Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Walking in Lille

Why were we in Lille? It had been an old, neglected town of France until twenty years ago but now it was a booming tourist place. How had that happened? We were here to explore the town, the central market and its many pedestrianised streets, to understand the Urban Heritage strategy that the French town had adopted but also to simply walk the streets and enjoy ourselves.

The Government had taken a major decision to make Lille the crossroads of high-speed trains. This decision had turned around the economy of the place. The government had simultaneously begun to carry out architectural restoration of buildings in the town. Lille started to become attractive to investors as well as tourists.

What was the route we took? We had arrived at the Gare de Lille Europe – the railway station built in 1993 connecting UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. From here, we walked through the Place de l’Europe and the Allee de St-Louis du Senegal towards the Place de la Gare. Our first stop had been the Napoleon cafĂ©, where we had our first coffee in Lille. After that, we had walked to the Central Market, a square that has overlooking it, the Opera and the Vieille Bourse. From here, there are many streets lined with shops which are completely pedestrianised.

We looked at the architectural facades – some French and some Dutch, we looked at the Cobblestoned streets, we looked at the old-style signage that most of the shops carried. There were no hoardings in this heritage town. Sometimes, we stopped, only to look carefully at a street lamp that accentuated a street corner.

There were between the heritage houses, a few facades that were contemporary, that used large panels of glass and yet the detailing bringing in an elegance that gave the modern shops a place here amidst heritage and old-world charm. In some streets, there were infills, houses that had been constructed anew with bricks and plasterwork for cornices – a few that seemed more authentic than others.

The afternoon was spent sitting outside at a coffeeshop – it was cappuchino with waffles for some and pancakes for others. A heritage tourist town needed places like these and one saw these cafes in Lille as elsewhere in other tourist towns in Europe.

This journey through a town with so many pedestrianised streets made us think about what the 'process of pedestrianisation' had been for Lille. How long does it take for this change to happen? How does one bring about this change? Are there hindrances along the way? How do shopowners collaborate with the government in making the town pedestrian-friendly and tourist-friendly? What are the regulations that the local municipality designs and enforces for better traffic management? These were some questions that come to mind, that make me think about how difficult pedestrianisation is in India. (I discuss here about The why's and how's of Pedestrianising Gandhi Bazaar)

It made us think about why the concern for heritage in our own countries is so little. Perhaps, we do not understand how 'everyday objects' can also be 'museum objects', since in India, as in many countries in South Asia, there is so much that is living heritage.

As we walked the Streets around the Central market and the old city in Lille, we saw the most enticing bakeries and shops selling French souvenirs. And, I thought, there is only so much you can do in one day and only so much you can eat in one day, but it is always a good idea to try everything you possibly can!!

Read about:
Art in Urban Spaces
Faces in the Bazaar
Udaipur city


Ms.N said...

only so much you can do... I Know!!!

I recently heard from a friedn that in Amsterdam, they are actually keeping out the chain coffee shops so as not to kill the native cafe culture! love that!

radha said...

Just back from a trip to UK. And the high street there looks almost like this one. What an effort they take to keep the place so pedestrian friendly.

Indian Bazaars said...

Ms.N : As I read your comment, I thought of googling on 'Baristas and Indian Coffee house' - to see what was the status of our own cultural scene in the coffee hemisphere! There is this blog on the Indian Coffee house website - people reminiscing about their visits to ICH. It's at : http://www.indiancoffeehouse.com/blog/

Radha: It was this effort towards making streets pedestrian-friendly, as you mention, that was most fascinating for me. How did they achieve this?! There have been efforts for the last 15 years to pedestrianise Lad Bazaar in Hyderabad and it hasn't been easy. I've just added a link to an article on 'Pedestrianising Gandhi Bazaar' in the main body of the blogpost - it seems to be a complex phenomenon, something to learn more about from countries in Europe.

Anil P said...

Walking lengths made of cobblestones are charming.

The challenge is to get the two sides on the same page, the residents, and those who'd like to make a business of the place.

This is assuming folks in charge have an aesthetic gene in them, besides the inclination to make it happen.

Hasti said...

I love the bakeries in Lille! One of them showed their kitchen to the public.
Seriously, you are right that we in Asia take for granted for a lot of things. If we can package our city better, with nice shops and pedestrianization, we can sell a lot too.

Jayatissa said...

Thank you Kiran. It reminds me the whole story again. Toatally agree with Hasti's comment. I am also wondering about how we can bring (majority of) the stakeholders (atleast) into one wave lenght.

Indian Bazaars said...

Anil:I learnt that there is a new Pedestrianisation project being planned at Bhadra Fort area in Ahmedabad. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is one of the few municipalities in India to have a Heritage cell and this might be the exemplary project to achieve all of what you say. It has the involvement of the architect/planner Debashish Nayak who works extremely well with the Community towards heritage conservation goals.

Hasti: I missed the bakery that showed its kitchen to the public. Did we pass that one? I wish now that we had walked through the town at least one more day. The bakeries were quite fascinating.

Jayatissa: The ahmedabad project in which Debashish is involved...I am quite interested in knowing how their pedestrianisation effort is being planned. They have such good experience and success stories with community and multi-stakeholder heritage projects...