The streets of Toulouse

Today is my last full day in Toulouse, so I took the opportunity to have yet another wander around the streets. It’s been a lovely city to spend a couple of weeks in.

I hadn’t realised, but my apartment is on one of the main shopping streets, think George St in Sydney. As well as being incredibly central for everything, it also has no cars – they banned cars 20 years ago for pollution reasons. Bikes are allowed (with a theoretical section of the street) but because it’s a busy pedestrian street, and cyclists and pedestrians are completely used to sharing, pedestrians often dodge into the bike path without accident. Which means it is just lovely to stroll up and down it on the way to and from class, or just for fun.

The whole central area of the city (the original roman town, plus the add on catholic bit from the 12th century) is a bit like this. Cars can get in, but they have to give way to everything, and go very slowly. Which means I can stop and take pictures of the lovely mix of buildings – all around 4 stories, with a great mix of styles, including lots of the original Toulouse brick. My own street (which is in this set of pictures) had an antiques market on Sunday, mostly tat, but fun to browse.

Toulouse wasn’t always this way. In the 50s and 60s, every available square was given over to car parking, including some of the green spaces next to the river that are now full of picnickers, and the main square which had busking gymnasts this weekend. But enough people campaigned and protested that eventually cars were banished to the periphery, and underground car parks (at a cost) and the streets and squares were reclaimed by the people.

And there’s a bit of fun detail too – if you look closely at these pictures you’ll see some fun street art – there are examples every few blocks here. Coincidentally just before I got here, I read a travel article suggesting going to Paris to see this art – luckily it is here in Toulouse also!

I’ve come away from this stay even more convinced, if it was possible, of how much better city life can be without cars taking up space every where. I think that’s part of why its happened more quickly here in Europe – people go to nearby cities that try it, and realise how nice it is to be able to safely wander and want the same for their own cities.

3 thoughts on “The streets of Toulouse

  1. Oh, if only Auckland NZ could read your article and a) truly listen, and b) actually do something about it!
    It would/be absolutely wonderful.

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