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Paris mayor's race offers chance to reimagine city

Monday - 3/24/2014, 7:35am  ET

This computer image provided in March 2014 by Laisne Architectes shows an abandoned Paris subway station turned into a swimming pool, part of conservative candidate for Paris Mayor Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet's, known as NKM, plan to reimagine the city. Paris has 10 abandoned metro stations, mostly unseen as the trains hurtle through their darkened tunnels. NKM has a futuristic plan to transform these stations into public spaces like a swimming pool, performance hall or restaurant. (AP Photo/Oxo Archiract; Nicolas Laisne Architectes)

Associated Press

PARIS (AP) -- The Paris mayor's race will give the city a new leader for the first time in 13 years and is offering a chance to reimagine one of the world's top tourist destinations.

No one -- neither Parisians nor visitors -- wants a complete transformation. It's not by accident that Paris barely looks different from the 19th century, when Emperor Napoleon III came up with a grand plan for grand boulevards and low, white stone buildings.

But the two candidates who will face a runoff on Sunday -- Socialist Anne Hidalgo and conservative longshot Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, known as NKM among the initial-loving French -- see room for improvement. Here are their visions:



The first subway trains leave around 5:30 a.m. and the last around 12:30 a.m -- a frustrating schedule for people who come to Paris for the nightlife. Both candidates have proposed expanding the hours. The conservative's plans would match London's, where plans are to have the Tube run around the clock on weekends beginning in 2015.



Paris also has 10 abandoned subway stations -- mostly unseen, as the trains hurtle through their darkened tunnels. NKM has a futuristic plan to transform these stations into public spaces like a swimming pool, performance hall or restaurant.



Paris turns quiet on Sundays -- most stores are closed, and those that are open tend to shut down shortly after lunch. NKM wants to expand the city's relatively small tourist zones where Sunday openings are permitted and allow department stores, grocers and public swimming pools to stay open later. She's also in favor of expanded hours for luxury shopping districts.

Hidalgo, following the path of current Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and her Socialist Party, sees no reason to change a rhythm of life that lets many French workers set aside a day for family and leisure. But she's well aware of the dismal welcome offered by the Eiffel Tower, where lines stretch for hours, leaving visitors to bake in the summer or soak in the rain for fear of losing their place. Hidalgo wants to create an underground welcome area there and rethink how people visit France's most popular monument.



Both candidates want to improve access to green spaces in Paris, where parks and playgrounds are rare in some neighborhoods and gardens tend to the formal.

La Petite Ceinture -- an abandoned railway from the 19th century -- is now ramshackle and overgrown. NKM wants to turn it into a 43-kilometer (27-mile) cycling and walking path, like the High Line in New York. Hidalgo's plan is more elaborate, envisioning not just a green space but -- in the tunnels -- places for farming fish and mushrooms.

As deputy major, Hidalgo was already involved in a park expansion in northern Paris, part of a major redevelopment to move much of the city courthouse off the central Ile de la Cite island, which is overrun with visitors to Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle cathedrals. She wants to expand a walkway along the banks of the Seine and the newly fashionable areas around Paris' canal district.

NKM wants to reopen some of Paris' closed parks and increase access to the Bois de Boulogne and Vincennes, which have fallen into disrepair.


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