Is the Future Paris?Jul 19, 2023
Recent headlines have not been kind to Paris. Protests about raising the retirement age (see “The Responsibility of Living Longer”) and riots following police violence have roiled the area.
However, something not in the news may be more significant. Paris is reinventing itself as an age-friendly place with a focus on health. By implementing a variety of measures, the city is becoming easier to get around through multiple modes of transport, while making the city eco-friendlier.
Paris may be the blueprint for more cities.
Making more streets pedestrian friendly, especially around schools, has been a priority for Paris (Source: Tweet from Jennifer Keesmaat)
Is the Future Paris?
Over the last few years, led by the progressive mayor, Anne Hidalgo, Paris has initiated a number of efforts to improve the quality of life for its citizens, including:
- Expanding Pedestrian Zones: The city implemented the "Paris Respire" (Paris Breathes) initiative, which aims to create car-free zones on Sundays and public holidays in several neighborhoods, allowing pedestrians to enjoy the streets without vehicular traffic. They have created 180 ‘school streets’ that are pedestrianized and landscaped around schools – to mitigate crashes, prioritize walking to school, reduce noise and air pollution.
- Redevelopment of Public Spaces: Some areas have undergone transformation to provide more walking spaces, wider sidewalks, and green areas. A prominent example is the conversion of the Seine riverbanks into pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly spaces.
- Bicycle Infrastructure: Paris has invested in bicycle infrastructure, including the expansion of bike lanes and the introduction of bike-sharing programs like Vélib'. The city has also implemented bike-friendly initiatives, such as dedicated bike lanes and bike parking facilities, to encourage cycling as an alternative mode of transportation.
- Low Emission Zones: To reduce pollution and improve air quality, Paris has established low emission zones (LEZ) where certain vehicles, particularly those with high emissions, are restricted or required to pay fees.
- Traffic Calming Measures: Paris has implemented traffic calming measures, such as speed reductions and traffic restrictions in residential areas, to prioritize the safety and comfort of pedestrians.
Paris' Velib' bike-sharing program offers nearly 15,000 "hop on, drop off" mechanical and electric bikes at affordable rates. (Source: Europe for Visitors)
Other Places Follow Suit
Other cities are taking notice and instituting similar measures. Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars as part of their Superblocks initiative. The idea is to identify a 3 x 3 grid of 9 city blocks and restrict vehicle traffic to the streets on the perimeter. The interior streets then become available for walking, biking, and expanded green space. These changes benefit all ages and promote greater physical activity (see “Just Move”) and opportunities for social engagement (see “Invest in Social Capital”).
Experts believe this Superblocks approach can apply to other cities, too. Cities with grid-like layouts, such as Madrid and Mexico City, are compatible with this approach. However, density matters, too. Atlanta has a grid-like city structure, but the urban density may not be great enough to support alternative non-automobile transportation options. That said, “miniblocks” (4 city blocks arranged in a 2 x 2 grid) or “linear” blocks (a single street bordered by two blocks) could be a smaller step for more places.
Some cities have even greater ambitions. Earlier this month in Newcastle, UK, the first global conference on the City of Longevity was held. The aim is to empower cities to become proactive aging hubs. With a rapidly aging world and a global migration to cities, the vision is for health care and housing and transportation, among other sectors, to work in tandem to support the well-being of its residents.
Superblocks is a new and clever approach implemented by Barcelona to help build greater community (Source: Anthropocene)
Moving Towards the 20-Minute Neighborhood
The 20-minute neighborhood, a derivative of the New Urbanism movement, is an emerging concept. It is anchored on the idea that most of what’s needed for life should exist within a 20-minute public transportation trip, bike ride, or walk from home. These things include shopping, business services, education, community facilities, recreational and sporting resources, and jobs. It’s all about helping people live locally. Melbourne, Australia, and Singapore feature the 20-minute neighborhood in their development plans. Two key ingredients to create these neighborhoods are sufficient development densities and a quality local public transportation service.
In light of our current challenges with loneliness and social connection (see “Join or Die”), 15-minute cities may have an important role in building and maintaining friendships. This approach frees up commuting time that can be redirected to friends. Moreover, attractive, popular third places (see “When Third Place is Very Best to Be, Live & Thrive”) can make it easier to routinely see others. We can forget that friendships are a function of time: it takes more than 200 hours, ideally over a concentrated period of six weeks, for a stranger to grow into a close friend (see “Friends”).
Places des Vosges in Paris is a great example of a well-conceived and highly effective third place (Source: Michel Setboun/Corbis via Getty Images)
Is Your Place Headed the Right Direction?
A number of places are struggling to reinvent themselves in a post-pandemic, remote/hybrid work environment. Some metropolitan areas may be in a doom loop (see “Avoiding the Doom Loop”); others are headed down a path of being childless places due to affordability and quality of life concerns.
How is your place? Particularly as you plan for a long life, your long-term well-being is shaped not just by your current place, but how your place evolves with time. Some places will nudge people to healthier lives and others won’t.
Next summer, Paris will be in the news again. Hopefully, it will be less about civic upheaval and more about the ’24 Olympics. While we marvel at the athleticism of the Olympians, the real marvel may be the way Paris is redesigning itself to elevate the well-being of its everyday citizens. Hopefully it will portend positive changes for more places around the world.
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