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French cities

ksun

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#1
So I have moved to France, at least for the next few years.

Grenoble is a small city with only 180k people in the city or 600-700k in the metro area. I thought it would feel small before I came but it completely shocked me. This city has very grand boulevards, hundreds of exquisite Art Deco buildings reminding you of Paris, 5 tram lines on dedicated green lanes, beautiful parks and squares and fountains, wide side walk and a bustling city life. I swear I could not believe it has such a small population - it feels far more grander and lively than Ottawa, Quebec City and definitely also Vancouver, all with several times of its population.

Normally in North America a city with 200,000 people probably has one or two retail streets with the usual chains, surrounded by a sea of single family homes (think Barrie). Central Grenoble however, is far from that. It has a big downtown with no fewer than 8 or even 10 large commercial streets crisscrossing each other, restaurants, pubs, shops, everything, and pedestrians everywhere. The street walls are so beautiful and lively and I swear the urbanity can well compete with downtown Montreal, Boston or Toronto! And that's amazing because it's a fraction of the size of those cities.

I am honestly speechless about what I see. We all know larger European cities such as Paris or Barcelona are ultra-urban, but I didn't expect a smallish French city to be this vibrant - Sunday's markets beat Kensington or st Lawrence market out of the water!

Not sure if anyone would agree with me, but it seems the urbanity of European cities is of a different dimension and they did it so well that it takes a North American city with 5 or 6 times the nominal population to be somewhat close. Ottawa would feel like a sterile small town compared with Grenoble, which "feels" closer to city like Montreal.
 

DSC

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#2
Not sure if anyone would agree with me, but it seems the urbanity of European cities is of a different dimension and they did it so well that it takes a North American city with 5 or 6 times the nominal population to be somewhat close. Ottawa would feel like a sterile small town compared with Grenoble, which "feels" closer to city like Montreal.
Yes, we were in Montpellier a year ago - its a bit bigger than Grenoble - they had so much to see and do and it was remarkably well maintained too. Of course, the French government (much like the Quebec one) spends LOTS of $$$ or €€€ on 'culture.
 

TrickyRicky

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#3
Ksun, I can attest to that. I was born in Switzerland and cities smaller than that have 300 million dollar concert halls. Do we have a thousand things to learn about urbanity and investment in the public and civic realm? Certainly. On the other hand small cities are small cities. Quality of life is about more than strolling down predestrian shopping districts and big city life is about more than hustle and bustle. Small cities are a great thing if you are into rural and outdoor activities but they start to shrink fast in your mind after a few months. I think the ideal age to live in a small city is when you are a child and when you are elderly. The entire purpose of big city living (which is not for everyone of course) is critical mass. There is a critical mass of people in a big city to do and experience and collaborate on things with. The beauty of Toronto is not in it's architecture or promenades or even it's hustle and bustle, it's in the intersection between having a big city critical mass while feeling like a smaller city and therefore not having as many big city negative aspects. Yes, feeling like a smaller city is a virtue as well. Especially when you are over the age of 35, have kids, or are elderly.
 

vatche

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#4
These small European towns you're talking about were relatively big centers at one point in the past 1000 years concentrated in the center with no suburbs. Everybody lived within the city limits. So they look big.
Barrie started as a suburb and stayed as a suburb.
Avignon for example is a small town yet it where the pope was headquartered for many years.
I'm not sure if I made sense but I tried....
 

ksun

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#5
These small European towns you're talking about were relatively big centers at one point in the past 1000 years concentrated in the center with no suburbs. Everybody lived within the city limits. So they look big.
Barrie started as a suburb and stayed as a suburb.
Avignon for example is a small town yet it where the pope was headquartered for many years.
I'm not sure if I made sense but I tried....
Yes, I think you did. These cities look big and vibrant because they started as centres of certain regions. For example, Grenoble being of similar distance of Lyon as Barrie from Toronto, is never a suburb of Lyon. It is the capital of the department (Isere), and served as the capital of Dauphine for many years before even becoming part of the french kingdom. However, it is far from just that. Ottawa was never meant to serve as a suburb. It was meant to be a capital city from the beginning yet it turns out to be this semi-suburban city with a tiny core and huge suburbs spreading endlessly for 50 miles. Ottawa looks like a very small city with a generally sterile and lifeless core (except certain areas). What about Winnipeg Even Vancouver is kind smallish. You can't even start to compare downtown Vancouver with downtown Lyon (both with similar population city and metro-wise). To a large extent, it is still a choice of lifestyle and city building.

This is a French city with few than 200k (600K metro) - something not many Canadians even know. Frankly speaking, its core looks more comparable to Montreal than Quebec City or Ottawa.




A typical Canadian city with similar size looks normally like this and this is the downtown - the most dense and "vibrant" and least boring part. And some think "oh, the Byward market area in Ottawa is so vibrant and cool"... Something like the Kensington Market in Toronto pretty much exists in every French city with more than 50k people, often more than one of them. The beaches area, the Danforth, Queen west, are they that lively after all? Just a different perspective, as we really need to set the bar a bit higher (instead of always feeling so good about ourselves). The kind of urbanity that Montreal and Toronto achieved is really not impressive on a wider context given their size (6 and 4 million, respectively). In fact, it is quite underwhelming.


 

sixrings

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#6
Unfortunately even though most people talk about walkability and culture when visiting Europe. When they have the opportunity to buy something in Canada they tend to go for the biggest bang for the buck. I think people who sometimes immigrate from countries which are super dense see these huge houses that they could never have back home and then gravitate towards them even if it will completely change their lifestyles.
 

ksun

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#7
Unfortunately even though most people talk about walkability and culture when visiting Europe. When they have the opportunity to buy something in Canada they tend to go for the biggest bang for the buck. I think people who sometimes immigrate from countries which are super dense see these huge houses that they could never have back home and then gravitate towards them even if it will completely change their lifestyles.
I will take the house too if it is in Moore Park.
 

ksun

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#9
its not... its in Scarborough or Brampton.
that's exactly the point.
They gravitate towards these huge houses because they don't know what kind of life is associated with them and their quality of life will be reduced yet.

But what you said is true. I know many Chinese immigrants who insist buying big suburban houses because they think living in a condo in Toronto defeats the purpose of immigrating (not sure about such a logic). They need big homes to show to others people (who wouldn't know what boring life they entail) and will feel embarrassed if others know they live in apartment buildings. In those dense countries, there is still wide belief that house living is superior without considering location and daily life. I have a friend who spent 1.1 million buying a 2700sf home in Markham and commute more than 3 hours every day. Should I envy her home?

By living in a French city, I just realize it is designed and functions in a much superior way. It is far more beautiful, compact and everything convenient. 5 LRT lines for such a small city is unimaginable in Canada. You know I thought life was super convenient in downtown Toronto but here I have 5+ bakeries within 5 minutes walk (I literally walk 30 seconds every morning to buy a fresh pain au chocolat every morning). Many individually grocery stores, convenience stores, probably 15 barber's shop, pharmacies (not chain like Shoppers), small bistros and cafes. On the weekends, there are large markets all over the city, and many streets are closed off to cars because they serve as markets for second hand sales (north Americans actually visit these markets as tourist destinations when they are just part of regular life for the French).

And we all boast about diversity in Canada, but that is only true for Toronto and other big cities. You go to Barrie or Kingston they are mostly white. Here in this smallish city, I was surprised to see so many restaurants of different kinds, many North African of course, but also Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Indian, which is impossible for a similar sized Canadian city (such as say Quebec City or Victoria). Of course a large student body has to do with that. Most interestingly, France doesn't have "Chinatowns" etc., these restaurants and services are spread around the city. Yes, Toronto is incredibly diverse, but smaller Canadians cities are actually less diverse than their European counterparts. I'd say diversity in France is underrated because I usually only focus on big cities.
 
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stanko

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#10
I'm born and raised in Canada but I am a second generation European immigrant and I've always romanticized Europe for exactly the same reasons you're so infatuated with the city of Grenoble you just moved to because I've travelled to Europe many times, seen the kind of lives people who live there have and asked myself why do we not have that in Canada? Well, I obviously know why. This country was founded for the people who didn't want to live in the crowded Old World, but that's a story for another time.

Now, I grew up in Old East York. It's technically suburban but it's not the kind of suburban sprawl that killed North American city life. I still had access to a Food Basics, two BIAs (one of which was the famous "Greektown" even though nobody called it that), community centre/library, subway station, and my elementary/middle school all a maximum of a 10 minute walk from my apartment building. It wasn't until I was 13 and my parents decided they didn't want to live in an apartment anymore so they took the affordable option of a house in Oakville and that's when I got to know this dreadful thing known as suburban sprawl, where there's nothing you can do without a car. Thankfully there is a network of bike trails in Oakville but cycling is still not an ideal option if you're trying to go to a store or community centre because you still have to deal with parking lots and cars flying at you. It's not even an option for half of the year due to winter. And then don't even get me started on the joke known as "downtown Oakville," it's dead at night and all of the amenities there only cater to the old rich people that live in the neighbourhood. Of course because of this, socializing in a suburban sprawl only happens in peoples' homes. At best, your friends will want to chill at a McDonald's or Starbucks. I have adapted to this lifestyle but I don't like it one bit so once I finish college and start my career I am definitely moving to the city

Now back to Europe. It's not just the areas that they consider suburban to be far more lively than our suburbs, I'd go as far as to say even their villages offer more fun. You already covered exactly what things entail so I'm not going to go into that but what I personally love most about European cities is the architectural styles. Hell, they even do post-modernism better than we do because better style and aesthetic is part of their culture
 

ksun

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#12
I'm born and raised in Canada but I am a second generation European immigrant and I've always romanticized Europe for exactly the same reasons you're so infatuated with the city of Grenoble you just moved to because I've travelled to Europe many times, seen the kind of lives people who live there have and asked myself why do we not have that in Canada? Well, I obviously know why. This country was founded for the people who didn't want to live in the crowded Old World, but that's a story for another time.

Now, I grew up in Old East York. It's technically suburban but it's not the kind of suburban sprawl that killed North American city life. I still had access to a Food Basics, two BIAs (one of which was the famous "Greektown" even though nobody called it that), community centre/library, subway station, and my elementary/middle school all a maximum of a 10 minute walk from my apartment building. It wasn't until I was 13 and my parents decided they didn't want to live in an apartment anymore so they took the affordable option of a house in Oakville and that's when I got to know this dreadful thing known as suburban sprawl, where there's nothing you can do without a car. Thankfully there is a network of bike trails in Oakville but cycling is still not an ideal option if you're trying to go to a store or community centre because you still have to deal with parking lots and cars flying at you. It's not even an option for half of the year due to winter. And then don't even get me started on the joke known as "downtown Oakville," it's dead at night and all of the amenities there only cater to the old rich people that live in the neighbourhood. Of course because of this, socializing in a suburban sprawl only happens in peoples' homes. At best, your friends will want to chill at a McDonald's or Starbucks. I have adapted to this lifestyle but I don't like it one bit so once I finish college and start my career I am definitely moving to the city

Now back to Europe. It's not just the areas that they consider suburban to be far more lively than our suburbs, I'd go as far as to say even their villages offer more fun. You already covered exactly what things entail so I'm not going to go into that but what I personally love most about European cities is the architectural styles. Hell, they even do post-modernism better than we do because better style and aesthetic is part of their culture
Every weekend morning there is a huge market just across the streets, with many individual vendors of fruits, wine, cheese, bread, flower, meat, cooked food like roasted chicken, spring rolls, sushi, paella etc. It is ALWAYS super busy. And it is just one of the many in this small city the size of downtown Toronto (18 sq km city proper).

I think Canadians would like those too, only difference is that they also want their big houses in the middle of nowhere.

And yes, I can see the French Alps from my livingroom window.


IMG_1277.JPG
 

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sixrings

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#13
You mean you don't live in a four bedroom detached house with a garage for the Renault? #failedatlife
 

ksun

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#14
You mean you don't live in a four bedroom detached house with a garage for the Renault? #failedatlife
I thought the standard is double garage? I saw plenty of those in Mississauga or Vaughan. Double the garage, double the quality of life/success.
 

sixrings

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#15
I thought the standard is double garage? I saw plenty of those in Mississauga or Vaughan. Double the garage, double the quality of life/success.
Actually I see more and more three car garages. Nice view...I wish to live The summer months in old quebec city