Recently installed on the Place, the 25° Est bar and restaurant (photo above) seemingly offers an idyllic spot in the city. The two-levelled terrace is situated alongside a small basin of water, and gives views across the larger Bassin and back across the Place towards the Rotonde. After the installations of the two multiplex MK2 cinemas on either side of canal, it is another successful attempt to bring life back to this corner of Paris.
This most recent renovation though nearly did not take place. It should be noted that most of what is visible today was only put in place in the late 1980s, so was a complete overhaul already a necissity? The secondary problem was the fact that the architect of these changes, Bernard Huet, had died in 2001, and his family and friends were fighting to preserve his creation. It was a creation though that was seemingly in the wrong place and simply did not work.
At the beginning of this century, Stalingrad had an abysmal reputation in the city. Huet's creation had become a large empty space, a zone where people did not dare walk after dark, with its endless quiet corners and dimly lit tunnels. Crack dealers and addicts moved in and took over, and the Place was close to becoming lawless. It was the residents of the area though who fought back, organising protests and even policing the zone themselves, and who eventually forced the city to rethink the site. Despite protests from the Huet followers, significant changes were made, notably the closure of the tunnels and a decision to bring life back to the Place. The 25° Est moved in and the Rotonde will be changed from offices (therefore devoid of life in the evening) to a restaurant. And yet for all that, this is the view that clients at the 25° Est have today.
Huet provided benches alongside the canal, divided up into individual walled boxes, and these have been taken over by a community of homeless people. Who can blame them? Further along the Line 2 Metro route I had seen a bed under the rattling railway line which was just a wooden pallet and a blanket, and in comparison these units are almost luxurious. Who should assume most responsibility for this situation though - the architect for creating something that could be transformed in this manner and which probably wasn't a wise project for the location, or the politicians who do little to change a society in which so many people are forced to make any use they can of the city furniture?
Many of us sit a little awkwardly and guiltily today, trying to make the most of our leisure time and yet constantly aware of the misery around us, but why is it though that areas that try to make a difference in the city are the ones that suffer this misery the most? Why has this canal seen so many problems whilst the Seine in front of the Assemblée Nationale remains spotless for tourists? Why has the popular Square Villemin park in the 10th arrondissement become almost a refugee camp and not the Parc Monceau? Again, only our politicians have the answers!
Note: Having written this, it is now very interesting for me to see that the organisation fighting for more social housing, Les Enfants de Don Quichotte, has just set up a camp more or less opposite the Assemblée Nationale! I wonder though whether they will be allowed to stay there for as long as they did at the less noticeable Canal St Martin two years ago! (http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/depeches/societe/20090515.FAP2338/les_enfants_de_don_quichotte_installent_un_nouveau_camp.html)