Going Public: What Reinventing Paris Can Teach London

That the Internet is in the process of transforming many sectors is by now a truism, but this fact does not make the phenomenon any less real; moreover, the depth of the potential for what is ultimately just a series of networked computers to improve everyday lived experience cannot be underestimated. Reinventing Paris – a scheme to revitalise 37 acres of disused public space in one of the world’s most iconic metropolises – is emblematic of the new possibilities.

The central concept: Paris is a city with vast swathes of publically-owned land which has been lying empty for decades; these parcels include shuttered Métro stations, parking basements and nightclubs. Moreover, much of this land is located in central locations, and is aesthetically notable: perfect for being turned into restaurants, galleries and other leisure venues. Anne Hidalgo – the Parti socialiste Mayor of Paris – has, through the medium of the Web, opened an international competition to canvas ideas for the future uses of this valuable resource.

After some contemplation, we at Mediolana believe that the dual-national Paris leader is onto something, and that London needs to take note of three points from this exercise:

  1. Public Land ≠ Get Rich Quick Scheme. Over the last decade in particular, too much of London’s state-owned land has been sold off to property developers whose express purpose is to annihilate the general citizenry’s access to it. Any alternative to not constructing dehumanising residential towers – parks, lakes, sporting and cultural amenities – does not seem to have penetrated the discourse. This can and must change.
  2. Innovate. At least since the end of Ken Livingstone’s reign at the helm of London’s City Hall, the United Kingdom’s capital has been desperately short of municipal creativity. Boris Johnson – who somehow held the post of mayor for eight years – did not follow through on his one Big Idea, the New Routemaster for London, on which conductors were abandoned; while it is somewhat early to evaluate the Sadiq Khan administration, the signs on this front are not encouraging. Being a twenty-first century mayor cannot be just about overseeing longstanding infrastructure projects; it is about being brave, visionary and prolific in generating concrete ideas to improve people’s lives.
  3. Internationalise. Part of why London – despite being a genuine world capital – is often way behind cities with a fraction of its population and profile when it comes to governance is that its media culture is centralised and insular: it has just a single daily newspaper, and this title shows little if any interest in making its readers aware of urban best practice from around the globe. Given London’s extraordinarily talented international population, this is nothing short of a scandal; every step should be taken to collate, publicise and implement what cities from Istanbul to Tokyo are doing better than us – and take it to the next level.

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Filed under Creativity, Environment, Urban Life

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