First of all, it is morally inadmissible for anyone – whatever the politics or the agendas – to describe the Coronavirus crisis as “an opportunity”. After some 40,000 citizens have died in France alone, it is abusive to suggest that C-19 and all its consequences have somehow shown us a better way to live, to develop our civics, to organize human movement, to run our cities. One can but hope that Carlos Moreno has the decency to wince out loud whenever he re-reads his words on that subject here. C19 is not a social science laboratory; it has been a hell for millions.
There are other problems. CM abominates the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the likes of Rassemblement National. Good for him. Yes, he elevates social diversity but, since he wants to compress mobility, he cannot bring himself to say that migration should also, for the greater worldwide good, be compressed. But that is the logic at work…
And so, he retreats in the flabbily populist evasiveness of being anti-globalisation for all its grim homogeneity and commercialism, wishing life to proceed “de façon démondialisante” amid “la mobilité verte” and “la hyper-proximité”. We need a 21st century revolution, he says, one similar in scale to the Industrial Revolution or the defeat of fascism / communism, a specific revolution against : the hyper-growth of our cities. Everyone should, in other words, stay put – ideally in communes where one’s need for a meal, a job, a home, a schooling, a doctor, a personal blossoming (sic)… can be met via a journey (by bike or on foot) of no more than 15 minutes. This is indeed the Paris envisioned here – a Paris where, for one thing, the welcome for visitors-tourists is putatively to be as warm as a gendarme’s hand on the shoulder of a badly-parked drunk. For this is where we are headed.
Droit de cité is without question a very well-written affair, as scholarly as it is provocative. But for as long as it keeps insisting that we are living in Armageddon Avenue it feels free to trash the lifestyle that has been and is still being enjoyed, with limits, by millions. It does not even try to list or, with any verve, try to demolish the very obvious objections to the grotesque social engineering it puts on offer.
Really, why show contempt for someone who wants to travel by train each morning to secure a better-paid job in another part of town? Why believe that if we are all put to live in ringfenced villages we become nicer, less stressed people who suddenly shout Bonjour to the neighbours (the very ones whom yesterday we could not stand) and who happily participate in juries about local budgets (the scorn on display here for “professional” politicians is, by the way, stark)?
Why ignore the reality that this is all a recipe for depressing employment options and depleting the taxable capacity of entire economies (to the detriment of the public services on which millions – especially the financially challenged – depend)? Why pretend to sick people that the specialist treatment they require can be locally delivered (with barely a word here about the transport needs of people with disabilities or of patients with advanced cancers)?
And what if that grey citizen living down your conurbated street simply cannot cycle or walk far but would welcome a municipal bus every 15 minutes? Soon 25% of the population of France will be over-65. Are they to be no longer wanted downtown?
Moreover, around half of France has a monthly income of less than 2,000 Euros per month. This is hardly the mass consumerist guzzling so deprecated by CM. In fact, many French families are not busy on the boulevards waggling deluxed proof of material success in the faces of others; they are rather struggling to pay bills, to break out of tawdry hope-mangling estates, to find politicians that can keep their elderly parents safe and get their kids jobs at something better than minimum wage. What is therefore the legitimation of the demand, amplified herein, for an imposed culture of “la démobilité”? Exactly what?
The big trick for the intellectual and political class alike is to defeat climate change while maintaining maximized and inclusive macro-economic activity – of a quality likely to sustain social democracy. To confront this challenge as the real one is a lot healthier than trying to dump your neighbours in a communal allotment of short planks, lit only by bourgeois debordism, where they are ordered to be good.
Chrono-urbanisme? We just do not have the time.