Sunday, December 25, 2011

Town Planning lessons in Paris

Avenue de La Grande Armee, one of the many boulevards put in place by Haussmann, viewed from  the Arc de Triomphe

I was in Paris two weeks ago. Yes, France, land of the guillotines and home to Zinedine Zidane.

We landed at Charles de Gaulle at 6.20 am and was received by a cold Paris weather with temperature hovering at 5 Celsius. Charles de Gaulle is an old airport. But it is very functional in its design minus all the frills of a so called "modern" airport. For example,  it has proper, separate prayer rooms for all the major religions. Even fancy, modern Changi can't beat that.

The airport is only about 20km away from downtown Paris. But due to the notorious Paris traffic jam, we were forewarned by Thomas, our guide, that the journey would take us a good one hour plus.

We were also told by Thomas that Paris is a city of more than 12 million inhabitants. That's big. But still, that's no excuse for gridlock traffic jams.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but notice that the Paris traffic is a tad more chaotic as compared to say, London or Tokyo. The French drivers also seem a bit more, well, should I say, more of a dare-devil? They'd just weave in and out of their lanes almost without a care for others. And then there are the scooters and motorcycles. Their numbers are noticeably much higher then in other major cities I've been. And their riders are just "super crazy" according to Thomas.

Surprisingly, over the course of one week I was there, I didn't notice any accident. Not even a single one!

Paris is a city of many long straight boulevards lined by trees like the one above. Now this is mainly the work of one fine gentleman by the name of Baron Georges Haussmann. Haussmann was civic planner commissioned by Napoleon III in 1852 to re-plan Paris. 

I had studied Haussmann when I was learning to be a town planner at university. Only now do I see his work with my very own eyes. Quite spectacular and very visionary.

Another feature of Paris town planning are the courtyard building typologies.

The buildings which line the boulevards always seem like they are surrounded on all sides by long, unbroken street walls. Whereas one know very well that many of the buildings are mixed-use buildings accommodating commercial as well as residential elements. So, where are the back-of-house facilities and car parks then?

The answer is that they are right there in the centre of the buildings themselves, within the courtyards.

Now I know better what the planners in Putrajaya are trying to achieve through their urban planning exercise, especially for the Core Island.

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