Rouen, Rue de la Grosse Horloge

This is evidently a busy commercial street, filled with shops on both sides, and by the look of them, they are fancy shops. It appears that the commercial area extends beyond the gate, although it is difficult to be sure.

Notice how crowded the street is, even though only one wheeled vehicle is in evidence. A century ago, people occupied far less space than they do today, with large families living in just a few rooms. Today's smaller families usually occupy much more space. One of the results of this is that fewer people live in a given area than they used to, with a resultant reduction in the pedestrian density. It is one of the challenges of modern city design to establish areas with sufficient pedestrian density to come alive. Fortunately, it is not necessary to achieve the density shown here in order to attain the goal of a lively street.

The gate itself is a monumental work. While not large, it is finely details and built of high quality materials. The arch has a lovely shape and carries an ornate keystone. Considerable attention has been paid to the silhouette of the roof against the sky.

Notice that the proscription against commercial establishments competing with civil and sectarian works for attention has already been broken in a small way in this street. The bright white diagonal sign draws attention from the ornate clock face just beyond. Today, of course, we scarcely recognize this because it has become all but universal. Restrained signage is a hallmark of an urban fabric in which the commercial has been subordinated to higher interests. All that is required is enough civic sense for people to demand that businesses temper their expression. Venice allowed McDonalds to establish a store in Venice, but the usual gigantic yellow plastic arches are absent.

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Text ©2001-2002 J.Crawford