Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Enough People

It is easy to forget that the key to many of the good things we want in life is “Enough People.”
  • If we want a good choice of restaurants, we need Enough People.
  • If we want a choice of places to shop, we need Enough People.
  • If we want decent public transportation, we need Enough People.
  • If we want a good public library, we need Enough People.
  • If we want good doctors and hospitals, we need Enough People.
  • If we want good fire and police protection, we need Enough People.

People, as customers, are the lifeblood of any retail service or business. Without Enough People, the business will wither and die. Yet how often do we hear the same people who want good shopping and other services strongly oppose allowing more people in the area. They argue against “Density” (the dreaded “D” word) and claim that allowing more people will destroy the good life.

We need to remember that having Enough People is a requirement, not a problem. And that what people really fear is not too many people, but too many cars. Not people congestion, but auto congestion.

Are there ways to have Enough People without having excessive auto congestion? Yes, let’s look at some.

1.  Let Enough People live and work close to our cluster of shops and other services so they can get there without needing a car.

2.  Make the walking environment so good that Enough People will want to walk instead of drive to meet their daily needs.

3.  Put public facilities like parks, schools and libraries within walking distance of Enough People, so they attract people without cars.

4.  Make our walkable downtowns and other mixed-use clusters of people so attractive that Enough People will want to live there instead of in auto-dependent sprawl.

Remember, people live in cities and towns because doing so brings Enough People together to support a comfortable life. If we want the good life, we need Enough People.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Making a Grand Boulevard

Cities along El Camino Real on the San Francisco Peninsula have joined up with the transit agencies in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and Joint Venture-Silicon Valley to form the Grand Boulevard Initiative (GBI)1 to plan and implement the conversion of El Camino Real from a declining auto-dominated retail strip into a 21st century Grand Boulevard.  As we work together on that effort, we need to be able to see El Camino Real with fresh eyes and to understand the issues from a fresh perspective.  Here are things we need to think about.

We need to begin to see El Camino not as just a street for cars, but also as a Complete Street2that welcomes everyone:  pedestrians, bike riders, and transit riders, as well as car drivers.  When we see it that way, we will begin to change how things are laid out along the street.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Thoughts on Aging from an Older Person

1.  Older people are still people, and they should be treated that way.

2.  Aging is a normal part of life, not a disease.

3.  Care should be supportive, not controlling. Older people should remain in charge of their own life and health decisions unless they are incompetent. Health care professionals are advisors not decision-makers.

4.  People benefit from the richness of community life. Older people should not be separated from normal community life unless they so desire.

5.  Independence, convenience and mobility. Older people should be helped to remain independent as long they can. If possible, they should have the opportunity to live where they can meet their daily needs and participate in community life without the need for a car or assistance from others. Walking is a personal pleasure and an opportunity to participate in community life.

6.  Community and Privacy. Older people should have the right to continually choose their own balance between community and privacy.

7.  It is a normal part of life that older people’s minds and bodies go into decline. They may need help understanding the changes and adjusting to them.

8.  Death is as normal as birth (but it usually comes later). Without death, the world sure would be crowded by now.

9.  The measure of life is fullness, not duration.

10.  People have the moral right to die with dignity. No one, not even the government, should attempt to deny them that.

6 Tips For Finding Solutions To Difficult Problems

1. Kick it up a level. If you can’t find a solution at your present level of thought, move up to a more general level. For example, if you can’t find a way to reduce global warming sufficiently by improving vehicle mileage standards, try to accomplish it by putting things closer together so people walk more and drive less. More general levels often provide a wider variety of solutions than lower levels.

2. Look with fresh eyes. We all tend to see things from our own perspectives. Learn to use new perspectives. If you tend to try to solve problems from an engineering perspective, try thinking about problems from a people-oriented point of view. Instead of asking “how could we quantify that”, try asking, “how would people feel about that?” Fresh eyes often see new solutions.

3. Ignore limits. Constraints and limits are important, but they often inhibit creative thinking. For the first round of your discussions, try brainstorming without any limits. You can apply constraints later in the process, after you have identified possible solutions. Don’t let limits destroy your initial creativity.

4. Have fun. Be positive. Negative thinking inhibits creativity. Don’t dwell on what won’t work. Creativity should be fun. Crazy ideas sometimes prove to be valuable.

5. Put it on the back burner. Your brain has two sections: your conscious one that you use all day, and your back burner that works when you are not paying attention to it. If you are stymied, leave your problem alone for a while and let your back burner work on it. Tomorrow morning it may produce a solution that your conscious brain didn’t see.

6. Let other people create sparks. Kick your problem around with others with different perspectives. Serendipitous sparks from human interactions often lead to creative solutions. Much of the success of Silicon Valley is based on such serendipitous sparks.

Community Design Principles

1. Cities exist as habitat for People. Good design is focused on the comfort, safety and convenience of the People who will use the place. There are other competing priorities but none should be given priority over People.

2. People and Movement. An inherent quality of people is movement. Just as people need to eat and sleep, they need to move. So a fundamental quality of good design is how it accommodates and facilitates mobility.

3. People live in the spaces between buildings. A building standing alone in space may be an interesting object, but it doesn’t create a Place. But put a few buildings close together and you begin to shape open space into a Place and this is the beginning of a town. Good design focuses on the Places and the people who will enjoy them, not just the buildings.

8 Keys to a Sustainable City

1.Get the fundamentals right.  Streets, blocks, plazas, and primary relationships.  If the “bones” of a city are good, it can endure.

2.Build in flexibility.  Change happens over the life of a city.  Build in the flexibility to adapt to new conditions as they occur.  Instead of single-use buildings, have buildings that can change and evolve with changing demands.

3.Build for the ages, not for tomorrow.  Forget America’s throwaway culture.   Good cities last for centuries and planning horizons should recognize that longevity.

4.Build in personal mobility choices.  Everyone needs to get around every day, but how we do it can change.  Don’t lock in to any single form of mobility; provide multiple choices.

5.Put things close together.  Trips are shorter and people have more choices for how to get around.

6.Plan for all ages.  So people can live their whole lives here comfortably.

7.Build in opportunities for community.  Community enriches life and creates sparks of creativity.  It should be available at your doorstep.

8.Make it loved.  Loved places are cared for and endure.

Getting Around in the Bay Area: Mobility Planning For Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley, one of the most innovative places in the world, has an overstressed and inadequate public infrastructure.  The Valley’s business successes over the years have led to increased development densities that have outstripped what the suburban development form can comfortably support.  People are dependent on cars for mobility and, because things are spread out, trips to work, shopping, schools, etc. are overly long and congested.  An inadequate supply of housing has led to high housing costs, long commutes, and traffic congestion.  Although many recognize the need for more housing, people are fearful that any new development will make traffic worse rather than better.  And transit agencies are struggling to provide effective transit services in this low-density environment, and even to survive financially.

And a new challenge is on the horizon.  We are in the early stages of a structural shift in personal mobility. Remember the summer of 2008 when worldwide pressures suddenly pushed gasoline prices up to $4/gallon or more.  The onset of the Great Recession pushed gas prices back down again, but those forces are likely to be at work again as we emerge from the recession.  No one can predict in detail what will happen, but it is likely that some combination of increased climate regulations and increased worldwide competition for energy supplies will put upward pressure on energy prices. So, we can no longer safely plan for the next 20 years, as we have in past decades, based on having an ample supply of cheap gasoline.  Planning needs to address this issue, understand its implications, and begin to reduce auto-dependency and provide other choices for personal mobility.  Cars will still be around, but they can’t be the only answer.

This paper looks at transit planning and development planning in light of these trends and suggests a new approach.

1.Not Just Transit, But Personal Mobility.  Current transit planning seems to revolve around issues like buses vs. trams, or public transit vs. private cars.  The discussion needs to be kicked up a level or two.  The real issue isn’t just cars or transit, but personal mobility.  How people get around every day here in Silicon Valley.  Planning needs to focus on people and their personal mobility, not just transit planning.  We need to do what it takes to make it easy and convenient for people to get around in the Bay Area without needing a car.  That is the goal of good mobility planning.

2.Integration of Transportation Planning and Development Planning.  The two issues are interrelated, but the planning now goes on separately.  Transit agencies plan transit, and cities plan development.  The agencies talk to each other and comment on each other’s projects, but there is no real integrated planning.  No one is in charge of making sure transportation works effectively with development and vice versa.  We need to start integrated planning right now and demand results.

3.Efficient Transit Needs Clusters of Riders.  A transit trip requires enough riders to help pay the cost of the trip.  To be efficient, transit needs to serve dense clusters of riders, not scattered individuals. Clusters of potential riders exist in downtowns, schools and colleges, major medical facilities, and other places.  Trying to serve scattered individual riders is prohibitively expensive and undermines transit efficiency.

4.Transit Policy Should Support Ridership Clusters.  If transit efficiency depends on having dense enough clusters of potential riders, then transit policy should actively support that principle.
Transit should provide the best services to the densest clusters.
Transit should not provide services that encourage sprawl and scattering of riders.
Transit should make the hard but important policy choice that Efficient Transit Serves Clusters.  The denser the cluster, the better the transit service.  If you want better transit services, move (or walk) to an area with a higher density cluster of transit users.
Some riders have “special needs” and serving them is important.  But this service should be focused on meeting these needs in ways that don’t undermine the overall transit policy to encourage the clustering of riders.

5.The Key to Ridership Is Good Service.  Serving dense clusters of potential riders is one key to ridership.  The other is good service.  Good service doesn’t require fancy new transit vehicles.  Many transit systems throughout the world thrive with ordinary looking transit vehicles.  Transit ridership depends on two things:
The transit comes frequently enough (every 5 or 10 minutes) so we can use it without checking a transit schedule.
The transit takes us were we need to go in a reasonable time and brings us back when we are done.

6.Put Transit Lines on Developed Corridors.  Transit lines need to go on existing developed corridors like El Camino Real, instead of avoiding them.  Putting transit on developed corridors will:
Let transit benefit from the potential riders already clustered along the corridor.
Enliven and enrich the corridor.
Encourage new transit-friendly development there, and lead to increased transit riders in future years. 
7.The Transit On Developed Corridors Needs To Flexible And Walkable.  Differing forms of transit have differing impacts on the areas they go through. One kind is good for developed corridors and the other is not. Fixed Stop Transit, like Caltrain and some forms of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), is boardable only at a transit stop and the transit stops are fixed and not easily changed.  These stops are also usually too far apart to allow a convenient walk from one to another. Fixed Stop Transitenlivens the areas around the fixed stops, but does not enliven the rest of the corridor, and may even damage it.  (Like a freeway enlivens the interchange areas, but not the rest of the freeway corridor.)   Flexible Transit, like buses and trams, has stops that can easily be changed as needs demand, and the stops are within walking distance of each other.  This combination of flexibility and walkability means that it can enliven the whole transit corridor.  The greatest life is at the transit stops, but even the areas between the stops are also enlivened and enriched.  Flexible Transit that enlivens the whole corridor is the right transit for developed corridors.

8.Area-Wide Network Of Connectivity.  The Bay Area needs an interconnected, area-wide network of mobility services that provides:
Easy connection across transit agency borders.  (A rider shouldn’t know or care which transit agency is operating the vehicle he is riding.)
Convenient, coordinated schedules.
A single ticket for the entire trip.

9.Responsible Leadership.  We need leadership that will:
Set a goal to do what it takes to make it easy and convenient for people to get around in the Bay Area without needing a car.
Integrate transportation planning and development planning.
Provide effective personal mobility so you don’t have to wait more than 5 or 10 minutes for transportation that will get you to your destination and back in a reasonable time.
Find the necessary financial resources.
Help transition the Bay Area from auto-dependence to car-free personal mobility.

Transit-Oriented Development

Many people don’t have a clear understanding of the fundamental elements of Transit Oriented Development.  These Ten Tips can help.

1.Urban Form.  Transit Oriented Development (TOD) must have an urban, rather than a suburban pattern of development.  A TOD isn’t just a denser suburban mixed use that is located at a transit stop.  It is a different kind of a place; a different development pattern governed by a different set of rules.  Generally, suburban forms are “loose”, horizontal and spread out, and urban forms are “tight”, vertical and compact.  

2.Urban Uses.  The uses in the area immediately adjacent to the transit stop should be limited to those that are compatible with and supportive of the transit stop and those living and working there.  What products and services are needed by the people who live and work in the TOD and those who are passing through?  In addition to normal downtown retail is there a need for day care, cleaners, convenience retail, etc.?   Large automobile oriented uses, particularly those that draw from a large catchment area, (big box, auto dealers, power center tenants, etc.) should be prohibited.

3.Urban Intensity.  Sufficient development intensity must be clustered immediately adjacent to the transit stop.  The vitality and success of the TOD are dependent on having enough people using it at all hours of the day.  If you are not sure how many people are needed, put in too many rather than too few.

4.Mixed-Use.  Allowing people to live, work, shop and play within the walkable area.  If you live or work there, can you find everything you need on a regular basis without getting into a car?

5.Retail Location.  Retail is dependent on access to enough customers, whether they come by train, bus, car, bike or on foot.  Don’t try to force retail into a location that won’t give it that necessary customer access.  Where possible, the retail should be placed so it is able to draw customers from both the TOD and a major street.

6.Reverse the normal parking rules.  Instead of worrying whether there will be enough parking, make sure there is not too much.  You may need parking maximums instead of parking minimums.  Don’t surround the transit stop with parking.  That area is reserved for high density mixed use, not parking.  If the commuters who use the transit for “park and ride” park a few blocks away and walk on the sidewalk past the retail shop fronts, they become potential customers for the retail.  If land values justify it, put the parking in structures or underground.  At-grade parking lots adjacent to the transit stop can destroy a TOD.

7.Walkability.  Everyone who gets on or off public transit is a pedestrian regardless of how they get to the area.  Comfortable, convenient walkability is essential.  Before a TOD plan is approved, imagine yourself walking in it.  Will it be comfortable?  Are the important destinations within a comfortable walking distance?  Can you get all the products and services you need on a regular basis by walking?  Will kids be safe there?  Will a woman feel comfortable walking there at night?

8.Transit Connectivity. The transit stop needs to give the rider access to a convenient, integrated regional transit system that will connect him or her to the important destinations throughout the region.  That integrated system needs to include coordinated feeder systems as well as main line systems.

9.Neighborhood Connectivity.  The transit stop needs to be connected by a network of streets and pathways to adjacent neighborhoods and allow direct access to the transit stop without relying on the arterial street system.  Convenient, easy flow of people from adjacent neighborhoods will add to the success of the TOD.

10. Value Sharing.  Transit is expensive to construct but adding transit can substantially increase the value of adjacent properties that are served by the transit.  A portion of that increase in property values needs to be shared and used to help fund the transit.

For more information on Value Sharing, see Transit Oriented Development, Using Public Transit to Create More Accessible and Livable Neighborhood, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, updated May 9, 2005.  Also see The Transit Metropolis, a Global Inquiry, by Robert Cervero (1998).

This article first appeared on Planetizen at www.planetizen.com.

10 Tips for Changing a Shopping Center to a Village Center

1.Have a clear vision before you approve anything.  Knowing where you are going before you start is important.  Without it, you don’t have a basis for judging the quality of any plan or development proposal.  A walkable, mixed-use, medium density neighborhood with good shopping (let’s call it a “Village Center”) is probably what you will be trying to create.  Picture it in your mind before you begin and stay focused on that vision.

2.Get the bones right.  What are the bones?  The fundamental characteristics that drive whether something will succeed or not.  If the bones are good, success is likely. Bonesdiffer in differing development patterns.  In an auto-oriented shopping center, the bonesare large superblocks with buildings set back from the street behind large parking lots, and on-site circulation is largely via driveways and parking lots.  In a walkable Village Center, the bones are small blocks with streets and sidewalks lined by buildings with cafes and shopfronts, like in a traditional downtown.  Parking is hidden where possible and no parking is allowed between sidewalks and buildings.  Remember, get the bones right.  Don’t get caught trying to make shopping center bones fit with Village Center bones.

3.Make it mixed-use.  Regional shopping centers are single-use, so people don’t generally live or work within walking distance and almost everyone arrives by car.  A Village Center is a mixed-use neighborhood so people can walk between home and work, shopping or entertainment.  This helps minimize traffic congestion.

4.Make it medium density, so you will have enough people to make the Village Center successful. As we all know, but seldom think about, customers are the lifeblood of any retail business.  Without them, the business will wither and die.  Suburban shopping centers reach out long distances to attract enough customers to drive to the center.  A Village Center, on the other hand, thrives on people within walking distance.  Putting enough people living and working right in the Village Center supports retail, restaurants and other local services and helps minimize the need to attract car-driving customers from other areas.

5.Focus the stores outward onto the sidewalks, not inward.  Regional shopping mall stores generally turn their backs on the outside and focus internally.  Shops in a Village Center have lots of windows and focus on the people on the sidewalks and welcome them as shoppers.  This can help convert a dull shopping center driveway into a lively shopping street.  

6.Handle the parking right.  Parking is different in a Village Center than in a shopping center.  In a shopping center, parking is often located between the street and the buildings, and people often have to walk across a parking lot to reach a store.  In a Village Center, the store is conveniently located right at the edge of the sidewalk so people can window shop while walking.  Don’t allow any parking to occur between the sidewalk and the shopfronts, even along major streets.  Where possible, hide parking behind buildings or walls.

7.Promote non-auto means of mobility.  Cars are not going away, but environmental regulations and increased world-wide competition for limited energy resources are likely to put upward pressure on energy prices in coming years.  It is no longer safe for us to plan based on an assumption of plenty of cheap gas.  New developments need to welcome all forms of mobility – walking, biking, and public transportation.  And they should create comfortably walkable connections to regional transportation systems.

8.Connect to nearby neighborhoods.  A regional shopping center assumes everyone will be arriving by car and turns its back on nearby areas.  A good neighborhood (like a good neighbor) connects with others around it.  Make sure people living or working nearby can conveniently walk, bike or drive to the Village Center, so they become part of the customer base of the Village Center merchants.

9.Tame adjacent streets.  Regional shopping centers are generally on major arterial streets that are often almost uncomfortable to cross as a pedestrian or on a bicycle.  To help make the Village Center successful, these streets must be made pedestrian-friendly. There are two issues here:  the roadway and the development area.  Both must be made comfortable for people.  

a.For the roadway, reducing vehicle speeds, narrowing travel lanes, and creating comfortable pedestrian areas can help.  For additional information, some helpful hints for taming busy streets are available under “Grand Boulevard” at the Common Sense Community Design website:http://www.commonsensecommunitydesign.org

b.For the development area, one key to success is to remember the Village Centerbones and apply them to the arterial streets too. Because the major arterial street may be a harsh environment, the pedestrian area may need extra buffering from traffic.  Make the sidewalk wider, 15 to 25 feet or so.  Larger trees along the street edge can help shelter the pedestrian area.  On-street parking is also helpful.  But buildings should not be allowed to be set back from the sidewalk or any parking allowed between the sidewalk and the shopfronts.  For a successful Village Center, the pedestrian shopper must not be separated from the shop fronts. 

10.Checklist.  You can use these Common Sense Tips as a checklist when you look at a plan or development proposal to see if it meets the criteria for creating a good Village Center.

Keys to a Livable Neighborhood: Lessons From Paris

What makes Paris such a great place to live, not just to visit?  My mid-rise Parisian neighborhood is so livable.  What are the key elements to its success?

  1. 1.  Human Scale.  As you can see from the photo, Paris has a European perimeter block system of mid-rise buildings.  The buildings divide open space into comfortable, human scaled streets and snug, sometimes hidden, interior courtyards.  Wherever you go you always feel comfortably inside a good place.

  2. 2.  Enough People.  The density of people is sufficient to support all the shops and services needed to allow people to meet their daily needs close to home.  This people density supports all the small scale shops and services we live.    (American cities and towns can learn from this.)  Without enough people, all the other good things would not be sustainable.

  3. 3.  Interesting Walking Environment.  Having enough people means that the sidewalks are lined with shops, cafes, entertainment, and business services.  This is handy (my favorite cafe is in the ground floor of the building where I live) and makes walking pleasurable.

  4. 4.  Excellent mobility.  The density of people supports good public transportation that provides convenient mobility throughout the city.  You can get to work, to school, to shopping, to entertainment, to connections to other neighborhoods and other cities, all without needing a car.  One reasonably priced Navigo transit pass provides mobility throughout the whole city.  And in Paris, no place is ore than 500 meters from a Metro stop.

  5. 5.  Strong Community and Privacy.  Paris provides both community and privacy.  Walk out the door of the building you live in and you are immediately in the community of your neighborhood.  And as soon as the locals realize you are local, not a tourist, you are welcomed into the neighborhood.  But privacy is equally important to the French and your apartment is your private space secluded from intruders.  To enter a residential building a person must first key a 4-digit code into the pad by the door.  This allows entry into the first layer of private space, the hallway with mailboxes.  To get into the second layer of private space, with stairways and perhaps an elevator, a different 4-digit code must be keyed into the another digi-pad.  The third level of private space, your apartment, is behind a secure door, where you can check out a visitor before allowing entry.  In Paris you can be comfortable and secure both in community and in privacy.

  6. 6.  Diversity.  Paris welcomes everyone.  Every day you experience the great variety of people of all ages who make their home here.  And Parisians treat each other with respect.

  7. 7.  Great Public Places.  Paris is known for its major public places like the Champs Elysee, but living here one discovers the joy of many other public places large and small.  Walking in the landscaped median of a nearby boulevard.  Entering the gate of an urban park.  Walking in an elevated linear park built on a closed railroad right of way.  And perhaps best of all, sharing a glass of wine in a sidewalk cafe.  The French understand - Joie de Vivre - the Joy of Life.

Livable Paris

This is where I live in Paris.  Having lived here part-time for several years, I have learned how livable Paris really is.  Switching from being a tourist to being a local give you a whole new perspective.

Walking out your door here, you are immediately a part of a community.  Now that you are a local, the people you see are your neighbors.  Unlike in the US where we drive most places in the privacy of a car, here you are in community all the time, and it feels really good.

And, the people in the community have learned well how to live together comfortably.  People are nice to each other, because that is an important part of good living.  When a Parisian parks his car (if he happens to have one), he always does it in a way that doesn’t interfere with anyone else.  He may technically be violating some law, but he is respecting everyone else and their right to use public space.

People are polite.  Even teen-agers shake hands.  People say “Bonjour” on entering a place and “Merci.  Au revoir”  when leaving.  They give up a seat on the Metro to older people without being asked.  They make way for each other on leaving a bus or Metro.

And, it is not just a neighborly feeling.  You live in a real neighborhood and you can meet your daily needs in your own neighborhood.  Shopping, cafes, movies, schools, hotels, and parks - it is all right here in your neighborhood.  And in many neighborhoods you also have a local landmark.  In my neighborhood, Sacre Coeur presides over our neighborhood, orients us, and welcomes us home when we have been away, 

When you want to go to another neighborhoods that is easy too, with a choice of how to do it.  Walking is always wonderful here.  If you like bikes, Paris has the Velib program, where for a small fee, you can pick up a bike, ride it to your destination and drop it off there.  When you come to Paris you should also try the buses.  They give you a visual tour of Paris as you go.  And there is always the Metro and no place in Paris is more than 500 meters from a Metro stop.  So, if you are wandering around Paris just go wherever you want to go and when you are finished you can check the nearest Metro station map and see what connections will take you back home.

What about cars?  Yes, it is true there are cars in Paris, but they are an option, not a requirement.  And for most people, not a very good option.  Parking is one issue.  Except for a few parking garages, parking is just what may be available on the street.  So don’t expect to find a vacant space when you arrive at your destination.  There probably won’t be one.

And Parisians don’t see traffic congestion as something to be fixed.  Americans in their cars feel entitled to drive freely without traffic congestion.  If they encounter congestion, they expect it to be fixed, and quickly, so they can continue to drive without delay.  Parisians don’t see it that way.  If traffic congestion occurs, so be it.  (And it does occur.  Every afternoon about 4, the nearby Place de Clichy becomes one huge traffic jam, with most traffic not moving.)  But the French are wise enough not to try to tear down buildings and widen the street so cars can move freely.  The French know that people are more important than cars.

Another important part of Parisian livability is sidewalk cafes - they are everywhere.  My cafe is in the ground floor of the building I live in and I am a regular there.  As a regular, I am welcomed whenever I arrive.  And at dinner I am often offered a complementary kir to enjoy while I am reading the menu.  (And the French read the menu thoroughly.)  After a meal, the French have “an cafe”, a small, potent espresso.  My cafe uses “Cafe Richard” coffee and, with two small cubes of sugar, it is delicious.  A treat that I can’t seem to find anywhere in the US.

Despite the occasional cool or rainy day in Paris, Parisian cafes have mastered the art of outdoor dining whatever the weather.  The windows of the cafe open magically in nice weather so even the first two rows of indoor seating seem outdoors.  In cooler weather, the awnings come out, with radiant heaters, and transparent plastic screens around the edges to keep the heat in.  I don’t understand why cafes in the US can’t seem to learn how to do this.

Another aspect of neighborhood life is the bakeries.  We have four or five or more within a short walk, so we get to pick which ones we like best for breads and which ones for pastries.  A delightful decision to have to make.  And the French baguettes are as good as you might imagine.  Every morning I go to the bakery to buy a fresh baguette to have with coffee for breakfast.

So that is a little taste of Parisian living.  I hope cities in the US can learn from it.

Paris Strike

Parisians like to demonstrate and strike to express their unhappiness with government proposals.  The most recent series of demonstrations relates to the government’s proposal to increase the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.  The French public seems to understand the need for the change, but also supports the union in their strikes against the change.  
Here in Paris we have been reading about the strike and seeing it on the news, but not experiencing it.  For example, we were able to take a quick trip to England on the Chunnel train without interruption.  We have been able to use public transportation within Paris without a problem.  One, minor problem we did experience:  the newspapers were not delivered to the news stands on Tuesday. 

So, today we decided to go see if we could find the strike.  We took the 85 bus from our neighborhood to the end of the line at Les Jardin du Luxembourg, thinking we might find a demonstration there.  But it was quiet.  So, being part-time Parisians, we stopped for lunch at a cafe.  Soon we were rewarded, and not only with a good lunch.  A “manifestation” of a few hundred people came marching toward us on Boulevard Saint-Michel, and then turned on Rue de Vaugirard toward the Senate (which is schedule to vote on the retirement change).  After finishing our wine and “un cafe”, we followed them.

The French public safety system was quietly in charge.  The street in front of the building where the Senate meets was blocked by police vehicles and a line of officers with plastic shields.  The marchers were forced to turn down a narrow side street.  In a little while they returned waiving their banners and chanting.  We waited, and took a few pictures, but nothing happened.  More flag waiving and chanting, but still nothing happened.  Gradually the crowd began to leave and we took the bus back home.

The purpose of the manifestation seemed not so much an attempt to prevent a change in the retirement system as to make a public statement of opposition.  We know you will change the system, but at least we made our point clearly and we got on the evening news around the world.

Feelings in Paris

Living in Paris part of the year provides strong feelings.

Inside.  The strongest and most prevalent feeling is that I am comfortably inside a good place.  Wherever I go within Paris, the inside feeling persists.  And, I believe, it is the one feeling that makes all the rest enjoyable.

Movement.  Whenever I am in a public place, I am drawn to some other nice place nearby.  And the connectivity of the walking areas complements this draw and moves me along from place to place and soon I realize I have walked farther than I expected.

Neighborliness.  Paris is a city of neighborhoods.  People here have learned well how to live together in tight proximity.  Politeness, courtesy, respect for others and their privacy.  Even teenagers shake hands.  Noticing my grey hair, people often offer me a seat on the Metro.

Visual pleasure.  Here I realize I look with both my direct vision and my peripheral vision.  My direct vision is continually attracted to interesting scenes.  My peripheral vision continually reminds me what a nice place I am already in.

Entrance/Transition.  Moving from one space to another through an entry point.  This is very strong here.  Gateways and arches mark the entry points.  Often one gets a glimpse through an archway of a hidden courtyard and feels drawn to see what is there.  Entering an apartment moves you through at least two gateways as you make the transition from community space to semi-private space to the privacy of the apartment.

Family life.  All ages are here.  Older people walking with a cane.  Children after school.  In the park across the street, a tot lot for toddlers, another play area for older children, a fenced sport court for teenagers, and benches in sun and shade for adults.  A couple with their child taking the bus to the Mairie on a Saturday morning to get married.  Family life is strong here.

Good eating.  Parisians love food and the pleasure of dining.  It is almost sacred here.  The parking regulations are suspended from 12 to 2 for the sacred time of lunch.  Dinners start about 8, though many Parisians don’t arrive until 9 or 9:30.  They often start with a kir while exploring the menu (la carte) thoroughly.  Usually three courses at dinner.  Parisians clean up every morsel and then wipe the plate with a piece of baguette to get the last drop.  Finally, finish it off with “un café”, a French espresso.

Good socializing.  Parisians love to spend time with their friends at a café with coffee or wine (and, too often, a cigarette).  The coffee and wine are consumed leisurely, but the conversation is animated.

Joie de vivre.  Parisians have a wonderful love of life.  They take 6 or more weeks of vacation a year.  Money is way to a happier life, not an end in itself. 

American cities, large and small, can learn from this really good life.