Monday 20 August 2012

New York in Paris?

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.  


Ian Bell said...

Hope this development proves to be a beneficial one and attracts more people..

Rebecca said...

“It is a curious paradox that cities with strong identities often wish to dress themselves up as somewhere else.”—I’ve often wondered about this paradox as well. It seems like Parisians have a special affinity for New York, while people in just about every other city in the world have an affinity for Paris. The problem is that as much as the architectural style of a building emulates Paris, the Paris effect is isolated to that one building, or that one café, or whatever it is.

I wonder, too, what kind of social effect this 'New York style' development will have on the surrounding area. It sounds like there will be millionaires living in a working class neighborhood...?

Unknown said...

It sounds like there will be millionaires living in a working class neighborhood...?

And the real people, such as the "working class" get sent 50kms away, or thrown into a district that already has enough social problems without adding all these new people.

Adam said...

To be fair, this is a housing development replacing an industrial site, so no-one is being (directly) displaced. The curiosity for me is that the city of Paris is supporting a private development whereas generally it pushes as much as possible for social housing. On top of that, they are happy to support an initiative that rebrands the city as something else!

PeterParis said...

The problem is to get back to some kind of reasonable social mix, something which existed in Paris - and other cities - until some decades ago. When this kind of new areas are being created, it's sometimes necessary to wait for a few decades before you really see what the environment, the atmosphere... has really become. I'm now curious to see what will become of my own neighbourhood, the Batignolles - Clich evelopent.

Sandy Allain said...

I hope this development would be a success. Lots of future in it I think. I could see yuppies digging this kind of set up.

MissaParis said...

Thanks for this very interesting article. I wrote about it on my own blog

Anonymous said...

I lived on the Quai de la Marne, directly next door to the old heat plant and witnessed it's deconstruction. The neighborhood is quiet, friendly with tons of small corners to explore. I've also lived in the East Village and I can say that whatever kind of authenticity they are trying to invoke with this new kind of establishment is generally undesirable to anyone but a millionaire. I think there is much more authenticity in a humble sized, affordable apartment, and says a lot more about a 'European' style of living, ie: living practically, in accordance with one's peers, and avoiding excess. Not to be the lamenter of inevitability, but the "East Village vibe" of the East Villagev in the East Village is hanging on by a very thin thread. Anyone try to rent a place in the East Village on a salary below that of a professional? Take a look at some Craigslist ads if you're interested and you'll get an idea of the kind of demographic that is moving into that neighborhood. I enjoyed (still do) very much the 19eme, and it's just a sad thing to see something that is very much American, and what has sadly stolen much of the character of NYC, which is the untouchable power of money and it's miraculous ability to get anything done, making it's way into Europe. Comme d'habitude la France et le peuple français font un tel effort à faciliter une espace dans laquelle tout le monde peut s'entendre en accord. Developments such as these really do not benefit anyone but the very well off. Oh and anyone ever make a visit to the High Line in the Meatpacking District? I personally don't find it that pleasant an experience. Take a stroll on La petite ceinture before 2014.

I don't want to call to extremes, but the French were really on to something in 1789..

/end of my rant. It is just a bit frustrating for me.

Adam said...

latenightwitticisms: Thanks for this comment. It certainly seems that you are the ideally-placed person for this discussion!

I think it's impossible to import a 'vibe' into a neighbourhood, especially an artificial one that comes from another country. They may be able to import a few millionaires into the district though, but it remains to be seen how that will affect the area.

Carrie said...

I've heard so many opinions about this project. I'm not sure how to react to it though. I'm neither pro or against it. But I'm sure people here can find ways to turn this to a positive just like what we did with the changes in our apartments in lenexa kansas. Nevertheless, people should always be open to changes like this one. It may not 'work' at first but adapting to it can produce great benefits.

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