Cities are like Timothée Béranger in sixth B: they copy. They copy each other with the idea of getting good ideas from competitors that will give them the opportunity to shine and become attractive. And to attract the customer and become a model, they sometimes have very beautiful inspirations – and sometimes inspirations that are a little more questionable, like when Buenos Aires decided to import pigeons with the absurd idea of looking more like Paris.
1. Buenos Aires imported pigeons to do like Paris
The rock pigeon is the pigeon that is usually found in most cities around the world, but it stands to reason that it was not present on all continents everywhere from the start. The thing is that we used the pigeons to eat and send messages: quite quickly, we ended up with a whole bunch of pigeons mating and reproducing and then we let go. But the city of Buenos Aires, founded in 1536, could probably have avoided such nuisance if it hadn’t been for Torcuato de Alvear, the first intendant of the federal capital and who saw himself as a local Haussmann. For the city to be able to compete with the major European cities, he launched huge works, including the construction of the Avenida de Mayo and imported pigeons, to do as in Paris. Great idea.
2. The nine Chinese cities that copy European cities
One of China’s major problems is the overpopulation of its megalopolises. To relieve Shanghai a little, the government has therefore launched a huge suburban construction project. And for these suburbs to be attractive, it was decided to give them the appearance of European cities. We thus find Thames Town, a mock English town with small red telephone booths, pubs and fish & chips, Victorian architecture and everything on the Songjiang site. The city can accommodate 10,000 inhabitants. Further on, there is Anting (50,000 inhabitants), based on the model of a modern German city between bauhaus and eco-district. And then of course Gaoqiao, a copy of a Dutch town with a mill. And finally the Tiandu Cheng district with a rough reproduction of the Eiffel Tower and the Champ de Mars district: it’s Paris! In addition to the somewhat kitschisme bad taste of the thing, the maneuver is intelligent since the Chinese government hopes to be able to channel the desires of its middle classes elsewhere by offering them the possibility of visiting the world without leaving their homes.
3. The Hanoi Opera, a copy of the Opéra Garnier itself inspired by the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux
Built at the very beginning of the 20th century, when Hanoi was France, the opera (totally disproportionate to the city) has an architecture very similar to that of the Opéra Garnier. And what’s funny is that the Opéra Garnier itself was more or less inspired by/copied from the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. So in the end we keep copying each other.
4. Kairouan, a plan inspired by Baghdad
Kairouan, the fourth sacred city of Islam 150 miles from Tunis, has been listed by UNESCO since 1988. But the founding of the city, around 670, already had high ambitions. From the outset, the plan was designed so that the main arteries of the city all escape from the great mosque, thus drawing a circular urban organization directly inspired by Baghdad, which was nicknamed the round city.
5. Barcelona’s Cerdà plan and the American example
At the end of the 1850s, the city of Barcelona realized that it had to undertake huge urban renewal projects if it wanted to take the turn towards modernity like other European capitals. A call for projects is set up and it is Ildefons Cerdà who wins it. Among other recommendations, he wanted to build a regular city with uniform blocks of 11.3 meters in straight lines and large intersections to obtain optimal visibility. I will not go into the technical details, but this architecture of the new Barcelona, continued and amplified with the 1992 Olympics, is directly inspired by the techniques implemented in the United States where the city of New York was beginning to take on considerable importance.
6. Peter the Great wanted Saint Petersburg to be a European city
He imagined the city as a mixture of Paris, Venice and Dutch cities and defined its construction as a “window on Europe”. From then on, the architects in charge of the project drew inspiration from all over the strongholds of 18th century Europe, making Saint-Petersburg a unique city in Russia at the time. Anxious to bring life to the city, he required large families in Moscow to move at their own expense, established a municipal police force and a night lighting system in the city center at night.