“Unpaved with good intentions”: Philippe Trétiack’s Quid

© 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 432, he dives into “Unpaved with good intentions”.

Driven by an insatiable revolutionary zeal, our city councillors strive ceaselessly to tear down idols, topple statues, and sweep away the past in favour of a clean slate. For years – fearing various protest groups – they endorsed active mobility, shared streets, and the beginnings of a gentler kind of city life, but now a new era beckons: this time, the battleground is, well, ground. Let it be known that the City of Paris has decided to… unpave the pavement. God help us. We knew about the greening of tram tracks along the boulevards of the Ceinture. We stood by while roof gardens spread like weeds, and speed bumps mushroomed everywhere; but that was not enough for them. From now on, asphalt is obsolete, tar must go, and aggregates are out.

To think that our rulers were so alarmed by the 1968 riots that they covered our streets with a thick layer of tarmac and cement, to deprive apprentice communards of their killer cobblestones! With roads as with cars, yesterday’s panacea is tomorrow’s scapegoat. Tarmac/diesel, you’ve been cursed. And as everyone knows, since nature abhors a vacuum, what is taken away must be replaced, quickly. Now that tarmac has been vanquished, we all know that the beach still lies beneath the paving. It’s just that the city is rather full up with beaches, since the riverbanks turn into seafront promenades as soon as summer gets going. So, let’s make space for the forest. And better yet – the (urban) forests, plural. Soon, the forecourt of the Gare de Lyon, the rear courtyard of the Opéra Garnier, and a few nooks and crannies of our arrondissements will welcome bush and branch and bark and trunk. And we can only rejoice at our deliverance from becoming a city of convalescents, resigned to shuffling from one tame entertainment to the next, since we are promised a sea change, or better: a re-wilding. Because forests are more than just paths down which to chase butterflies, or verdant glades suited to Impressionist lunches. They’re a world of beaks, mouths and snouts; a world of predation and survival. Forests are serious business.

The Mayor’s project, however, is decidedly less serious. In Anne Hidalgo’s pronouncements, we discern a fierce attachment to the latest trends, to following this season’s fashions. Green issues and the environment are all very well, but better still are tree trunks. You see, Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees (HarperCollins) is a surprise bestseller. The Fondation Cartier has given its galleries —as well as its basement— over to a beautiful new exhibition, Nous les arbres [We, the Trees] (until 10 November). And the public swoons at the sight of oak trees, lindens and everything deciduous. It’s time that we swap the forest for the trees. ‘Just wait and see what we’re made of’, our elected representatives seem to be telling us. The example of architect Patrick Berger’s Canopée des Halles should give us pause. We were sold the Amazon rainforest, and what we got was a salad bowl. Still the bandwagon rolls on, and we are promised glades and groves, hounds and game, fowl and dandelions. Soon, the drone of jackhammers making short work of the tarmac will play in the coronation of the chainsaw. It would surely have been wiser to call these future patches of green dishevelled ‘mini-parks’, or even the kinds of squares that Adolphe Alphand, chief gardener to Baron Haussmann, could draw so well. Alas, no; this emphasis on trunks has put down roots. Where we have planted olive trees, we see the shadows of sequoias. And, while we wait, the tarmac will soon be pushing up daisies.

Find Philippe Trétiack’s Quid in AA 432 – Heritage and Innovation – available in our online store.

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