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“Taking Back the Streets”: The Return of the Pedestrian to Parisian Urban Space

  • Author(s): Mullen, Catherine Rachel
  • Advisor(s): Melzer, Sara E
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation is concerned with the Parisian street as a contemporary site of the adoption and contestation of French Republican values by the French State and pedestrians through iterations of street culture. Street culture is a dynamic entity whose properties and norms depend largely on the society in which it is generated. It evolves as those who use the streets, and not merely those who exert power over them, alter their behaviors there, and it also responds to changes that occur to the material sites themselves. This project examines how public spaces in Paris, as lieux de m�moire of significant cultural meaning and importance, have come to be viewed as conduits of a particular and problematic French “Republican” ideal: a universalized notion of equality and secularism. I analyze major spatial changes made to the city in the 19th and 20th centuries that dislocated pedestrians from the streets and discuss how, since 2000, the Parisian government has consequently promoted a rhetoric of “returning the streets” to pedestrians. I explore ways in which the Parisian government and pedestrians themselves have sought to “take back the streets” for foot traffic, and I consider the varying motivations behind those efforts. Specifically, I investigate massive state-sponsored renovations of significant Parisian spaces and the revival of street events as efforts to realize the goal of returning pedestrians to the streets, and thus to the site of the transmission of Republican values. I also examine the inversion of “returning” the streets to pedestrians through pedestrian-motivated initiatives to “take back” the streets. I explore the conceptual, embodied, and artistic practices that pedestrians utilize in Parisian urban spaces to challenge the narrative of cultural assimilation imposed on them by those spaces. Those practices include subjective mapping; physically tracing space in the city through the playful and ephemeral activities of rollerblading and parkour; and the creation and implementation of street art, all of which promote a street culture based on the formation of social bonds.

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