John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
One of France's most famous tagging destinations, an old warehouse in Pantin, is scheduled to become just another mixed-use development.
Take a ride on the Paris subway north and you'll soon arrive in Pantin, a commune squatting along the banks of the Canal de l'Ourcq. Pantin's waterfront was once a charming wasteland of dead zones and decrepit structures jutting into nowhere, but recently it's seen signs of life in the form of chic housing developments for Parisian suburbanites.
Of course, there had already been life there; it just operated under the radar. Pantin is home to one of Paris' most popular, eye-blasting graffiti spots, an abandoned grain warehouse circa 1930 that has sustained severe internal injuries. With most of its windows long since knocked out, the site is regularly visited by taggers who hop the fence to spray, scribble and splash all over its surface. Its multitiered balconies and modular bays make it especially delightful for street artists; to joggers who use the nearby path for their weekend runs, it's hallucinogenic eye candy.
But the rainbow-streaked warehouse is nearing the end of its life. Come 2014, the wrecking ball will visit the building to make way for a mixed-use development featuring a hotel and, uhm, gondolas. The machines will pound it into rubble, dust and paint flecks, and Paris will be a little less interesting for it. Adam Roberts over at Invisible Paris bemoans the planned destruction, arguing:
It is a completely artificial attempt to transform what remains a working class district into a leisure zone, and one that conversely will make it less attractive to visitors. In many ways the whole idea of renovation seems misplaced here. It is its grit that gives it its charm, and it already serves a purpose as a kind of urban adventure park where people can experience an inner-city edginess without any of the associated potential dangers. The building itself has become a permanent and ever-changing canvas for street artists, and its guts a playground for the explorers of city ruins.
If you're ever in the city, take a couple hours to visit Pantin before it's graffiti history. For those who can't make it, here's hoping the above gallery of photos will suffice. Its inner passages and sanctums are equally kaleidoscopic – go here and here for a peek, or just watch this video of a skateboarder zipping all over the doomed property: