Could New York Be More Like Paris? Should we?

New York magazine|July 20 - August 02, 2020

Could New York Be More Like Paris? Should we?
Cityscape: Justin Davidson

THIS IS A SEASON of envy for American cities, as Tokyo subways fill, Berlin museums reopen, and Aucklanders hold weddings. One image from Paris has inspired particular wistfulness: The Rue de Rivoli, until a few months ago a perpetual cloud of diesel and horn-honking, is now a whispering conduit for pedestrians and bicycles. Cutting through Paris’s expensive core from the Marais to Place de la Concorde, it’s an emblem of the future metropolis, what the newly re-elected mayor Anne Hidalgo describes as the “15-minute city.” In her vision, no Parisian should need to travel more than a quarter-hour, on foot or by bike, to work or shop or see a doctor. Part of the plan involves prying streets away from cars, and the other involves seeding neighborhoods with options so that few people will want to drive.

Hidalgo’s guru, the Colombian-born urbanist Carlos Moreno, developed the concept of the 15-minute city as the key to a green and pleasant life, guided by data and aided by technology. Among Moreno’s gnomic pronouncements is “The mobility of the future is immobility”: Instead of letting hours leach away in traffic between residential areas and business districts, depleting resources and pumping out carbon monoxide, the virtuous city will fragment into a collection of villages. After decades of road-building programs have gratified the desire to get into, out of, and around the center city quickly, at any time—wrecking and polluting neighborhoods, disproportionately those with residents of color—Hidalgo and Moreno’s crusade aims to hasten the advent of the post-automobile metropolis.

The idea of the 15-minute city is made for export; in theory, at least, it could transform highly centralized cities all over the world. But, like most concepts that become catchphrases, it glosses over complexity, combining the seductive with the potentially counterproductive. Adopting the mantra could, paradoxically, attack inequities and increase them at the same time, deepening the persistent de facto segregation of New York neighborhoods.

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July 20 - August 02, 2020