Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Aramis, Part Deux: Dreams of a post-Kyoto Paris

The New York Times has a story about new designs for Paris' master plan.* The proposed changes to the transportation systems are amazing in their technological innovation and system complexity. The proposals are the result of President Sarkozy's challenge to rethink Paris as a post-Kyoto sustainable city.

The article claims that the architects and designers "forsook flashy imagery for a deep analysis of the city's diverse communities and the fraying tissue that binds them together." They still managed to get a couple of flashy pictures in the Times, and they apparently forgot to provide any of the "deep analysis." Nevertheless, they proposed lots of ambitious designs that include putting tracks underground and building parks on the reclaimed land, building a "hard" green belt that acts as an urban growth boundary, building a giant new train station and, of course, an elevated maglev train. (At least they didn't propose a monorail.)

I think all of the architects and designers (and the President, for that matter) should go back and read Aramis, or The Love of Technology by Bruno LaTour, in which he describes the unbelievably expensive and ultimately doomed attempt to build a new persoanl rapid transit (PRT) system under Paris. LaTour paints a picture of misplaced priorites and incentives, and ultimately a fruitless chase for far more revolutionary transport technology than was possible politically or financially. As LaTour put it, the Aramis project resulted in "the most expensive armchair in the history of technology." The New York Times thinks the current proposals are the most radical in decades, but Aramis was finally put to rest in 1987.


*The headline of the stoy is "A New Paris, as Dreamed by Planners." This is incorrect. It's as dreamed by architects and designers. There is a difference.
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