey Komarov, via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

  1. On line 14, access is also step-free between train and platform. 

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