OPINION: How life in Paris has gone downhill over the years

OPINION: How life in Paris has gone downhill over the years
Too much pollution, an ugly skyline... and that's just in this picture. All photos: AFP
Author Thirza Vallois knows Paris inside out after living in the French capital for over half a century. She says her beloved adopted city has changed for the worse over the years, but claims the locals have improved. Here's how.

Author Thirza Vallois knows a thing or two about Paris because she's lived in the French capital almost all her life. She has published two guide books on the French capital: Around and About Paris and Romantic Paris and describes herself as “an expert on all things Parisian”.

So if anyone has earned the right to an opinion on the City of Light, it's her.

But unlike many people who are new to Paris or perhaps haven’t witnessed the shifts that come with each passing generation, Vallois believes that there is a lot about the City of Light that’s not as lovely as you might think. Or at least not as lovely as it once was.

You may not agree with everything you read below (we don't), but it's certainly worth a read. Over to her…

There's no solidarity anymore

“Paris had a soul after the war, it was very optimistic and there was a great sense of community,” says Vallois.

“That’s gone now. We did see it again in the atmosphere after the Charlie Hebdo attack, which was a great moment of solidarity, but we had it practically all the time before.”

She adds that she was born during the second world war and lived through the optimistic times that followed.

“It was a time of reconstruction, a period the French call “Les Trente Gloriueses” (“The glorious thirty” – referring to the thirty years after World War Two),” she says. 

“It was a fantastic time, the country wasn’t rich and we weren’t dependent on material goods the way people are today.”


Solidarity after the January 2015 attacks.

The skyline has been ruined by high rises

“The Montparnasse Tower is an outrage. People went into the streets to protest the tower but failed, just like they did with the Eiffel Tower,” Vallois says.

“The big difference is that the Eiffel Tower is a masterpiece and the Montparnasse isn’t.”

“These high rises destroy the skyline – and it will never be the same as when I was a kid. It was gorgeous,” she adds.

“What’s happened now is like taking a Balenciaga dress and just patching it up. That's what former mayor Bertrand Delanoë did, and that’s what (current mayor Anne) Hidalgo is doing.”


You can’t see an uninterrupted sunset under the Arc de Triomphe anymore

“Back in the old days, there was nothing beyond the Arc de Triomphe, and there were amazing sunsets. When the weather was good, the sun would shine under the Arc and it was like being in paradise,” she says. 

While the sunset can still be seen through the Arc de Triomphe, as seen below, there is now a horizontal line from the Grand Arche building in La Defense. 



Les Halles is crime-ridden

“The renovation of Les Halles in the early 70s was a disaster – it was an architectural catastrophe,” says Vallois.

“And what’s worse, it came with a lot of social problems via the RER B train line. The kids came in from the suburbs and started the drug trafficking, then the police moved in and it wasn’t pleasant. That area used to be the real Paris of the old movies, it wasn’t crime ridden. And the renovation saw Les Halles turn into a forum with cheap shops and not real markets anymore. It’s all very sad.”


Mayor Anne Hidalgo is taking away the green space

“Hidalgo ( see pic below) claims that she is working to clean the city, but she is actually taking away the green space and it’s absolutely outrageous,” says Vallois. 

“She wants to chop off the Park Bercy because of the 2024 Olympics, which is outrageous. She talks about bringing in clean air and then she does this – it’s hypocrisy, it’s absolutely criminal.”

“And she also wants to extend the Roland Garros – a tournament that just lasts a few weeks, into the Serre d’Auteuil tropical gardens where they have 20,000 species of plants.”


Pedestrianizing the right bank was a criminal move

“Stopping the traffic on the banks of the Seine would have been very nice if we had public transportation that was efficient like in Switzerland. But we don’t,” says Vallois.

“The city of Paris is too expensive to live in, so most people come in to work from the suburbs. And it’s tiring, they come home exhausted. So cutting off traffic from the river bank is criminal, people have to go to Paris by car. Plumbers, electricians, the elderly, they can’t take bikes. And now they’re all stuck in traffic.

“The City Hall should be working for everyone, but they just work to win the election. Mayor Hidalgo has a lot of Bobo voters who are very happy to have the banks of the Seine to themselves now, as they can take advantage of it. The average person, however, has no time for it. The climate in Paris – the number of days it can be enjoyed is limited, now we have horrendous traffic jams, and now it’s even worse.”



There’s way too much traffic

Vallois says that the traffic has worsened dramatically over her five decades in Paris. 

“I've lived in the same place in Paris, the same flat, and taken the same bus for 44 years,” she says.

“I used to wait for 5 mins, but now it's 20. And the buses are overcrowded, we're packed like sardines, the infrastructure is catastrophic.”

The pollution is atrocious 

“I get breathing problems in Paris, big time, and I never have them anywhere else. It’s horrendous.

“And it’s not just the fault of all the cars, it’s what’s blowing in from the German coal mines to the east,” she adds.


Opening parks all night is a nightmare

“I live on a street overlooking Parc Montsouris, and if you think that park is lovely now you should have seen it ten years ago, it was even lovelier. It was by far the most gorgeous park in Paris, the flower beds were to die for. Now parts of it are a wasteland compared to before, all my neighbours would say the same thing, we are appalled by how its neglected,” she says. 

“And what’s worse, they’ve decided to open the park 24 hours a day during the summer. Now there are parties at 3am, they are dealing drugs, there are crimes at night. I’m democratic, I think people should have fun, but people are camping there, it's horrendous. Now I run away from Paris in the summer, it's so bad. And it’s not just me, a lot of young families are doing the same.”


The push for tourists has left a lack of taste and sophistication 

“Anne Hidalgo and her push to encourage mass tourism has turned parts of Paris into factories,” says Vallois.

“In the old days, you had gorgeous shops for clothes and antiques, and they’ve all been replaced by junk shops. Walk around the Notre Dame and the left bank,  it’s just T-shirts, Eiffel Tower key rings, and more junk. We didn’t have that in the old days, it was all so beautiful, but it’s all very sad now – there’s no taste.”

And lastly, the Parisians are aggressive (but they’ve actually improved)

“Parisians are Parisians, but they have improved a lot compared to what they were like when I came. They were dreadful, no one spoke anything but French, much more isolationist, now they love English, and travelling, and mixing with others – it's much more cosmopolitan,” she says.

But that doesn't mean they're perfect, she adds.

“They still have the character of being aggressive, honking car horns, not stopping at pedestrian crossings. You know that even the criminals stop at pedestrian crossings in London? 

“Yes, Parisians are much better than they used to be, but every so often you’ll still find unpleasant things. Waiters can be very rude, but they’ve also improved. On the whole, I find Parisians to be much nicer nowadays, but I think we can all agree that the people in the countryside are much nicer.”


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