Reporter's Planning Gets Sidetracked
by Planning

Arsenal Expo 'Metamorphoses Parisiennes'
is Not About Sex


For a very large city,
this exposition centre is human-sized.

Paris:- Thursday, 7. March 1996:- After my trip to the Champs-Elysées on Tuesday, it occurred to me that I had seen a poster announcing an exposition, entitled 'Metamorphoses Parisiennes,' located at the Pavillon de l'Arsenal. The Champs-Elysées had been through some of these, and I wondered if there would be anything about it at this exposition.

The Pavillon de l'Arsenal is located in the 4th arrondissement, right handy to the Métro stop Sully-Morland - so if it's raining and it was, you won't get very wet if you sprint to it.

The 'pavillon' has never had anything to do with arsenals - it is merely in the quarter of the Arsenal du Roi; it was purpose built as a picture gallery in 1879 by one-time wood merchant Laurent-Louis Borniche, to house his collection of 2000 paintings. On his death a few years later, his daughter sold the lot to a noodle works, and the building saw many diverse uses after that, until the Ville de Paris acquired it in 1954. In 1988 the 'pavillon' was converted to its original use - and I must say it is an attractive building inside and out.

The current exposition features a series of displays - showing particular parts of Paris, and how they have evolved over time. It is not a big show; so there should be time to look at the permanent exhibits at the same time.Of course I was in the right place - in spirit - to research my little history of the Champs-Elysées.

However, like the building I was in, I have had a few careers more than I care to remember - and what a coincidence! - I have spent time in a city planning department. The result was that I forgot about the Champs-Elysées in particular, and got hung up on all the displays in general, forgot to take any notes, and generally messed up this self-assignment to explicitly tell you about this particular exhibition.

No matter. If you are interested the city as sort of a living organism that sheds skin and grows new - not a bloodless 'Sim City,' but the real snorting, steaming, heaving, wrenching thing that is a city with a past and a future and a fluid present, then you can find the tip of the iceberg of it in this house.

Wooden model of the centre of Paris
is part of permanent display.

The plan shows where current redevelopment activity
is happening in Paris.

City planning - a dirty phrase for some - is the nuts and bolts of the constant re-design and perhaps redirection of a city, in which real people live. It is not an abstract exercise. If you are going to rip down the slum that - was - the 14th arrondissement for example; then you had better be prepared to deal with people. To get things done within anybody's lifetime, dictatorial powers are handy to have.

So there is the conflict: nobody will voluntarily agree to anything. Without power, city planners do sit in very real ivory towers, turning out plan after plan until they are choking on them. With power - oh ho - then it's doom in Mudville. "It may be a filthy slum, but it's MY filthy slum, and I love it."

The Berlin senate wanted to tear something down once, and rebuild it - and they hit on the idea of sending all the inhabitants (mostly retired) to Majorca for the duration - for three years I think it was. Majorca had empty hotels and the rent there with full board was much cheaper than anything that could be found in Berlin - if anything could be found. Berlin went ahead with the idea, but I never heard anything about how many people used their return tickets.

The Arsenal show did have one small maquette made for the new sidewalk layout of the Champs-Elysées. They forgot to put any people on it.

Now that I've found the place I'll go back and skim them for information - because despite the loss of some colorful slums, Paris does display some good ideas - and they might be worth passing on.

In case you want to note the information about the Pavillon de l'Arsenal, I will include it here:

21, boulevard Morland, Paris 4. Métro: Sully-Morland or Bastille. Closed Mondays. Shop has books, catalogues of past shows; there is a documentation service with slides, films, photos - there are conferences, tours, and periodic events. Tel.: 42 76 33 97.

Architects, and especially City Planners, are welcome.

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