Lessons on urbanism from the City of Light
PARISâ€”It's a long way from here to Toronto: seven hours by plane, an eon by design.
For a Canadian in Paris, the message is painfully clear: the word "city" means something altogether different in North America than it does in France and Europe. Comparisons are pointless, of course; Europe has a history of urbanity that dates back centuries.
Still, one can't help but wonder where we went wrong and why our cities have failed so completely. It's true that North America's dependence on the car has inflicted enormous damage on its urban centres, but the same thing is happening in France. The suburbs of many French cities are as ghastly as anything we have here; parking lots, big-box stores and junk-food outlets abound.
Despite all this, there's no question that Europeans have a shared understanding of what a city is. That can be seen in hundreds of towns across the continent, each based on specific ideas of what constitutes urbanity. The roots of these ideas lie in notions of density, land use and defence that go back to long before the disciplines of urban design and even architecture emerged from the primal intellectual slime.