Landscape architecture professor Rennie Tang is on sabbatical in France when President Emmanuel Macron announced nationwide confinement measures on March 17. Residents are allowed to leave their homes only for food and essential tasks, while police and military conduct patrols to enforce the order.
Tang returns to teach this fall. Here, she shares her observations from Paris.
The scene along the Seine River on the late afternoon of March 13 felt typically Parisian. Marked by a notably youthful presence this leisurely public promenade was clearly the place to be for soaking up the spring sunshine. This was also the day that all schools in France shut their doors. Two days later amidst an emerging anxiety around social distancing the ambiance on that Sunday afternoon was oddly festive. A flood of people lined the banks of the Seine just hanging out, picnicking and strolling as Parisians do. The next day all parks locked their gates. At 12 noon on Tuesday March 17th the confinement – as the lockdown is called – began following a stern message from the president the evening before. All shops, restaurants, bars and cafes were ordered to close.
Not only are people advised to stay home but strict rules have been put in place to limit people’s displacements. Grocery shopping, work, medical visits, helping those in need and physical exercise are allowable reasons for leaving your home. Outings are limited to one hour duration and one kilometer distance, and jogging is not allowed between 10 am and 7pm. The policing of streets and potential infraction fines of 135 euros keep people in check.
While these rules seem strict people gradually adapted, developing a new sense of spatial awareness. Delineations between sidewalks, bike paths and streets have loosened, allowing vigilant social distancers to steer clear from others across this shared circulation zone. Personal maps defined by one kilometer radii shape a multitude of individual yet collective localities. In Paris these new circular neighborhoods can easily take you through five different arrondissements (districts) where you wander through quiet streets in hopeful anticipation of the day when they will become alive again. This week saw the opening of a flower shop on rue Henri IV with fresh blooms of life spilling out onto the sidewalk. This is a good sign.
(Download the map of Rennie Tang's one-kilometer neighborhood in Paris, France, in the link below.)