Eifel Tower

Where better for an amateur flaneur to spend a few days than Paris. That little known gateway to the continent, Ebbsfleet International proved to be a real find. Fifteen minutes drive from SE London, easy parking and no queues; a dream start. The sun shone and walking conditions were good. Paris is considered by many as one of the most beautiful cities in the world characterised by tree lined streets with the majority of buildings being no more than six or seven storeys high.

Pleaching the trees

Pleaching the trees

A mix of art deco, art nouveau buildings with a few Baroque churches here there presents much to please the eye and no tall glazed curtain walls. There are modern buildings but they are sympathetic to their surroundings and don’t extend beyond the obligatory seven storeys. The exception is the Montparnasse Tower built on top of the Montparnasse-Bienvenue Paris Metro station which consists of 59 floors.

Art Nouveau doorway

Art Nouveau doorway

When the tower opened in 1973 it was surrounded with controversy and public outrage at such an ugly building spoiling the Parisian landscape. This resulted in city planners limiting the height of new buildings to 37 metres and banishing skyscrapers to nearby suburbs. Yes the Parisians can still make their voices heard and have an impact. More recent changes to planning regulations allows buildings up to 180 metres still considerably less than the Eifel Tower’s 324 metres. One benefit of the height restrictions is that the iconic sights such as the Eifel Tower and The Sacre Coeur have the same impact as when they were first built still domineering the cityscape.

Montparnasse Tower

Montparnasse Tower

The story of the Montpanasse Tower made be reflect on the high rise developments along the Thames. Public opinion certainly doesn’t seem to be able to stop their development in London not even the decisions by locally elected politicians can. Hertsmere Tower will be higher than Canary Wharf and will create 700 luxury apartments to appeal to the world’s hyper rich. Planning permission was turned down by Tower Hamlets Council in 2009 only be to overturned by Mayor Johnson some months later. Lewisham council turned down Hutchinson Whampoa’s , a Hong Kong based development company, plan to build 3,500 apartments including 3 towers rising to 48 storeys that does little to reflect or maintain the integrity of the historic Royal Deptford Dockyard site. The scheme is now being considered by Mayor Johnson. If I were a betting person I know where I would put my money.

Multi-billionaires and global corporations are investing in these luxury high rise constructions because they generate a high short term return. The schemes have little to do with the development of decent places for ordinary people to live and are destroying the social and physical fabric of London. These super high structures are not only a visible reminder of the increasing inequality gap between the very rich and the poor but between the very rich and everyone else.

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