Are Cities Finished?
Far from rendering cities obsolete, as some predicted early on, the pandemic has unlocked an ever-broader potential for renaissance – what the economist Joseph Schumpeter famously called “creative destruction” on an urban scale. The potential rewards are enormous, but there are also considerable risks.
PARIS – Rue de Rivoli, a boulevard running through the heart of Paris, has been developed in fits and starts. Napoleon Bonaparte initiated construction in 1802, after years of planning and debate, but work stalled following the emperor’s abdication in 1814. The boulevard remained in limbo until another military strongman, Napoleon III, completed the project in the 1850s. The next century, construction began again – this time, to accommodate cars. But this past spring, Rue de Rivoli experienced its fastest transformation yet.
With Paris traffic subdued by a COVID-19 lockdown, Mayor Anne Hidalgo decided on April 30 to close the nearly two-mile-long road to cars, in order to create more space for pedestrians and bicyclists. Workers repainted the road and transformed a major artery in central Paris – home of the world-renowned Louvre museum – virtually overnight.
It was not just Rue de Rivoli. Using only paint and screw-in markers, nearly 100 miles of Parisian roads were temporarily reallocated to cyclists in the early months of the pandemic – a revolution in urban reprogramming. It was later announced that the changes would become permanent.