Thousands of empty shoes stand in silent protest at Paris’ Place de la Republique, a symbolic call for climate change action.
Paris is in the international spotlight as the city hosts the U.N. Climate Change Conference during a time of mourning after the November terrorist attacks upon the city. As representatives from nearly 200 nations came together to negotiate an agreement for a more sustainable future, their citizens participated in organized demonstrations on public streets and in civic spaces around the world to pressure world leaders for action on climate change.
The collective demonstrations stand in contrast to the “silent protest” staged in Paris by activists who were responding to a ban on mass gatherings after the attacks. A sea of empty shoes, arranged in neat rows on a public plaza, provided powerful imagery of activism at work.
The crowd did not seem to mind the heightened security evident throughout the plaza at last week’s Pershing Square rally. They chanted and cheered with each speaker, and there was a general atmosphere of solidarity and camaraderie.
On December 3rd, I joined hundreds of my fellow Angelenos at a Climate Change gathering in downtown L.A.’s Pershing Square. As I listened to politicians, public health advocates, and union representatives argue for action on climate change, I also observed that places like Pershing Square are designed for such rallies and protests to take place.
From the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the Occupy Wall Street protest camps in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, our country has a rich history of providing its citizens with places for public assembly and free speech. In a redesign of New York’s Union Square in the late 19th century, Frederick Law Olmstead—recognized as the father of landscape architecture in the U.S.—and Calvert Vaux designed a park for “the public requirement of mass meetings.”
I do wonder about the future for such civic spaces. As we deal with terrorism at home and abroad, are we headed toward less support and tolerance for public forums? Despite the current atmosphere of concern and fear, people will continue to find passion for a cause and will “take it to the streets,” no matter the original intent of the design for the place.
I find the allure of the Luxembourg Gardens is its incredible beauty that the Parisian people share and use as a community. I love the Garden’s elegance revealed in the sum of its details: long rows of large, mature Horse Chestnut Trees with high, shady canopies overhead; large expanses of decomposed granite in a gold color or expanses of green turf (this is NOT Southern California of course) on the ground plane; and the multitude of iconic mobile chairs that are beautiful and comfortable. There are simple, yet stunning water fountains that are both sculptural and areas of play.
The Garden’s large expanses allow visitors to enjoy their park as they like, and this openness provides a framework for various activities. Young people dash around large tree trunks, while children sail toy sailboats in the large fountain during the summer. Groups and couples can gather chairs together to enjoy the park and socialize, while lone visitors are left to read a book or enjoy the sunshine in solitude. There are areas of deep shade, full sun, and every sun exposure in between to enjoy.
Details add to the beauty: the very low foot rest that encircles the lawn areas; the wood box containers for the trees; and the lovely edges of the water fountains as the water spills off into the basin below.
We may not be able to build high maintenance, high water use public spaces such as those found within the Jardin du Luxembourg here in Southern California, but the beauty of its design can certainly inspire our work as designers, even on the smallest scale.