Paris was one of the cities that I was most excited to travel to when I first confirmed that I would be studying abroad. And this weekend, I checked all of the typical “touristy” Parisian destinations off the list. I had a picnic at the Eiffel Tower, walked down the Champs Elysee, and saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. I had an amazing time and felt so lucky to be able to spend a few days there. However, I was really surprised that often I felt like I could have been in New York City any other big city in the United States. Other than the language difference, in some of the areas farther from the tourist attractions, I felt like I could have been anywhere. I think when I was looking forward to traveling to Paris so much, I thought I would feel different, when really I just felt like I was in a big city. The same thing could be said for Milan, where when you walked away from the Duomo and main square, I felt like I could have been in any metropolitan area.
My trips to these cities and this class have made me think about placemaking and designing cities in a whole new way. I think that in the process of placemaking it is really interesting to consider ways to make cities unique and feel connected to their history and culture instead of just creating more generic commercial spaces. I don’t know exactly how it would work but my travels around Europe so far this semester has made this something that I am really interested in thinking more about. When placemaking, not only should we think about what the city needs, we also should consider ways to honor, preserve, and contribute to the culture of the specific place. Of course these big cities need to have commercial places but it would be interesting to think about how to make it feel like it fits into the city. This also goes into the idea of gentrification that is happening so frequently in the United States. As development continues, places are losing what makes them special and residents are then being boxed out of their cities and are starting to be more apathetic towards them because they don’t feel connected to them. We have talked so much about how important it is to have the citizens of a community care about it and I think that this idea may be another way to be respectful to the residents of the community and increase their connection to place as well.