Paris Street Furniture Breakdown

Update on Ugly Paris

March 31, 2021By Heidi EllisonOnly in Paris
"Welcome in Paris!" as the French say.
“Welcome in Paris!” as the French say.

A couple of years ago, Paris Update published a rant I wrote called “The Uglification of Paris” and sent it to the mayor’s office. There was no direct response, but surprisingly – and probably coincidentally – a few things did change not long afterward: for example, the pestilential-smelling pissoir on the corner of the Place de la République was removed, to the joy of the hundreds of pedestrians who had to wait for the stoplight to change while standing next to the odoriferous outdoor toilet.

Unfortunately, the hideous “Bigbelly” trash bins are still there, as well as the rough-wood railroad ties people sit on. They actually have a legitimate purpose, as pointed out by alert reader Tom in one of the many comments on the article: they are there to prevent cars or trucks from making murderous attacks on the square. Now that they have been there for a few years, however, couldn’t the city have replaced them with something more attractive and people-friendly?

Another reader complained about the obstacles presented by short-term rental bicycles negligently parked all over the place, blocking the way of pedestrians. The city has, in fact, taken steps to control the use of those bikes and electrified scooters, another menace to pedestrians, but as the picture below shows, the problem hasn’t exactly been solved yet.

Those special marked-out parking spaces for electric scooters on the street don’t seem to be doing their job.
Those special marked-out parking spaces for electric scooters on the street don’t seem to be doing their job. © Parie Update

Last year, Anne Hidalgo, who is often tipped as a Socialist Party presidential hopeful, was reelected to her second six-year term as mayor of Paris. One of her campaign promises was to consult the public about the aesthetics of street furniture, vegetation and paving materials in Paris. To that end, the city set up an online questionnaire so anyone can vote (through June 30) on their preferences by giving a 1 to 5 rating to photos of different options.

Which color do you prefer? Photo on left: Guillaume Bontemps/Ville de Paris. Photo on right (cropped): David Monniaux/Creative Commons
Which color do you prefer? Photo on left: Guillaume Bontemps/Ville de Paris. Photo on right (cropped): David Monniaux/Creative Commons

I just filled out this questionnaire and found it sorely lacking. Very few choices are given as to the type of furniture preferred, and when it comes to the color of street furniture, only one choice is offered: a glaring orangey-red on a classic Wallace Fountain – daring, yes, but hardly Parisian (what’s wrong with the handsome green traditionally used?). The whole thing seems to have been quickly cobbled together without much thought. A publication called La Tribune de l’Art goes so far as to accuse City Hall of trying to “‘reinvent’ Paris in the manner of Dr. Frankenstein.”

Technically, the questionnaire is not exactly perfect either. For one question, they forgot to give option no. 1, so there is no way of indicating that you really hate it. For a couple of choices, participants are invited to upload a photo of what they like. I don’t know how this could be taken into account statistically.

In reaction to this sad proposition from the mayor’s office, two thirty-somethings called Quentin and Cannelle have created their own, much more intelligent “counter–questionnaire,” which I have also filled in and which is getting far more responses than the city’s version.

Another unappealing seating option, in terms of both aesthetics and comfort. Photo: Joséphine Brueder-Ville de Paris
Another unappealing seating option, in terms of both aesthetics and comfort. Photo: Joséphine Brueder/Ville de Paris

Both questionnaires are biased in what they choose to show. I’m no expert on creating impartial questionnaires, but when the counter-questionnaire shows only one or two decent choices among many truly horrible ones (see photo at the top of this page), it is obvious which one people will choose. The wider range of images on this questionnaire does, however, give a better idea of some of the atrocities that have invaded the streets of Paris.

Plants and flowers are wonderful, but what’s with this ugly rustic fencing, seen all over Paris now that City Hall has allowed residents to do their own planting, with occasionally beautiful but mostly awful results.
Plants and flowers are wonderful, but what’s with this ugly rustic fencing, seen all over Paris now that City Hall has allowed residents to do their own planting, with occasionally beautiful but mostly awful results?

The success of the counter-questionnaire and the attention it is getting in the press would seem to indicate that the aesthetics of Paris is an issue many are concerned about. I fear that City Hall’s questionnaire is merely a cosmetic attempt to make Parisians feel that they are being heard by the city’s government. There is no indication of how the results will be used or if they will be used at all. A similar “consultation” was held for the rebuilding of the Forum des Halles, but in the end, the popular vote was not taken into account. The new Forum ended up being another abomination. (For my opinion of it, see this review of the restaurant Champeaux.)

No one wants a city frozen in the past, but with the unsightly modern options being offered to us, the classic Paris accoutrements and traditional dark-green color of the Wallace Fountains and Morris Columns still look pretty damn good.

Send your photos of ugly street furniture in Paris to contact@paris-update.com. We will publish those that are appropriate on this page.

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