Monday, March 24, 2014

Paris: Politics and Pollution

The first thing we noticed when we got to Paris last Saturday was that there was an election soon!  The Paris government very wisely puts up temporary "walls" upon which the political posters are affixed - a brilliant solution that minimizes the amount of paper glued to walls, and gives all candidates equal opportunity to expose their ideas to the public, without having to be concerned about raising huge amounts of money.

This picture is from 2008, but the idea is still at work
The single most amazing thing to me when I saw these posters was that more than half of the candidates that I saw on posters were women.  I know, I know, we're supposed to be used to this sort of thing by now, but after watching the interchangeable contesting the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Chicago, it was a relief to see some women...

Moreover, we saw  MANY groups of people reading these posters, and discussing them.  What appeared to be real  conversations about issues...

And the second thing that became apparent was that Paris was REALLY serious about taking care of their high air pollution levels.  The speed limits on the Periphique were reduced, and travel on all mass transit was free for the entire weekend - very handy for us, as we dashed back and forth to the Stade de France.

There was also one day of "even numbered license plates/odd numbered license plates" in effect - it was wildly unpopular! But as of this morning, this is the way air quality looks in Europe:

In which Paris still looks a bit troubled, but, to put things in perspective:

Both images taken at 4:30 a.m. Chicago time...

These super-neat real-time maps are available at, where you can really get a grasp of what's going on with pollution.

Yes, I'm going to write about my hotel, and food, and fashion, and shopping, but let's not forget that real life is a part of what Parisians experience, and part of what I was delighted to share for a week.

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  1. Those temporary election walls are a great idea! Thanks for sharing the real-time map link, it's fascinating, although since Chinese cities are notorious for extreme air pollution, this comparison doesn't seem to give the positive perspective you were going for. Paris woes should be a big wake up signal to all of us.

  2. No, you're entirely correct. Although I didn't notice any problems with the air, if these numbers are accurate, we should definitely be aware and take the problem seriously.

  3. These numbers make me want to move to Portland :) Seriously, we moved out of Paris because it has gotten too unhealthy.

  4. I'm so surprised that L.A. and New York have so much better air quality than Paris, given especially how much Angelenos drive (NYC not so much, due to the mass transit and annoyance of driving/owning a car). Why is that, do you suppose? Also, a proud moment for this Portlander. :-)

  5. I grew up in LA in the fifties and sixties and there were days they cancelled school because the air was so bad! Los Angeles made a huge effort to control pollution and it made a big difference. In 1947 the LA County Board of Supervisors established the nation's first pollution control program and it has worked diligently ever since to learn what causes smog, how to control it, to reduce toxic air pollutants and to clean up cars and fuel emissions. Even though Los Angeles still experiences smog (there are lot's of cars, obviously, in this sprawled out city and the city is surrounded by mountain ranges which tend to trap pollutants and lock them in for weeks on end), it is greatly reduced from those dismal days from my childhood in which the dense, dark cloud of smog hung over the city and you could barely see the sun, and if you breathed in deeply, you would cough.

  6. Don't be too deluded about the participation of French women in politics.. the ones who're candidates are usually running for very small parties. And municipal elections aren't exactly earth-shattering on the national level. In this case, you vote for a party rather than an individual, the parties run long ordered 'listes' and get a proportional number of city council seats according to the number of votes they got. So this allows the parties to look good by pretending they have a lot of women candidates, while their position on the lists usually ensures few women actually make it to city council.

  7. M-C, what you say is true, but the fact remains that the two major parties both fielded women mayoral candidates, and Anne Hidalgo is the first female mayor in the history of Paris. (Here in Québec, and in Switzerland, "la première mairesse"). She was born in Spain, by the way.

  8. Yes, it is a bleak day when we have to compare to China in order to look good. Try to look at the difference between Belgium and Netherlands, or compare the US to Canada, or look to Scandinavia for a goal. These are all countries that have at least as healthy economies as France, and they have much better results.

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