Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

(Make that one City and one cow frog town.)

For what would happen to New York if the NIMBYs and Tony Munchkins had their way, look at Paris. It died from what the frogs call museification.

Sure, it's full of American tourists who want to see what they have been told to find romantic. So they do this original Disneyland with its Cinderella architecture.

But Paris is dead. Sure, there are plenty of people and nightlife and whatever.

But it can't grow, it can't improve, it can't change. It's forever stuck in a period from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.

When Montparnasse Tower, the first and only skyscraper in Paris proper, was built, Parisians, or at least the majority of them, decided that they hated such buildings and banned them. Ever since, businesses have been leaving for the suburbs, like La Defense, where skyscrapers are allowed. What's left to the city is the tourist trade.

Now look at London. Just like Paris, the City of London outlawed modern skyscrapers with large floor plates to protect the views of its ugly, kitschy cathedral. The result was that the world's biggest banks moved their European headquarters from the City to Canary Wharf, where they can build beautiful, boxy, modern skyscrapers with trading floors as big as they want to.

Suddenly, it became possible to build modern skyscrapers in the City. As I am writing this, the tallest buildings in London are going up in or just across the Thames from the City.

Now, Britain is no purely capitalist country. It's in fact a strange blend of capitalism, democracy, and monarchy. But it sure is way more capitalist than France, and observe the results.

Capitalism = The market wants skyscrapers. The City gets skyscrapers.

Democracy = The majority doesn't want skyscrapers. The frog town gets stuck in the past, a quaint little Disneyland for the majority that is afraid of change and likes to stagnate and the deluded tourists who believe vacation means watching stagnation happen.

(That doesn't mean that slumming in Paris isn't fun. It just isn't exactly noble.)

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