Paris Street Furniture Breakdown

The Uglification of Paris

October 17, 2018By Heidi EllisonOnly in Paris


This ugly bin may be named "BigBelly," but its belly is apparently not big enough for all the trash on the Place de la Républque.
This ugly “smart” trash can may be named “Bigbelly,” but its belly is apparently not big enough for all the trash on the Place de la Républque. I guess the “station” forgot to “communicate real-time status to an actionable web-based software,” as the maker’s website promises.

In principle, I am a supporter of Paris’s current mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who is up for re-election next year, but I strongly resent the way she has allowed the introduction of so many ugly elements into the streets of what used to be the most beautiful city in the world. I didn’t have to go far to take photos of some of the worst offenders. The Place de la République and nearby streets are home to a heavy concentration of them.

The new trash bins in the picture above may be ratproof, but they are also great examples of bad design. And why, oh why, do they have to place these behemoths next to Hector Guimard’s beautiful and delicately wrought Art Nouveau Métro entrances?

A sadly neglected memorial to victims of the Paris terrorist attacks.
A sadly neglected memorial to victims of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Nearby is what is supposed to be a memorial to the victims of terrorist attacks in Paris, but it looks more like the foundation for a rough log cabin (made out of outsized Popsicle sticks banged together with a few nails) imprisoning a garden of weeds and surrounded by dirt. What is this doing in Paris?

A tempting place to sit on the Place de la République?
A tempting place to sit on the Place de la République?

I am totally in favor of providing places to sit on the Place de la République, but why these monstrosities that look like worn-out telephone poles that have fallen over. What would Baron Haussmann think?

The stinky pissoir fresh and clean in the morning.
The stinky pissoir fresh and clean in the morning.
The stinky pissoir in use in the evening.
The stinky pissoir in use in the evening.

Many of these elements not only look ugly but also stink to high heaven. It is bad enough that men commonly urinate in the streets with impunity, turning the city into a giant pissoir, but what’s the point of the urinoir pictured above when the solution is even smellier than the problem?

To make matters worse, this one is placed just off the square, next to the spot where crowds of people have to stand and wait for the light to change while being poisoned with the fumes not only from the passing traffic but also from the open-air toilet. And to make matters even worse, this pissoir stands just under a historical plaque commemorating the site of Daguerre’s Diaporama and the lab where the Daguerreotype was invented.

Pissing in public is a misdemeanor, and the perpetrators should be fined, a surefire deterrent. Who doesn’t remember the Paris of 10 or 15 years ago, when strollers were in constant danger of stepping in a pile of dog shit? As soon as the city got serious about fining dog owners, the problem evaporated as they began to clean up after Fifi and Mimi.

This sign put up by the city next to the Canal St. Martin said, "Whoopee! You didn’t throw your bottle in the water!" until the taggers got at it. Does it "suck," as one comment put it? Yes.
This sign put up by the city next to the Canal St. Martin said, “Whoopee! You didn’t throw your bottle in the water!” until the taggers got at it. Does this sign “suck,” as one comment puts it? Yes.

There must be better, more attractive solutions to the city’s problems. Instead of wasting money on a ridiculous video intended to discourage people from urinating in the street and polite signs like the one above that are so easy to ignore, why doesn’t the city hire a consulting firm that could suggest real ways to beautify Paris while solving the problem of overuse like those the Place de la République suffers from (BTW, I haven’t seen any of these ugly appurtenances in Paris’s beaux quartiers – is it a class thing?). And don’t forget to fine perpetrators and maybe invest in birth control for rats (yes, it exists) rather than trying to keep them out of the trash or poison them.

And, before I end this rant, let me add one just more thing (I could go on…). Why doesn’t the city of Paris do something serious about the terrible air and noise pollution from cars and motorcycles?

Send your photos of ugly street furniture in Paris to We will publish those that are appropriate on this page.



  • To be fair to that bench, being a place to sit is not its primary raison d’être. That would be acting as a barrier against a Nice-style vehicular attack on the crowds in the the Place de la République. The skateboarding equipment at the eastern end serves the same purpose. Which is not to take away from your correct opinion that they are eye-poppingly ugly bits of street furniture (and they’re ageing extremely badly, too).

  • As a yearly visitor to your beautiful city, I agree about the noise from cars and motorcycles. But I will point out that you cannot eliminate them until you can solve your mass transit problems – access for all to the metro system and better bus connections. Since stairs are a problem for me and many others, we are learning to use the bus network. There are few good guides to help you determine your routing and no ability to use your ticket on both the metro and bus as you travel across town.

  • Not to mention the graffiti that now is everywhere and disfigures the most beautiful buildings in Paris. It is heart breaking to see how ugly Paris has become since I first visited in 1972.

  • Yes, and why are motorcycles allowed to make more noise than a car? Actually, why are motorcycles allowed to make more noise than a bicycle? Laguna Beach, California has a law that outlaws any vehicle (motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses) that is capable of making more than 70 decibels of noise.

  • As a woman, there are no “pissoirs” for me! Why are women expected to go into a bar and buy an espresso in order to pee, or pay money to use other toilets? Why are these pissoir facilities provided for men only, and for free? Something smells fishy … and unfair. Just my two centimes! “his” and “hers” Paris … // it’s about l’égalité // until nature calls” (My haiku on the problem!)

    • Thanks for pointing this out, one of my first thoughts on reading about the new pissoirs. Bonnie in Carpentras

  • Brava, Heidi. You tell ’em! And I hope this is going to be sent on to the mayor and her office. They have probably heard it before but maybe, with an election coming up, someone will listen….

  • Heidi, you are so right. I live in the South of France and have spent a lot of time in Paris, and it isn’t getting prettier, that’s for sure. I’d also be very interested to hear if the mayor’s war on short-term rentals has had the results desired. I do not like hotels, and if I’m going to Paris for a week, I want an apartment. If I can’t have one I won’t go and bring my tourist euros there! Bonnie in Carpentras

  • Paris is still the most beautiful city in the world to me. I agree that there is a lot more ugliness than before and many more people sleeping in the streets. It is happening in many beautiful cities (San Francisco for sure). It’s a humanity problem. Many people are not capable of understanding the bigger problems that lead to “ugliness” such as unemployment and young people who have no hopes for the future. Unfortunately, the government cannot make laws that force people to change their attitudes. They could start by hiring more workers to clean up the mess that seems unavoidable. There was still a lot of dog waste on the streets when I was in Paris last week. I have mixed feelings about the public urinals. They surely could be more discreet. Thanks for an interesting article.

  • Loved your article, Heidi. I wrote about this problem on Facebook and was accused of being “negative”. Obviously, those who said that don’t live in Paris or they do, but walk around with rose-colored glasses. This “most beautiful city in the world” is now a disgrace and an urban disaster, thanks in large part to Madame Hidalgo. I personally have only one thought in mind as I prowl my beloved streets of a once upon a time clean (er) and more aesthetically pleasing Paris – get me out of here! Well, at least until some adult in the room takes over and makes Paris great again.

  • You left out one of my pet peeves. Why are French authorities not investigating and prosecuting the people who brought in all those cheap bicycles that are cluttering up the sidewalks all around town?

    • The city of Paris says it will soon be regulating free-floating bicycles and electrified scooters (the latter weren’t around when the article was written). So annoying when people leave them in the middle of the sidewalk (or ride them on the sidewalk)!

  • May I add buses? I don’t understand why the eco-friendly Paris mayor has still not prioritised cleaner public transport. There are new tram lines, yes, on the periphery, but the long-suffering cyclist or pedestrian climbing a hill or waiting at a junction still has to breathe in deathly diesel fumes from Paris buses. Don’t get me wrong, buses offer a very necessary and community-friendly service, but they are currently still extremely polluting. With the money they get from expensive fashion ads on their rear ends surely they could improve the fuel emissions for the benefit of all.

What do you think? Send a comment:

Your comment is subject to editing. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for free!

The Paris Update newsletter will arrive in your inbox every Wednesday, full of the latest Paris news, reviews and insider tips.