Why The French are Better Than Us

While this subject matter doesn’t directly or exclusively relate to ‘the public realm’, it is, I think, close enough to warrant posting on this blog.   I lived in Paris for three years early in my career and had the good fortune to go back for two weeks in August of this year.   I am more struck than ever by how life there differs from life here in North America.  Here are a few of the things that stand out:
    • Cheese…unpasteurized, varied and delicious
    • Coffee. French roast is NOT a fake. Every cup ambrosia. Even the instant coffees from the gas station machine are excellent.
    • Breads. Crunchy on the outside and creamy smooth on the inside.
    • Wine. Of any colour. No further defense required
    • Food. Always delicious. Always fresh and ALWAYS satisfying.
    • Restaurants. Who know the value of a linen table cloth and
    •  service
    • Markets. On everyone’s calendar and great fun
    • Fruits. Fresh, local, non-corporate and bursting with flavour
    • Roundabouts. The answer to every intersection.
    • Heritage conservation. No. Preservation.
    • Streetscapes that celebrate the pedestrian over the car
    • That language. French is such a beautiful language. It enriches life.
    • Light. For some reason the twilight and dawn light there is unlike anywhere else
    • 12 foot ceilings. With floor to ceiling french doors
    • Balconies that are a place. Not just ancillary additions to the architecture
    • Views and vistas. We can thank Hausman for that…
    • No lane markings. If you can fit 4 cars wide, then it’s a 4 lane road
    • Place-making. ‘Places’ like squares and piazza’s are celebrated, maintained and reveered.
    • August off. Everyone’s on holiday. For a month.
    • Family is everything. The stores and restaurants close on the dotted hour because….family.
    • Boule. Basically lawn-bowling or bocce but where nature (aka…dirt fields), play a role in the outcome.
    • Hotel room key cards. Here they just open the door. There…they open the door AND turn the lights on. Leave the room? You have to take the card and so you can’t leave any lights on. SMART!
    • Giverney. The home and estate of French impressionist Claude Monet. It’s like walking into one of his beautiful paintings.

Author: paul nodwell

Paul Nodwell draws on almost 33 years of experience in Urban Design and Landscape Architecture. He is a passionate student of the public realm and believes that great 'place-making' cannot happen without listening to stakeholders, shaping the project around a big (not necessarily complex) idea, and wherever possible, introducing metaphorical and even poetic elements that engage the public in their own experience of the built environment. Early in his career Paul's work took him to Southern California with Peridian Group Landscape Architecture and to Paris, France with Walt Disney Imagineering, but he has enjoyed most, his participation in helping to shape the Greater Toronto Area. As part of the senior management team for the Town of Markham, Paul played a key role in bringing The New Urbanism to southern Ontario. In private practice, Paul has designed a myriad of public parks, streetscapes and condominiums. He has played a key role in the design of a number of new mixed use communities including Angus Glen, Cornell, The Galleria, Concord Floral, Vaughan Metro Centre and Markham Centre. Paul is the recipient of more than a dozen awards for urban design and landscape architecture. He has served on the City of Vaughan Design Review Panel for three years and continues to enjoy serving as adjudicator at the University of Guelph. Even more, he enjoys the dip of his canoe paddle in a northern Ontario wilderness and the challenge of paints and a blank canvas.

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