The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Paris unveils ‘manifesto for beauty’ after social media campaign calls out City of Light’s trash problem

Garbage bags near the Eiffel Tower in 2019. (Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images)

Paris is the city of romance, of warm croissants, of cafes whose terraces bristle with life and of museums filled with world-renowned treasures.

It’s also the city of mounting piles of trash, of never-ending construction, potholes and graffiti — at least according to a social media campaign launched last year under the hashtag #SaccageParis, roughly translated as “TrashyParis,” through which residents are encouraged to post photos that show how the City of Light has lost its shine.

City Hall maintains that the hashtag is a political smear campaign against left-wing mayor and 2022 presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo. But it appears to have struck a chord. On Tuesday, city officials unveiled the first chapter of a “manifesto for beauty,” a conceptual framework they said would underpin all their efforts to “build the Paris of tomorrow, with and for all Parisians.”

“We are all very attached to the beauty of Paris,” First Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Grégoire said in a video introducing the manifesto. “But Paris is facing a major transformational challenge: We must adapt the city to climate change, and we must reconcile the challenges of climate change with the conservation of our heritage.”

The manifesto for beauty is the result of a consultation launched in November 2020 to develop plans to update the designs of public spaces in Paris in ways that are good for the environment and preserve the city’s character.

Under this first set of measures, officials have pledged to remove ugly or useless street furniture, to replace bright-yellow temporary markings for new bicycle lanes with more discreet and permanent ones, to clean up graffiti and crack down on taggers and to replace lamp posts that have broken down or corroded over time.

The new measures come as Paris prepares to host the Summer Olympics in 2024.

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#SaccageParis was started by the anonymous Twitter account “Panamepropre,” slang for “Clean Paris,” in March 2021, according to French news outlets. It went viral in the context of an upcoming presidential election in which the Paris mayor, one of several left-wing candidates, has touted the benefits of her environmental policies — which have earned her both praise and hate from constituents in her nearly eight years in City Hall.

When reached for comment on Twitter, the owner of the account, who identified themselves as a 51-year-old who has lived in Paris for over 20 years but asked to remain anonymous to protect their privacy, said the “manifesto for beauty” was a sign the #SaccageParis campaign was working.

“We are of course satisfied that Emmanuel Grégoire agrees with several of our demands, after having unfairly accused us of lies for months,” they wrote, pointing to specific proposals of cracking down on people who tag public buildings and of restoring the traditional metal grates that surround Paris’ trees. “But that does not go far enough, for instance we must launch a major rescue plan for the historic furniture of Paris, otherwise it will soon be too late.”

#SaccageParis is a movement organized around concrete demands, posted on its website, that include giving more resources to law enforcement to tackle crime and insecurity and hiring more gardeners and landscapers to plant flowers in public spaces. But it’s also become an outlet for Parisians to complain about the everyday nuisances and eyesores they encounter in their city on social media.

Some fall under the responsibility of City Hall. For example, after social media users complained last year that new public stools in the shape of mushrooms and benches that looked like stacked wooden logs were an eyesore, the city pledged to remove them. But some of the other criticism touches on long-standing issues, from noise to homelessness, and individual behavior, like vandalism and pet owners leaving their animals’ excrement on sidewalks.

“We never denied that there were things that could be perfected or improved,” Grégoire said last year in response to a journalist’s asking him about the impact of #SaccageParis on City Hall’s urban design decisions. On Tuesday, he said the manifesto for beauty had nothing to do with #SaccageParis but accepted that the campaign has been “useful” in that it has “forced us to question ourselves and react.”

The city also has used social media to respond to the photos of dirty, dilapidated Paris. In one tweet featuring photos with more flattering views of the City of Light, it said, “Paris is also this.”

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