Friday, August 12, 2016

Walkable Cities Circa 1669

As we prepare for a trip to Paris, I've been doing some reading.  Joan DeJean's How Paris Became Paris  offers lots of history of how Paris became, in many eyes, the world's greatest city.  

Image of Louis XIV, 1661 from Wikipedia
Louis XIV began by conquering land controlled by the Spanish Netherlands which thus moved Paris
from a border city to a city more in the center of the country.  Then he built fortification along the country's new frontiers.  He then wanted to get rid of the walls that fortified Paris (and most other cities then) and open Paris up.
"At a time when other European cities remained as they had been for centuries, fortified units enclosed within walls designed for their protection . . . Louis XIV decided to redefine the city.
Rather than shore up the ragtag fortifications that surrounded his capital, as many were encouraging him to do, the king announced that france was in such a strong position militarily that Paris no longer needed to be enclosed with a system of defenses.  He ordered all of its walls demolished, parts had been built by his father, while other sections dated from the reign of Charles V in the fourteenth century.  This decision sounded the death knell for medieval Paris.
The king had the fortifications replaced with parallel rows of elms, what he later described as "a rampart of trees all around the city's rim."  The green wall was soon given a mission:  it was to sere as a cours, a gigantic walkway or space for communal walking - more than one hundred and twenty feet wide and extending, in the description of one of its architects, "in a straight line as far as the eye can see."
"In 1600, there was no public walking space in the city.  Then, with its sidewalks, the Pont Neuf had introduced Parisians to a new way of experiencing a city on foot, and the Pace Royale had given them their first recreational space.  Louis XIV applied these concepts on a citywide scale.  As a result, by 1700, Paris had become the original ret walking city, a place where people walked not just to get around but for pleasure." 
No wonder that, later in the 1700s, people like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin enjoyed their time in Paris so much.  

In partnership with the official in charge of the royal finances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and François Blondel, 'among the most brilliant architects of the age,'  Louis XIV transformed Paris.
"The city of which LouisXIV 'took possession' in 1660 still had the layout of a medieval city:  most of its streets were mere alleyways, narrow and dark.  This detail from Braun's 1572 map shows how such premodern streets functioned:  they helped people negotiate only their immediate neighborhood.  Indeed, in the early seventeenth century, the French word rue or street designated simply 'any passageway between houses or between walls.'  Late-seventeenth-century dictionaries further advised that 'when walking Paris, one should always take these big streets.'  In less than a century, the rebuilding of Paris had transformed the concept of a street."
"In the late sixteenth century, when municipal authorities first evoked the possibility of creating broader streets, anything over fifteen feet wide was considered impossibly huge.  By 1700, the French Royal Academy of Architecture had begun to establish norms: its members determined that a width of twenty-one feet was 'an absolute minimum.'  Several years later, Delamare noted that 'the average width of a Parisian street is now between thirty and thirty-two feet.'"
"When their plans made it necessary to demolish existing public works, in an early instance of what is now called historic preservation, the city's architects studied them carefully to determine their architectural merit.  Thus, in the case of the double Saint-Antoine gate, Blondel decided that one could be torn down but not the other, 'because of the beauty of its bas-reliefs' by noted sixteenth-centurysculptor Jean Goujon and of 'the exceptional design' of one of its archways.  The resulting blend of old and new was universally praised;  an eighteenth-century historian of the city still considered it 'the most successful of Paris' gates."
Porte Saint Antoine 1671 image from Wikipedia (click to enlarge and focus)

Wikipedia says the gate was demolished in 1788 because it was an impediment to traffic.

There's a description of paving Paris with cobblestones (seven to eight inches square, eight to ten inches thick).
From the start, those cobblestones were presented as essential to the cit's beauty.  Until the 1660s, the municipality had simply encouraged individual property owners to clean in front of their homes.  But in November 1665 the inception of official street-cleaning was announced in the press:  '4,000 men have begun to rid our superb city of dirt.'  The newsman, adrien Persou de Subligny, explained that the kind had taken time off from his military campaigns to make sure Paris was running properly and had decided on this new measure.  The following year another journalist declared that 'our paving stones are now gleaming.'

Lots to think about.  Visionary, holistic planning can do amazing things.  They did have to tear down old building but they were careful about how they did it according to DeJean.  No wholesale razing of buildings as the Chinese have done in the last couple of decades.  On the other hand, there were grand Chinese cities well before this.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.