Sunday, June 18, 2006

Should Sarasota Be Like Paris?

Commissioner Bilyeu recently took a trip to France and has commented many times about what he saw in Paris and how Sarasota should consider Paris as a model worth emulating.

One thing about Paris is that their downtown is height limited [see the Urbanism/Architecture heading at Wikipedia]. This contributes significantly to the city's charm:

A building's height was also defined according to the width of the street it lines, and Paris' building code has seen few changes since the mid-19th century to allow for higher constructions. It is for this reason, save for a few 'pointed' examples, that Paris seems an essentially flat city when compared to some of the world's other metropoles.

High buildings are allowed only at the city perimeter. This is what tourists see when they visit.

Recent news stories are indicating Parisians are not too happy with the direction of their city:

For while tourists flock to the capital, the locals are leaving, fed up with the traffic, the pollution, the lack of affordable housing and office space, parks and open spaces. The number of Parisians, currently 2.1 million, is shrinking at more than 1% a year. The city has lost an estimated one in 10 of its jobs over the past 15 years as firms move to cheaper and quieter locations.

"We must absolutely allow all those Parisians who want to stay in their city to stay there. That's why we are making an enormous effort in terms of housing, in terms of places for economic activity and creating green open spaces in terms of quality of life improvements for the 21st century."

This sounds similar to issues that have been raised in Sarasota; no affordable housing, traffic increasing, pollution and skyscrapers blocking light and air. Our economic activity is driven by building housing for the wealthy.

Are we headed toward a city of retirees and wealthy part-time residents with no services? Do we want to be more like Paris?


Stan Zimmerman said...

Stan Zimmerman writes,

I am always delighted when Sarasota City Commissioners and senior City staffers travel to other places. Commissioner Bilyeu was excited about his Paris trip (not at taxpayer expense, I will add, although I have no problem with Commissioners traveling on my nickel to see other significant places). I have not spoken to him after his return, but will offer a few suggestions about places I returned from this month.

London: A dense, busy city. Hard to discern if the municipal core has benefited from urban planning. Four, five and six story buildings predominate, with virtually no setback from the street.

Istanbul: Another dense, busy city. Again, no urban planning noted. Again, four and five story buildings with no setback. Fewer parks than London, and many more speed bumps (made of hard rubber and bolted to the pavement). The parks we saw were jammed with Turks on the weekend, like our beaches in season.

Washington, DC: Again, dense and busy, but enormous urban planning since its inception. Laws regulate the height of buildings, nothing taller than the Capitol. But again, three-four-occasionally five storys. For the majority of the northeast and southeast portions of the city, buildings are not set directly on the street but setback are still minimal (and thus backyards – such as they are – are maximized). Northwest Washington is a different story, much more “suburban” with lawns and larger homes.

Generalizations: These three cities were built before elevators. Six stories was about all you climb with armloads of groceries. While many of the buildings in all three cities were retrofitted, the amount of “urban renewal” has been minimized. Only truly dilapidated blocks are demolished and built anew (Canary Wharf in London, for example).

A final thought: Our Turkey adventure was a search for ruins, and we found plenty at Ephesus, Mileteus, Aphrodesia and Didyma. Most were less than 2,000 years old. As I walked across Capitol Hill in DC last week, I passed in front of the Supreme Court with its gleaming Corinthian columns, pediment and frieze. It looked very familiar to scenes from Turkey. What a wonderful ruin it will make, I thought unmercifully. In the inhuman scale of history, what we do in Sarasota this year is trivial. But in the human scale of our lives, what we do in Sarasota this year is a powerful statement of what we want our city to become.

Stan Zimmerman

Anonymous said...

Hahaha, Paris? Mon Dieu! Commissioner Bilyeu, il est fou, a crocked monsieur, bien sur.....This guy is an embarrasment. Anyone see him wearing beret yet?