Tue, Nov 16, 2010 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Night owls and early birds: Paris’ nightlife dilemma


When Paris banned smoking in bars and clubs three years ago, no one planned on a sneaky side--effect: legions of partygoers spilling onto the streets to smoke, chat — and keep the neighbors awake.

Bad blood between revelers and residents already grouchy at noise levels in the capital’s trendy quarters has curdled since the smoking ban took effect in nightlife spots in January 2008, a year after other public places.

Last year, a group of DJs and club promoters launched a petition warning that nightlife was dying out in the City of Lights, after a rash of lawsuits against bar owners and steps by city authorities to shut down noisy clubs.

Since then rows have simmered on and last week Paris city hall hosted a big-tent conference to try to get the warring factions — club owners, police, residents’ groups, local authorities — to see eye to eye.

“Paris is a city full of contradictions. Every Parisian is both an early bird and a night owl — we all work, we need our sleep and from time to time we like to party too,” Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe told the gathering on Friday.

Unlike a city like London — where trendy clubs and bars tend to be located in business districts, with most people living out of the center — in densely populated inner-city, Paris everyone shares the same space.

Some 600,000 Parisians work into the night, 230,000 of them after midnight, while 2.2 million slumber in their beds just nearby.

Delanoe says that fostering a vibrant nightlife while respecting residents’ right to peace and quiet is a tricky task.

“We Parisians are demanding, not to say fickle,” he said. “On a night you’re staying in, you’d like a curfew at 8pm, but when you’re in the mood to party, you want the right to make a racket until 8am.”

For the right-wing city opposition, the answer is to build dedicated party zones, one candidate being the Batignolles former industrial site in the west of the capital.

However, Delanoe’s left-wing team is firmly attached to neighborhoods that mix work and play — arguing among other things that lively streets keep the city safer at night.

“Partying and culture is part of what makes Paris shine,” Delanoe said.

Starting this spring, Paris will send out squads of red-nosed mimes and clowns to nudge punters into keeping the noise down, an alternative to sending in the police. The project is modeled on a successful experiment in Barcelona, Spain.

“It’s about getting the message across with a dose of humor,” said Deputy Paris Mayor Mao Peninou, who is in charge of the project.

Other ideas on the table over two days of workshops at city hall included public subsidies to soundproof bars that host DJs at night — at a cost of between 20,000 (US$27,300) and 150,000 euros for each venue.

“These small venues are economically fragile, they can’t afford to invest on their own,” said Bruno Blanckaert, the head of the French union of nightclubs and cabarets, who believes more than 100 bars could be concerned.

Another idea backed by Blanckaert is to introduce independent noise-level surveys for every real estate purchase, alongside existing surveys on electric wiring, lead and asbestos — as a way of preventing new apartment owners from suing their noisy neighbors.

Delanoe is also looking at developing some party sites away from residential areas — such as the riverbank highways that currently host the “Paris Plage” summer beach, which are already home to a new nightclub, the “Showcase.”

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