Mayoral candidate Hidalgo wants to give fresh look to Bastille history

Anne Hidalgo’s ambitious proposal to redesign the iconic Place de la Bastille in central Paris is both an easy and a tough sell.
Hidalgo, the Socialist Party’s mayoral hope and the favorite to win in next month’s election, is touting her project as a victory for pedestrians and history alike — a way to ease the pressure of traffic flow in the area while updating the symbolic place of protest to give it a public park feel.

But if Hidalgo is elected, she’ll have to answer lingering questions about time, money and support among Parisians.

Hidalgo’s vision
Hidalgo announced her vision for Bastille last month, noting that she sees the project as a spearhead for rethinking the city’s other storied squares, including Place d’Italie, Montparnasse and Denfert-Rochereau.

Her plan would create a pedestrian park linking the July Column and the Canal Saint-Martin, with a reflecting pool spanning the center and freshly planted trees adding a touch of verdure in and around the space.Only public transport would be allowed in the park — two-way traffic would be directed around it in a “U” shape.Since the announcement Hidalgo has bolstered her argument by referring to the successful redesign of Place de la Republique, the brainchild of outgoing mayor Bertrand Delanoe that was completed last year.“(In the Place de la Republique), there are now spaces to live and to breathe that are absolutely necessary,” she said during a Q&A session at Sciences Po last week.What’s the catch?

Little has been said about potential costs or time for the Bastille makeover — but it would be an investment. The construction at Republique took more than a year and a half and cost nearly $30 million.

Catherine Bidou-Zachariasen, director emeritus of sociological research at CNRS, said during last week’s Q&A that she was concerned about the impact the project could have on Bastille’s ambiance.

“I’m afraid that this idea of improving the landscape tends to bring a tourist look to neighborhoods,” Bidou-Zachariasen said.

She added that she is worried about vendors disappearing from the open-air market along Boulevard Richard-Lenoir when the area undergoes such drastic changes — a concern Hidalgo shot down as “completely false.”

Some other Parisian residents don’t share Hidalgo’s enthusiasm for the new Bastille.

Pierre Fontaine, who works at a newspaper stand near Bastille, said he doesn’t have a significant opinion on the subject but has never see any issues with traffic or pedestrian space.

And Fauve Jegou, who plans to vote for UMP’s Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet in the mayoral election, said the square is “cool as is.”

“Changing it, it’s not worth spending a lot of money,” she said.
History remains key

Hidalgo would also have a lot of history to contend with if she wins election and launches a Bastille remake, said Donald Sutherland, a history professor at the University of Maryland.Bastille is one of the busiest spots in Paris today — a far cry from the 14th-century fortress and later the famous prison it used to feature. The column, a monument to the rebels who died during the 1830 July Revolution in France, is the only 19th century aspect of the square that remains intact.Still, the square carries a sense of timelessness, said Lloyd Kramer, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.“It is a symbol of the past where people also express their visions for France’s future,” Kramer said.

Bastille’s reputation as a place of protest was evident just last month, when a 17,000-strong demonstration against French President Francois Hollande gathered steam there before continuing across the Seine to Les Invalides.

“The idea of people conquering their liberty is what appeals to the French. It’s democracy and nationalism at the same time,” Sutherland said.

“That’s what anybody redoing (Bastille) is going to have to deal with — they’re going to have make it consistent. They can’t violate that notion.”

Trackbacks

  1. […] Mayoral candidate Hidalgo wants to give fresh look to Bastille history. Anne Hidalgo’s ambitious proposal to redesign the iconic Place de la Bastille in central Paris is both an easy and a tough sell. Hidalgo, the Parti socialiste’s mayoral hope and the favorite to win in next month’s election, is touting her project as a victory for pedestrians and history alike — a way to ease the pressure of traffic flow in the area while updating the symbolic place of protest to give it a public park feel. But if Hidalgo is elected, she’ll have to answer lingering questions about time, money, and support among Parisians. […]

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