Monday, June 18, 2012

Our Emotional Attachment to Streetscapes

Sergey Larenkova found a unique way of evoking World War II.  He took photos of the German army on the Parisian streets after the fall of France in June 1940 and melded them with new photos taken with same backdrops.  Seeing Hitler amidst a group of tourists with the Eiffel Tower in the background and seeing the German cavalry canter down the Champs Elysees surrounded by modern cars are ominous reminders of how the war intruded on the beautiful city.

 The photos have visceral and intellectual impacts.  The visceral was expected.  No one wants to see a city of fond memories being degraded by jackboots.

But that visceral response also provides grist for intellectual rumination. 

It’s been 72 years since the invading German army took possession of Paris.  It was the time of our grandparents, not us.  Why should we care about the German army parading in the streets of Paris?

Because the streets look the same.  Oh, cities do evolve over time, as I noted in a recent post about recuperation time.  But overall, streetscapes can retain a familiarity even as individual buildings are remodeled or replaced.  Anchored by municipal monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, public buildings such as the Louvre, and the solid private buildings that have withstood the tides of history for a century or more, the Parisian streetscapes of 1940 and 2012 are surprisingly alike.

Those German troops aren’t walking down a street that our grandparents knew.  They’re intruding on a place where we’ve strolled recently and hope to stroll again.

And that is one more reason why urban structure matters.  It connects us across generations.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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