Paris Highlights from the uvic europe sustainability field school 2017

We arrived in Paris, a city that has been celebrated as the birthplace of modernity. While other European cities have been known for monuments of the past, Paris became less of a place to see and more of a place to experience. Everything from street lighting and sidewalks to social mixing and other marvels of urbanity where invented in Paris, making it the world’s top tourist destination. Today, citizens of Paris, like many other cities worldwide, are grappling with the issues of a post-modern society. Affordable housing for a range of income levels, food security, and transportation are just some of the challenges Paris AND Victoria seek to solve.

Historical map of Paris

We began our tour of Paris by taking a history crash course led by city architect, Catherine. Here she described the many infrastructural changes and city planning mindsets that altered the cityscape of Paris throughout history. The has city experience a range of redesigns throughout the centuries, perhaps most notably during the Haussmann Era when nearly 60% of the city was completely destroyed and rebuilt, leading in part to today's extensive densification and walk ability. However, radical infrastructure updates were not a new concept. In fact, Paris was renowned for its innovative urban infrastructure projects dating back to the 16th century. The revolutionary Pont Neuf and Place des Vosges introduced a newfound level of social mixing to the city, propagated from the development of sidewalks and street lighting. During our introductory day in Paris, we toured many of these renowned sites and experienced firsthand how Parisian culture has shaped and is shaped by its built environment.

Touring some of the most iconic sites of Paris.

Paris is hailed as one of the most walkable cities in the world - with comprehensible street networks and charming masonry style buildings, a walk through Paris is by no means mediocre. So why not take advantage of it? To kick start our field school, we took a walking tour, visiting some historical locations that were pivotal to the construction of the Paris we now know.

Tag along on the tour by watching the video below.

We began our tour with a picnic at Place des Vosges, formerly known as Place Royale. Place des Vosges is known as being the first space designed for public use - the first public park. It was constructed by King Henri IV in 1605, and spearheaded the revolution of European city planning. It was initially used as a place for the nobles and elites to interact however, it eventually became open to all citizens of Paris following the civil wars and the French Revolution. Today it serves as a popular relaxation destination for both tourists and the everyday Parisian alike, with multiple fountains, rows of tall shady trees, and large lawns for lounging.

Place des Vosges

Our next stop on the walking tour was Île Saint-Louis. It is one of two natural islands on the Seine within metropolitan Paris, and has been connected to the mainland via four bridges. Île Saint-Louis is also considered one of the earliest examples of urban planning in France. Île Saint-Louis was originally two islets that were joined together in 1614 and became an upscale neighborhood for the most wealthy, and was designed by Christophe Marie. The island became an urban planning project, and contains straight one-way streets. Île Saint-Louis is still a quiet and expensive district, and remains authentic to its original design.

Notre Dame

We then strolled over to Île de la Cite, which translates into "Island of the City" - fitting, as it's located in the center of Paris. The western portion has been home to palaces, and the eastern portion is home Notre Dame. Residences are still located on the western and eastern extents of the island.

Last but not least we visited the Pont Neuf. It is the oldest standing bridge in Paris, which played a crucial role in creating the Paris we know today. In fact, it is often said that the "invention of Paris started with a bridge". The Pont Neuf became a celebrity monument of Paris because of its extreme contrast to other bridges before it's time - it was the first major bridge in the city without houses on either side, identifying the significance of viewpoints and the notion of taking in the city. It also created a sense of place for the intermingling of various hierarchies, leisurely walking, and the venue for the birth of the first Parisian traffic jam. All in all, the Pont Neuf is the pinnacle of the Parisian way of life.

Pont Neuf

On May 18th, we set off to explore Les Grands Voisins in the heart of the 14th arrondissement. Our tour was led by an enthusiastic transitions town activist, Corinne. Transitions town is a community of individuals, working towards re-imaging our world by fighting climate change, social inequality and economic decline. Transitions town has been working with Les Grands Voisins to create alternative uses of space. The old Saint-Vincent hospital has been transformed into social housing, while providing skills to help individuals integrate into the work force. Additionally, they have created countless alternative uses of space, including transforming the old cleaning room into a bar and the heating room into meeting rooms and boutiques. To encourage biodiversity and the protection of food security, Les Grands Voisins have implemented multiple gardens and also a bee garden!

An urban campsite designed for protesters during COP21.

Les Grands Voisins has also made it possible for travelers on a budget to camp in the bustling city of Paris. They have created camping plots along with tree forts to house anyone that needs an affordable option. Despite the incredible movement, the project will not go on forever. The city plans to create a space, similar idea to cliché (see video further below) on a smaller scale which will cause major displacement of people and businesses. This raises land-use conflict between the power of private eco-developments and grassroots.

Pop-up urbanism in Les Grand Voisins, part of the Transitions town movement.

Below is a short film documenting our tour of the exceptional grassroots project at Les Grands Voisins.

The Pôle Innovant Lycéen school is an alternative institution within the public school system in France. The school provides young adults, from the ages of 16-24, whom have left school, with the academic skills to acquire a high school diploma. Pôle Innovant Lycéen is a tightly knit community where students and teachers can work collectively. Collaboration takes place in the Agora - a meeting place where students and teachers can interact freely in a non-traditional space. The "flipped classrooms" concept organizes the class in a unique way to facilitate an environment where students can be comfortable to express their interests and teachers guide their learning. Students attend the school for only one year where they complete a self directed project that reflects their aspirations and goals. Students can pursue a wide range of topics they are passionate about. Teachers are there to help students reach their fullest potential. For example, Repair Cafes involve students, volunteers and businesses to re-purpose old goods. This builds positive relationships and helps students to gain confidence in their skills as well as feel apart of the community in which they live. The school is a closed loop system: students that were broken and vulnerable are introduced to a school system that allows them to rebuild and grow at the pace catered specifically to them. Teachers at the school invest an exceptional amount of time into the students to guide them towards the completion of their project and re-integration into a 'classic' school system.

Bike Repair Workshop in Pôle Innovant Lycéen School. Photos Provided by Bertrand Smith.

Check out some of the innovative work the school is undertaking by watching the video below.

Clichy Batignolles is one of Paris' premier eco-developments located in the 17th arrondissement. The development was originally designed to be the 2012 Olympic Village, but after losing the bid to London, Parisian city planners converted the 54 hectare lot into a state of the art green district. Clichy Batignolles features on-site waste and storm water management, a central green space, enhanced public transit accessibility, reconstructed wetland systems, and much more. This development is highly contrasted by the Le Grand Voisins sustainable grassroots project partnered with Transition Towns Paris.

For a more detailed look at the development, take a look at the video below.

Clichy Batingnole


Created with images by Klovovi - "Paris"

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