It is a curious paradox that cities with strong identities often wish to dress themselves up as somewhere else. Paris may well be one of the most instantly recognisable cities in the world, but it seems that this fact is no longer sufficient for those in the lifestyle branding industry.
Take the new Canal Square development in the 19th arrondissement. Its launch in June was accompanied by an aggressive marketing campaign around Paris and in the local press based around the phrase "Paris Style New York Touch". But what exactly is there that links a new build in a quiet corner of the city to the American megalopolis?
According to developers, it would be a combination of two factors; 'modern' living in 'loft-style' apartments, and a district that combines a post-industrial waterway and a disused railway line. New York is today shorthand for any such area around the world, but would any New Yorker feel at home in this part of Paris?
The developers clearly think so, and even go so far as to rebrand the entire 19th arrondissement as 'East Village' on the official website. Cycle paths, canals, tramways, parks..."c'est tout le 19e arrondissement de Paris qui passe à l'heure américaine" excitedly claims the website, without specifying exactly why these things should be linked specifically to New York.
With the development still just mere visuals and not expected to be delivered before 2015, it is difficult to get much of an impression of what the reality may be in what is a very small space. Although almost touching the modern Parc de la Villette it is in fact situated in an archetypal Parisian working-class district. This may no longer mean much in the way of industry (it in fact replaces an urban heating facility, which is still visible on Google maps), but it does mean an abundance of mostly banal social housing and little commercial activity.
Clearly this is an attempt to move a district upmarket and attract young (wealthy!) professionals. Not a surprise for developers who are looking to make maximum profits, but the Paris city authorities have also given the scheme (and is associated marketing) their backing, and their logo features on the scheme's promotional material. Is the only way to promote Paris to this target group today to brand the city as a satellite of New York?
With prices reaching upwards of €1 million, anyone tempted to set up home here will clearly need to be very financially secure. And these rather hefty prices (particular for this district) do not even cover the 'Manhattan' option for apartments which includes brick interiors, 'imitation cement' floors and home automation!
Attempting to increase the social spectrum of a district and potential disposible income of its residents is no bad thing, especially of these in-comers also choose to place their kids in the local state schools. The problems arise if this 'regeneration' displaces people or facilities. Hopefully this will not be the case with the AICV cycling association, installed in the railway arches alongside the development site.
This association, employing young people from troubled backgrounds, rents and repairs bicycles, and organises lessons for local kids and adults. However, the centre is still under threat from the SNCF who own the arches. With an influx of high-earners to the area, this spot could clearly be rented out at a much higher price. However, we can only hope that the New York touch promoted by city authorities includes such quirky places, and will not be a sterile, sanitised model.