What makes Paris so walkable? The 18th and 19th-century architecture, the shops, the cafes-on-every corner, the human-scaled development – yes, yes, yes. All true. But there’s more, something not as celebrated and a key secret to Paris’ walkability and engaging street-life: the road construction itself. The pavers of Paris – like these:
These stone blocks surround the Louvre, the 2nd-most-visited museum in the world, (after the Palace Museum, Beijing), and literally knit together a visitor’s uplifting experience there. Everyone sees them entering, leaving or lingering around the museum. They’re colorful, look hand-hewn and create an eye-catching, unostentatious visual fabric. They anticipate our human need for pleasant visual stimulation – even before people set foot inside the museum – and they complement the color of the surrounding palace, too – everything a uniform all asphalt or concrete drive could never do.
Even the newer museums in Paris, like the hi-tech style Pompidou Center, (c. 1977) boast antique style pavers and patterns that move you forward and invite you to linger. Here are the ones surrounding this modern art museum; it’s a timeless look that acknowledges our human love for repeating patterns and undulating shape:
The pavers not only anticipate our need to always have something to look at, but the fact – see person walking down hill, above right – that most of the time we hold our head about 15% downward as we walk, making sure the path’s safe ahead. It’s an old habit, that got us safely out of the savanna 70,000 years ago and is not going to go away soon.
In sum, the pavers of Paris tell a story, not just about what we like to see but about who we are – a bi-pedal mammal pre-occupied with the patterns at our feet. It’s all understandable, once you stop to think about it, and provides the next step to improve walkability everywhere moving forward. People aren’t cars; we need to accept that to build the best places for them.