Auroville and Paris: Hard to navigate, by design


Auroville city map

Notice something? Yes, it is meant to look like a galaxy. This has been done so that all the zones spiral out from the centre, the city becoming a representation of the Human Unity. This means that the roads all have a circular nature to them, and there are hardly any straight lines.

In Paris I live in the 15th arrondissment, and while I know the other parts of the city are hard to navigate, in the 15th it took me almost two months before I really figured out how to go anywhere in my neighborhood without going ten minutes out of my way. This is because all the streets are on angles, making weird sections like triangles. I know this was done in Paris in order to protect the city from invading troops. A friend in Paris also told me once that it was done for protests too, I haven’t checked that, but it makes sense. Armies or Protestors, the city of Paris is built so that the major thoroughfares can be blocked off and force invading troops into the small streets, where, like me, they will get hopelessly lost.

Paris map.

Here in Auroville something is eerily familiar. While Auroville may talk about human unity the very town plan paints a clear line between visitors and residents; those that know their way around the confusing maze and those that don’t. It is a city plan similar to those used to protect from war and strife, not peace.

I’m not a city planner, and I don’t particularly like the way that North American cities are designed, but one thing is true, the grid design makes it easy for people to get in and out easily.  I recently learned that suburbs in Toronto, were I grew up, were built in circles, which were supposed to form little communities around cul-de-sacs, this in fact made it very difficult for the housewives living in these neighborhoods to leave their communities without a car. Cabbage Town, a different part of Toronto, was built in a grid. This was purposely done so that the poor people who lived there could get to work and back easily by bus. Grid designs make it easy to use public transport, grid systems are easy to navigate, a city designed in a grid is accessible.

Auroville is not accessible. For all the talk about representing Human Unity here, the city itself seems to say, your not from here, and so we’re going to make your life difficult.

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