June 10, 2011 / 2:04 PM / in 6 years

Paris to become a "laboratory" for urban design

<p>A view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, July 5, 2010. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer</p>

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris, the city that has inspired legions of artists and creative thinkers over the centuries is looking to the future -- searching for urban design projects at the forefront of innovation and utility.

From urban mushroom gardens to Wifi-enabled hammocks on the Champs-Elysees, 40 temporary projects will be installed from July to December throughout the French capital and its residents asked to express opinions on their long-term suitability.

“The idea is to make the city a ‘living lab’, an experimental laboratory,” said Jean-Louis Missika, the deputy mayor in charge of innovation, research and universities.

“Some projects will have zero utility, while others will be enormously popular, I‘m sure.”

That may be the case with the parking detectors that can guide hard-pressed Parisian drivers to nearby empty parking spaces, or a streetside booth where people can record video messages and send them to friends or loved ones.

Other projects are more whimsical, from the “U-Farm” mushroom grower that relies on coffee grounds or the mobile aqua garden that can raise both vegetables and fish.

The city of Paris has subsidized about half of the design projects to the tune of up to 30,000 euros ($43,820).

Tourist sites have not been ignored in the attempt to modernize the city. A multimedia terminal will help guide visitors through the famous Montparnasse cemetery, final resting place for literary greats like Charles Baudelaire, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

And in the bustling plaza outside Saint-Sulpice, the beloved Left Bank church that dates from the 17th century, tourists can send virtual postcards from a kiosk.

While some may pooh-pooh the practicality or esthetics of some of the design projects, the point is to experiment, said Deputy Mayor Missika.

After all, he said, even the Eiffel Tower -- now the most recognized symbol of Paris by people all over the world -- created controversy when it was first erected.

“Every century has had its revolution.”

Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Writing by Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato

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