Défense de fumer

Local air pollution wrought by the internal combustion engine is a real and, in some cases, almost tangible concern, but might plans to remove older cars from the streets of Paris leave the city culturally bereft?

It was reported earlier this week on MSN Cars that the Mayor of Paris has proposed a ban on cars over 17 years old entering the city http://cars.uk.msn.com/socialvoices/blogpost.aspx?post=50e7822d-2760-4002-ae58-4d7c77fdd10b#scpshrtu with the intention of cutting pollution.

The seemingly numerically arbitrary nature of the plan has echoes of the recent UK scrappage scheme which saw many perfectly serviceable older cars – and even the odd classic – sent to the crusher, in a move that was ostensibly as much about boosting retail car sales as it was about any environmental motives, because they were at least 10 years old. Why 17 years? Next year will be the 17th anniversary of the introduction of the Euro 2 emission standards in 1996, a standard which the Maire de Paris seems to have deemed to be some kind of baseline.

However, the article suggests that French emissions testing and monitoring is somewhat less than stringent, and goes on to highlight several shortcomings in the plan, from the fact that many younger cars don’t meet current emission standards to the observation that not that many cars would actually be removed from Paris streets, meaning that the city’s congestion and pollution will remain ever thus.

Any drive to reduce city-centre air pollution has to be a good thing, although this particular drive seems a tad draconian and, my own eco-leanings aside, I do rather feel a cultural unease about this.

A national emblem and cultural icon – and the Arc de Triomphe (Picture source: bahighlife.com)

Why? Well, it’s because I can’t – and nor do I want to – imagine a Paris without a Citroën DS or 2CV, or a Renault R4 or a Peugeot 205 bounding around La Périphérique or parked within a nonchalant approximation to the kerb. To me, these cars are as much a part of the architecture and culture of Paris – and France in general – as the Marseillaise, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. For them to be arbitrarily removed from Paris’ streets would be tantamount to cultural vandalism.

This may seem a romantic, even stereotypical, view and one that rather smacks of cognitive dissonance given my environmental concerns but, in my capacity as treehugging petrolhead, such views are perhaps inevitable and provide an illustration of how the cultural consumption of the car renders it more than mere transport.

Very evocative (Picture source: wikipedia)

Maybe, in time, electric cars such as the Bollore BlueCar used in the AutoLib electric car-hire scheme or the brilliant little Renault Twizy (as pictured in the banner image in the title of my blog) will become les nouveaux icônes de rues Parisienne.

Until then, I echo the calls of the article’s author to leave the classic car alone. The DS, 2CV and R4 are as iconic as the Mini and Jaguar E-Type are on this side of La Manche. A city like Paris stirs the passions – all the books say so (!) – and I reckon if one of Europe’s great capital cities were to be bereft of some it’s nation’s great cultural emblems, it would lose part of its essence, its nature, its affect.

Ce serait tragique!

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One thought on “Défense de fumer

  1. Pingback: Smog on the Seine | autohabitus

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