Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Nice’s famed Promenade des Anglais is specifically designed to attract pedestrians in search of a stroll along the waterfront.
The perpetrator of Thursday night’s deadly attack on Nice would have had difficulty choosing a more evocative setting.
The Promenade des Anglais, where a 31-year-old suspect drove a truck two kilometers through crowds gathered for Bastille Day celebrations, isn’t just any street. It’s a kind of open-air living room that’s at the very heart of France’s fifth largest city, and the part of Nice that its many visitors most tend to flock to. This attack, which has claimed at least 84 lives and critically injured dozens more, may have had some element of motive that has not yet been spelled out. But fundamentally, it was an assault on ordinary city life.
With a broad boulevard flanking one of the city’s few truly public beaches, the Promenade des Anglais (literally “Walkway of the English”) is expressly designed to attract pedestrians to the waterfront of one of the Mediterranean’s busiest tourist destinations. Imagine an elegant Belle Époque version of the Atlantic City Boardwalk and you’re halfway there. During a public holiday on a warm, summer night it would have been a magnet for people out to watch the fireworks and the crowds, unaware of what they were about to face. And it was a crowd that included people from all over the world. Early reports indicate that nationals of the United States, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Switzerland and Germany were among the casualties.
In 2015, 4.3 million visitors came to Nice, many of them passing through a city airport that is the busiest in France after Paris’ Charles de Gaulle. French visitors predominate, but Nice has long been an international hub. Many tourists here hail from nearby Italy, the British Isles and the U.S., whose citizens accounted for 244,000 overnight stays in 2014. As they mourn, many Niçois who work in the tourism industry will also be worrying that these numbers will now fall.
There’s as yet no direct connection between the carnage in Nice and last November’s attacks on Paris. There are nonetheless some clear, distressing similarities. The assailants behind both attacks went for busy, crowded streets where ordinary people were enjoying themselves. Just like the bars and venues in the streets around Paris’ Place de la République, the Promenade des Anglais is a grandly built but low-key kind of place where just about anyone might come in the evening to catch the breeze. If anything, that sense of everyday normality overturned through violence manages to makes Thursday night’s events in Nice all the more tragic.