Paris, so they say, is no longer the most beautiful city in the world. All her inhabitants are fleeing her ghastliness for the provinces. This is due, so they say, to the eco-socialist policies of Anne Hidalgo and her mayoral team. The city, so they say, is littered with concrete blocks, innocent trees are being cut down, bike lanes are unnavigable, and the privatisation of public space is rampant.
Despite being a long-term resident, I can neither confirm nor deny these allegations. But I was intrigued when I saw that the Telegraph ran with the story and deplored the ruin of Paris. I looked at the hashtag that gives the name to this piece and realised that, whether it is true or not what they say, it is a useful angle of attack for right-wingers. How many cities can boast the reputation of being the most beautiful in the world? And what more catchy rhetoric than environmentalists chopping down trees and socialists promoting capitalist expansion? It’s low hanging fruit.
I find amusing the idea of some bigoted couple in England who haven’t been to the Continent since Brexit, bemoaning the fate of Paris, over their morning cuppa and conservative broadsheet. However, I’m stilling getting over the big move 2000 years ago from the original settlement of Lutetia to where Paris is now. The invasion and sacking of the Huns in the 5th century of this era left wounds that are yet to be healed. And Haussmann’s renovations, excellently and despicably portrayed in Zola’s The Kill, miserably replaced the charming medieval cesspit that was Paris, with its occupy-able and barricade-able ginnels.
I have a confession to make. And one that might have these city planning pearl-clutchers spitting out more than their over-brewed tea, or even some 16th arrondissement Pétainist fuming to his Lorette. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that the worse thing that happened to Paris is that it wasn’t completely destroyed in the Second World War. Unlike cities that had to undergo major redevelopment paid for by the Marshall Plan, Paris kept its tiny bedsits and inadequate plumbing. The city centre is that of a large town, not of a global metropolis, and the traffic problems stem from streets laid-out for horse-drawn carriages.
Think about it. We could have working lifts, luminous living spaces, and a logical city map. If all of this 19th century beauty had been destroyed, who knows what the the 21st century would look like.
Instead, we’re stuck on some kind of aesthetic loop, having to endure the whining of sickly nostalgic plum-eaters who get offended when a bin isn’t emptied, but will probably celebrate deep down when a group of immigrants dies on their doorstep.