- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

PARIS — After spending months considering how they would like Paris to be in 2020, elected officials and resident associations have come up with a dreamy vision of a city of villages.

Their decision appears to have been inspired by the widely acclaimed 2001 film “Amelie,” directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which has drawn thousands of tourists to Montmartre hoping to see cobbled streets, vegetable stalls and winking cafe owners.

Under their plans, each neighborhood of Paris would recover or retain its identity. Local butchers, greengrocers and pharmacies would be given subsidies to survive so that people are not forced to shop at vast malls on the edge of the city. Mothers could push baby carriages along the street in safety, children could ride bicycles and neighbors would know each other.

Each arrondissement, or district, would be given its own cultural center for local artists and performers. Trees would be planted wherever possible to create a cool, green atmosphere in summer. Their report says: “The image of Paris as a traffic-choked, polluted and stressful city must be erased.”

It also calls for a return of the days when all the furniture workshops were in the Faubourg-Saint-Antoine near the Bastille, and all the writers in St. Germain. Craftsmen would be helped to stay together in one quarter, cobblers with cobblers, piano makers with piano makers.

Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, a Socialist, scored one of his greatest successes last summer with “Paris Plage” (Paris Beach). He spent $1.5 million converting a stretch of the quays along the Seine into a beach, with a ribbon of sand, a few loungers, umbrellas and games for children. French reports said more than 2 million people visited the urban beach.

Mr. Delanoe was praised for turning an underused asset into one of the hits of the Paris summer, and is repeating the project this year. His commission would like to see the quays turned into a permanent park.

His constant emphasis on making Paris more liveable has made Mr. Delanoe an extremely popular figure in French politics and a possible future presidential candidate. His status was enhanced when he recovered stoically from a stabbing during an open night at the Paris town hall. His attacker said he disliked Mr. Delanoe for being a homosexual.

The most expensive aspect of the commission’s plans will be the construction of two light rail lines, one following the Paris beltway, the other connecting the main railway stations inside the French capital.

Along with the extension of existing underground lines, it is hoped the trains will reduce traffic so the city can create pedestrian zones in central Paris, open only to public transport and vital commercial traffic.

These zones would stretch from Montparnasse on the Left Bank as far north as the Gare du Nord, taking in sites such as the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Pompidou Center.

Fortunately for Parisians, their city is lavishly funded by the central government. And having a former mayor, Jacques Chirac, as president helps.

Commuters have complained noisily about Mr. Delanoe’s efforts to reduce the traffic in central Paris. He has barred traffic from new pedestrian zones and introduced bicycle days for certain quarters, where only residents can come in and out in their cars.

But for those living, working and educating their children in central Paris, the reduction of traffic from outside is a godsend. And they are, after all, Mr. Delanoe’s constituency.

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