Cities of Love: Paris, Boston, Venice, Québec City (and Buffalo?)

Gearing up for several sessions I’m really looking forward to at the 22nd Congress for the New Urbanism in Buffalo this week and feeling particularly grateful that winter in Winnipeg is finally over, I’m thinking about some of my happy places.

What’s more romantic than Paris in the spring? It’s a question that’ll get you 26 million hits on Google, so I won’t dive in. Romantic cities will get you 53 million hits. Clearly finding our happy place is something that we’re willing to travel great lengths to experience, and increasingly willing to change the status quo in order to build little love at home.

My husband and I took a trip to Québec City in April, and I am still delighting in the beautifully intact urbanism of the old city. The most satisfying sense of enclosure I’ve found on the continent can be had here. The local culinary scene is intense, as is the quality of art galleries and museums. The streets of Old Québec have more than their fair share of tourists, attesting to the fact that it’s well worth the visit.

Every street could offer up a course on urbanism and livability. Old Québec City is definitely a happy place for urbanists. The cover of their tourism site gets it:

“Old Québec, a UNESCO World Heritage treasure, is walkable and safe. Stroll the only walled city North of Mexico and its cobblestone streets.”

Every great city sparks great stories, so I have to tell you one. On our first night in Québec City, my husband gave me a special pendant which he had redesigned out of an old piece I rarely wore. It was beautiful. The next morning was blustery, and we started off on our tour of museums, churches, and galleries bundled up in sweaters, scarves and raincoats. An hour into our walk, I paused to unwrap and found the pendant was gone.

Retracing our steps to look for it over the next hour taught me quite a bit about great urbanism, in an forceful way. Being in a city where every step is memorable helps you retrace those steps. Having that satisfying sense of enclosure actually makes it possible to visibly scan the right of way. If we had been in and out of cars for that hour, it’d've been much harder to retrace all the steps. Because the architecture and urbanism was so satisfying, people were looking up at the city instead of down at their feet.

Which all meant that an hour later, we found the pendant on the sidewalk, safe and sound. And somehow, in a simple way, it reinforced Québec City’s reputation for me, as la ville de l’amour dans la belle province.

If You’re Going to Buffalo This Week

In order to share the love, if you’re heading to Buffalo this week and looking to remove some of the barriers to the walkable urban forms in the images below, join Susan Henderson, Marina Khoury, Matt Lambert, and me for CNU 202E: SmartCode Calibration, June 4, 1:30-5. While no amount of zoning reform will supply the sort of soul built over generations in Old Québec City, it will give new neighbourhoods and infill a chance at walkability with a higher quality of life. Even Québec City quickly falls away to auto-centric forms that are indistinguishable from any other city in North America. A form-based development bylaw could help suburban neighbourhoods re-inject local character.

If you want to talk about what makes for a happy place, check out C’mon Get Happy: Creating Happier & Healthier Communities, with Charles Montgomery, Naomi Sachs, David Wilson and me, June 5, 9-10:15.

To hear from someone who’s turning a city around with these tools, celebrate Rick Bernhardt’s receiving The Groves Award for his work in Nashville on June 5 at 10:30.

And if you’d like to contribute to your own short-term personal happiness and mingle with your fellow urbanists, join us for the PlaceMakers CNU Dance Party, Friday, June 6, 10:30 pm, on the SoHo Rooftop. Catch the first dance for the moment when the CNU Board Chair position passes from Ellen Dunham-Jones to Doug Farr, with CNU CEO John Norquist on vocals.

To navigate the dozens of CNU sessions and events, a first spin on the Congress App looks promising.

If You’re NOT Going to Buffalo This Week

If you’re not able to join this congress, watch cnu.org as video and presentations come online and read #CNU22 on Twitter.

From Old Québec City, With Love

When time allows, another fun contemplation would be to illustrate the definitions of the soon-to-be-released SmartCode v10 with these and other similar images. Until then, here’s a simple share of some of my favourite Québec City streets.

Universite Laval Ecole d'Architecture

Universite Laval Ecole d’Architecture

Hotel Frontenac

Hotel Frontenac

Avenue Saint Denis

Avenue Saint Denis

Place Royale

Place Royale

Notre Dame on Place Royale

Notre Dame on Place Royale

Rue Des Grisons

Rue Des Grisons

Art galleries and restaurants a-plenty

Art galleries and restaurants a-plenty

Hotel 71

Hotel 71

Le Priori

Le Priori

Rue Du Petit-Champlain at night

Rue Du Petit-Champlain at night

Rue Du Petit-Champlain

Rue Du Petit-Champlain

Le Lapin Sauté

Le Lapin Sauté

Debatable if Rue Du Petit-Champlain is a woonerf

Debatable: is Rue Du Petit-Champlain a woonerf?

Ministry of Finance

Ministry of Finance

Rue Saint Stanislas

Rue Saint Stanislas

Rue Saint Jean with City Walls

Rue Saint Jean with city walls

Rue Sainte Famille

Rue Sainte Famille

Place Des Armes

Place Des Armes

Rue Saint Jean

Rue Saint Jean

Rue Sainte Angele

Rue Sainte Angele

Montmorency Monument

Montmorency Monument

Where’s your happy place?

Hazel Borys

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Comments

  1. You’ve got the accent on the wrong E in Québec.

  2. PlaceMakers says:

    Thank you, Alex! We took care of that. Perhaps that month of French immersion to brush up language skills is in order.

  3. If you like this, you will love Buffalo’s Allentown and Elmwood Village neighborhoods. Allentown, especially, is an intact mid-to-late 19th century neighborhood that has evolved into an arts district with side streets filled with awesome well-kept homes. Elmwood Village is a little newer and is pretty intact as well but its awesomeness is in the vibrance of its retail scene and by the number of people who walk and bike along it. I think you’ll enjoy Buffalo. (You won’t be impressed much by downtown – that’s more of a work in progress)

  4. I love your pendant story. And I like to ponder where is my happy place. I have lived in many places, and I am from Europe… I am spoiled! If only I had one answer.

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