by George Hobica / © 2018, Tribune News Service. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
When my architect friend Westley visits Paris, he doesn’t dawdle in the Louvre or climb the Eiffel Tower. Instead, he goes for a stroll.
“I want to experience the city like the locals do,” he once told me. In other words, Westley is a boulevardier, a flaneur, that great French word derived from the Old Norse verb flana or “to wander with no purpose.”
But Westley and his ilk do have a purpose: they participate in a city by observing the quotidian flow of street life. Sometimes you can learn more about a place just by watching daily interactions along its thoroughfares than by visiting its monuments and museums.
As I grew older and visited the same cities over and over, I came to appreciate the value of wandering with eyes and ears open to the pulse of urban life.
So what better place to observe a city’s denizens than along some of the world’s most beautiful boulevards, those wide, tree-lined streets humming with city life?
Champs Élysées, Paris, France
Dating from the 17th century, it runs 1.2 miles from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where the Obelisk of Luxor still towers majestically despite being over 3 millennia old. Look back from the Obelisk to the Arc to see the boulevard at its best.
Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Boston, USA
Winston Churchill called Commonwealth Avenue “the grandest boulevard in North America.” Running eight architecturally homogeneous blocks from Arlington Street to Massachusetts Avenue in the Back Bay and then westward to Newton, the 200-foot-wide Comm Ave Mall, designed by architect Arthur Gilman in 1856, covers 32 acres. Gilman insisted that all houses should sit back 20 feet from the pavement, adding to the avenue’s grandeur and spaciousness. In springtime, magnolia trees grace the Mall with their pink petals; in winter, its entire length glows with artfully lit trees.
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