Paris and London have always been both entwined and rivals, a real Tale of Two Cities going back to the Plantagenet Kings of England who were French and ruled precariously the part of France not ruled from Paris by the French King. They even founded Oxford University to stop the sons of nobles being polluted by those French ideas not to mention French women. Attitudes have not shifted much over the centuries.
Both grew to be centres of global influence so much of the world is now Anglophone or Francophone. Both cities had to deal with the same problems of population growth, sanitation and transport as they reached a million population in the mid nineteenth century and the joy is to see the contrast in approach and the subsequent cityscape – Vive la différence has long been the view of Les Rosbifs! London remains more organic and more individual and has become a major French city by those who appreciate the différence in tax rates as London has welcomed well heeled exiles from François Hollande’s Socialist Utopia. For Paris the Grand Plan and more structured. So Paris swept away its medieval walls and medieval city and built wide boulevards under Baron Haussmann. London trusted less to autocrats and Christopher Wren’s plans to rebuild a new city were never proceeded with so London kept its ancient streets.
Now in Paris Spanish-born Anne Hidalgo defeated her conservative rival to win the top job in the French capital. Hidalgo previously served as a deputy to the outgoing mayor, Bertrand Delanoe. She won with promises to build new public housing and make day care more affordable for Parisian families. Many political observers regard the office of Paris mayor as a step towards the French presidency. So in a tide against the Socialists Hidalgo remains an isolated victory against Marine Le Pen and the Front National. Boris Johnson by contrast was a Conservative candidate re-elected to be Mayor of London in 2012 despite a swing to Labour in the local elections.
However the contrast in infrastructure and long term planning between the two cities continues to be stark. The Underground and railways were built higgledy- piggy by private companies. But then 40 years ago with High Speed Rail , the RER with its 5 lines (years before we have even completed Crossrail) and the brand new Charles de Gaulle Airport with its four long runways Paris leapfrogged London which has not even begun to catch up. Somehow Boris’s expensive and unused dangleway across the Thames and his silly gesture politics look trite by comparison.
So while Parisian’s feel disenchantment with their city and its transport infrastructure the RER is crowded because it is a huge success and took the pressure off the aging and restricted Metro system. Paris is in a better place to move forward than London and Boris Johnson can only look on with envy at Anne Hidalgo’s far greater powers and remit. One small example, Bicycles. Paris has had Vélib’ long before Boris Bikes, segregated bicycle lanes in contrast to London’s death runs and every Sunday whole swathes of Paris streets including the Seine tunnels are open only to pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy a lazy traffic free, clean air Sunday, Paris Respire. No way could Boris Johnson organise traffic free Sundays in London (which regularly endangers its inhabitants health with pollution levels above EU limits) with his limited powers and divided responsibilities between 32 Boroughs. Maybe under Anne Hidalgo we will be looking to Paris and saying Vive la différence!
Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.