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Parisians Are in an Uproar Over Their New Newstands

Paris’ iconic kiosks are being updated and replaced

A classic Parisian newsstand on Rue St. Germain. (Nicki Dugan Pogue via Flickr)
smithsonian.com

Since the 19th century, many of Paris’ newspaper sellers have operated out of streetside kiosks that look like they are straight out of a painting. The ornate newsstands have come to be an iconic symbol of the city for many Parisians, like London’s red phone booths or New Orleans’ lampposts. So it might not come as a total surprise to hear that thousands of Parisians are livid over the city’s proposal to replace 360 of the old newsstands with modern, updated kiosks.

Paris’ kiosks have been a beloved part of the city’s street life for more than 150 years for good reason. The bottle-green buildings are covered in designs reminiscent of fish scales and are capped with ostentatious domes made to match many of Paris’ green benches and public water fountains, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports. The newsstands have become fixtures of the Parisian landscape, and one would be hard pressed to find a tourist returning from the City of Lights without photo albums full of the quaint, historic buildings.

However, though the iconic kiosks may be pretty, it’s fair to say that they don’t seem like the most comfortable places for their proprietors to spend the day. For all their picturesque embellishments, they are cramped and poky places to work in, Feargus O’Sullivan writes for CityLab. That's why Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, announced that many of the old kiosks will be replaced over the next three years with more practical, modernized structures that include refrigerators for drinks, heated floors, removable windows to protect the vendors and their wares from the elements, and more elbow room.

Since Hidalgo unveiled preliminary plans for the new kiosks, many Parisians have been in an uproar over what they say is an affront to the city’s history. The French national heritage organization SPPEF derided the design as “puerile,” Marta Cooper reports for Quartz. Meanwhile, an online petition calling the new kiosks “soulless” has so far been signed by more than 37,000 people. Other critics have likened them to sardine cans, bread boxes, or even photocopiers, arguing that the sleek new designs rob the newsstands of their character.

new vs old
A side-by-side comparison of a classic kiosk with the proposed design for their replacements made by the creator of an online petition protesting the change. (Juliette L. via Change.org)

Hidalgo defended the plan, saying the initial idea was intended to start a discussion rather than mark a final design. She also noted that many of the iconic kiosks were remade to match the 19th-century designs just 40 years ago, the AFP reports.

But that didn't satisfy the critics. As architecural historian Michel Carmona tells the AFP, “You could say the same thing about Notre Dame [as 80 percent of the stone has been replaced at some stage].”

Whether you like the new designs or are partial to the old ones, it’s likely that they will go through some changes over the next few months. O’Sullivan reports that the design is scheduled to undergo a review later this summer, and it’s fairly certain that a new blueprint will be drawn up to address some of the criticism.

Not all of the historic newsstands will be changed, though—Hidalgo has already confirmed that 49 of the kiosks located near major tourist sites will stick to the historic design. And, at least for now, all of Paris’ iconic kiosks are still there for the photo ops.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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