I identify a plant by looking at the way it grows, its leaf form, flower structure and habit. The plant’s identity is the sum of its features and genetic history, a summary of its evolutionary relationships and a practical shorthand for recognition.
In getting to know Paris I’ve learnt to identify landmarks, to recognise street patterns and to remember routes. In part, the identity of the city is the sum of its features and history but Paris is also the sum of its people, whether lifelong Parisians, new arrivals or passing tourists. As I’ve explored different quartiers, visited exhibitions, photographed street art and tried to decipher protest banners I’ve started to identify with Paris, adding a layer to my own identity. Gardener, botanist, mother, environmentalist, British, European, Parisian….
I’m not a natural city dweller – I’m at my most content when digging, weeding, pruning or planting – but then, in terms of our evolutionary history, life in a busy, modern city isn’t a ‘natural’ state for anyone. City living is now the norm for more than half of humanity and making cities both livable and sustainable is one of the major challenges of the 21st century. Well-managed cities can deliver the essentials of modern life more sustainably and efficiently than low-density suburban areas but it takes more than efficiency to make a good place to live.
Paris is a very densely populated city but a surprisingly livable place. Street trees are a good start, a growing investment with environmental, aesthetic and psychological benefits. (Paris has 100,000 of them). Good parks, car-free cycle routes (improving) and reliable public transport all contribute. A sense of belonging matters too. For many people family and work provide most of their sense of identity. Settling in to life in Paris with no work or immediate family responsibilities gave me a taste of the anonymity of city life.
Community gardens, cooperative art projects and street art (whether tolerated or officially supported) all offer the chance make your mark on the urban landscape in a creative way – an expression of identity, individual or shared. Paris now has over 100 jardins partagés or shared gardens registered with the city’s Main Verte programme – community gardens, open to everyone in the neighbourhood, where new connections are made as skills are exchanged. Gardening is also an important element of many projects aimed at réinsertion sociale – the ‘reintegration’ to society of people excluded by isolation, ill health or homelessness. When a problem has become a label, gardening can offer a step towards a new identity.
As a member of a local jardin partagé and a volunteer in a jardin de réinsertion I’ve added new layers to my own identity. I’m putting down roots.
This post was inspired by the weekly Discover Challenge Identity.
Usually the photos I post have been taken in the last week. These pictures are a scrapbook collection from the last twelve months. Click on any photo to view the gallery.