OK, we’re done with Paris. I did want to give some final thoughts on the French capital, and share some things that St. Louis could learn, and also be honest on some other matters. First of all, it’s sort of unfair to compare the two exactly because with any world capital, particularly a European one, there is just so much more tax money dumped into Paris that a city such as St. Louis would never see. It’s not a fair comparison.
Also, American cities are just not going to be as dense as European cities ever again–it’s downright illegal to build a community such as Paris in most of the United States. That being said, St. Louis was almost as dense as Paris at one point; in fact, it was only second to I think Manhattan and San Francisco in the Nineteenth Century in terms of density, if you can believe that. 300,000 people once live east of Jefferson Avenue in St. Louis in the 1870s, which just blows my mind. We must have had street life that Americans now pay thousands of dollars to now see in Paris. Yes, I’m well aware how filthy St. Louis was back then, but so was Paris. We destroyed our city to clean it up. Paris just cleaned itself up (well, you could argue Hausmann’s plans destroyed the old Paris).
But that being said, Paris used to be a terrible place to live; the French government made conscious and expensive, tax-generated changes to turn it into the world class city that just about everyone I know wants to visit one day if they haven’t already. The free market did not create this city; heavy government regulation did, whether you want to admit it or not. And European cities were almost lost to the automobile just as badly as American cities have. It’s hard to believe, but proven in photographs from the 1950s through the 1980s, but many European cities were horrible, traffic clogged nightmares (or even more traffic-clogged nightmares), but governments, backed by voters, made conscious decisions to take back the streets and give them to pedestrians. Just Google old photos of European cities in the Twentieth Century if you don’t believe me, and you’ll see cars parked where there are now thriving markets and plazas.
That being said, rich people in Europe still love their cars, and if you ever drive the interstates in or out of major cities such as London, Paris or Berlin in the morning or afternoon, they’re clogged with bumper to bumper traffic for dozens of miles out into the country. I’ll never forget leaving London early in the morning back in 2013 and being shocked at the headlights coming towards me in the darkness far out from the city center. Part of the reason almost everyone takes mass transit in Europe is yes, good government policy, but also because it would be impossible for everyone to own their own cars when the rich people who live outside cities are already clogging the interstates for their daily commute! I always laugh about how mass transit funding is a liberal vs. conservative issue in America; it is bipartisan in Europe (and most of the world) because American style sprawl would turn the entire country of France into one gigantic suburb if development there was the same as here.
Furthermore, what I also liked about Paris is that there are no planned “entertainment districts.” If I hear about one more development that is going to be a hub of activity in St. Louis, I am going to scream. Why, because they all fail! Laclede’s Landing was going to be an exciting entertainment district. That failed. Then Washington Avenue. It’s on life support. Next up, who knows? In Paris, entertainment happens organically, with clusters of restaurants and bars just popping up where they’re actually needed. I can’t tell you how many times I was just walking along and all the sudden I would be in the middle of some unmapped hub of activity, with people laughing and having fun on the street in cafes. Real, sustainable street life happens when the time is right.
Paris also knows how to market itself. While it was an ancient Roman city, it spends almost none of its marketing budget on that aspect of its history. Why? Well, honestly, as much as I love the Romans, it wasn’t that great or that important of a Roman city. I laughed at the sloppy Roman masonry I saw. What do the Parisian marketing folks spend their budget on? Impressionists! The Eiffel Tower! The Mona Lisa! If I see one more freaking advertisement for riverboats or ragtime in St. Louis tourism brochures…
And let’s be honest, I visited Montmartre, which was a total tourist trap, and it was amazing. I guess I’m lightening up as I get older.
And of course, I never worried about random gun violence because it pretty much doesn’t exist in France, or anywhere else in the world.