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Paris District Sets Up 'Republic of Good Neighbours'

One of the paradoxes of life in any city is that, despite living in close proximity to numerous other residents, people often feel lonely and isolated.


Street party in the 14th arrondissement, Paris
Credit: Hyper Voisins

So, in the French capital's 14th arrondissement, residents are conducting a neighbourhood-wide experiment of consciously and actively choosing to be good neighbours. The self-proclaimed Republique des Hyper Voisins (Republic of Good Neighbours) is on a mission to transform their part of town into a vision of Paris from the past, full of ‘bonjours,’ of greenery and promenading, and of taking every opportunity to chat with passersby.


In the first effort of the collaboration, a 215-meter-long table (715 feet) was laid up on the Rue de L’Aude, where the entire 14th arrondissement was invited to a special lunch event entitled 'Bonjour.'


Reporting from the event, the Guardian called it “distinctly un-Parisian,” and local cafe owner Benjamin Zhong said, “I’d never seen anything like it before. It felt like the street belonged to me, to all of us.”


“The stereotype of a Parisian is brusque and unfriendly,” added Patrick Bernard, the former journalist and local resident who launched the project. “But city living doesn’t have to be unpleasant and anonymous. We want to create the atmosphere of a village in an urban space.”


Since that inaugural lunch, nearly 2,000 people now attend weekly brunches and apéritifs in local restaurants, cultural outings, memory exchanges, children’s activities and more. WhatsApp groups abound and a sense of local conviviality is thriving.


Mireille Roberdeau, an 86-year-old widow who moved to the area in 2000, says the scheme has given her a reason to get up in the morning. “I was quite timid before,” she adds. “I wouldn’t speak to anyone. I would scowl at people. But now I look forward to going out." This neatly sums up the entire objective of the experiment. Isn't it something that all cities should embrace?

 
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