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“The intensity of pedestrian solicitation”: Philippe Trétiack’s quid

@Astrid di Crollalanza
@Astrid di Crollalanza

Architect and urban planner by training, Philippe Trétiack is a journalist and writer. He has been a reporter for thirty years and collaborates with several magazines, including Vanity Fair, ELLE Décoration and Air France Magazine … As an author, he has published some twenty books including Faut-il pendre les architectes ? (Seuil, 2001), De notre envoyé spécial (Editions de l’Olivier, 2015), and L’Architecture à toute vitesse (Seuil, 2016). In AA’s pages, Philippe Trétiack decodes, with a certain sense of humour, the architectural jargon in the Quid ? column. In AA 427, he dives into “The intensity of pedestrian solicitation”.

The more time passes, the worse it gets! Paris City Hall’s newspeak is reaching dizzy heights of nonsense, inciting wailing and gnashing of teeth. It must be said that our city councillors shy away from nothing. So, offering a welcome helping hand in our often laborious journeys around town, here they are decked out with an expansive idea: the intensity of pedestrian solicitation. But chère Madame, what on earth does it mean? Encouraging us to put one foot in front of the other? A continuum of façades and avenues who simply by means of their form engage any old passer-by to get in gear, and pronto? A natural inclination from air saturated with dinitrogen and argon to increase numbers of hikers? What a wonderful image – Parisians attacking the North face of Boulevard Thing-um-ma-bob and already undertaking the descent of the Rue Whats-its-name… Solicited, join your friends!

But we are already solicited all the time, and I’m not sure that we want any more. I am endlessly harangued by double-glazing sales people flogging PVC windows, calling from companies whose frequently natural-world names could well have been inspired by the earthy imagination of today’s Parisian authorities. Frankly, when it comes to solicitations I have had my fill. But OK, let’s think about it. Imagine for a moment a space devoid of any intensity of pedestrian solicitation, as essayist Philippe Muray tried to do by imagining a world without catalysts for atmosphere. I must admit, it’s a horrifying thought. Streets, avenues, all in silence. Nothing to give you that impetus that distinguishes citizens from cockroaches or cabbages. A necropolis, Sunday every day. Ignoring all the warnings issued by universities, cardiologists, neurologists, nephrologists, there is nothing to get your heart racing.

A living nightmare. Yet isn’t it precisely this that the Mairie de Paris has been urging us into, incessantly and everywhere? To take up bicycling, convivial transport for sedate areas. And here again the truth rises to the surface, unremitting, vibrating, quivering. By obliging moderation, by promoting pootling bicycles, submitted to the softly-softly heavy artillery of our moralising authorities, Parisians are rotting away. They are giving up. They are slowing down, slumping, withering away. Realising their dire mistake, the creative minds of the Hôtel de Ville are rushing to their study labs. From their still warm benches they have come up with an antidote: the intensity of pedestrian solicitation. The last resort, the last chance, kind of like a sort of you know electric shock in a frog’s leg. A last spasm before closing time. Under their baton we will end up bedbound and enfeebled. The capital had its périphérique, its ring road, now it has its periphrasis. Knowing the congestion of the former you can well imagine the thrombosis of the latter. There’s every chance it will be powerful.

Find Philippe Trétiack’s Quid in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui Nr. 427, available here.

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