I was interested in cities long before I was interested in energy.
Perhaps I should not write about cities in an energy blog. Still, when cities are places we want to be, it’s good for energy efficiency – because in cities we walk, cycle and take public transport.
Maybe what got me started on cities was one of my first jobs, for the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, working on inner city policy. (At that time the central parts of cities were where deprivation was concentrated.) But I think that what triggered my love of cities is that I didn’t grow up in one. I grew up in a suburb – Wilmslow, in the county of Cheshire.
When people ask where I’m from in the UK, I say Manchester. I pretend this is because if you’re not British, you won’t have heard of Wilmslow. But it’s also because if you are British, coming from Wilmslow can be embarrassing.
Now I live in Brussels. I love cities and I love the country, I say. Just don’t make me spend time in the suburbs.
I came back last night, however, from a short visit to a place called Rueil-Malmaison, in the département of Hauts de Seine. I had never heard of it before. It is a suburb, and for all I know an embarassing one to come from. Still, I liked it – it felt like a place I wanted to be – and I’m trying to work out why.
It has tailored trees and a mixture of straight and winding roads. It is on a hill looking over the Seine. Most of the buildings, old or new, are light in colour. People were a step friendlier than you’d expect, about the rugby, about my trip back to Brussels. A boulangerie sold scallop pizza (coquille St Jacques). There were more public buildings, from theatres to training centres, than you’d see in a British suburb. It has a square named after the inventor of the taxi.
(Wikipedia: Un certain Nicolas Sauvage, facteur des maîtres de cochers d’Amiens, s’établit à Paris et y ouvre vers 1637 un dépôt de voitures de louage avec cocher dans la rue Saint-Martin. Son parc de 20 carrosses se trouve en face d’un hôtel à l’enseigne de Saint Fiacre et offre le premier service de voitures à disposition du public, les fiacres — ancêtres des taxis parisiens — qui remplacent progressivement les chaises à porteurs.)
It has traffic calming that gives a “centre of the village” feeling. Cars aren’t banned but don’t dominate. I can imagine, because it’s a nice place, that people who live in Reuil-Malmaison hop less into their cars and drive off less to other places.
(But “transport”, meaning public transport, as someone from the nearby town of Asnières told me, is like Wilmslow’s: you get a train, not a metro, from town, and then there’s a fair old walk from the station.)
Energy-energy: the car club was prominent and electric.
I haven’t worked out what I liked – but it was a good visit.
Despite Rueil-Malmaison and last weekend in Guildford, I haven’t lost my liking for cities though: I ended my visit to France at the eminently urban Terminus du Nord, opposite the Gare du Nord, in Paris, where I ate fish soup.