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Saturday, July 1, 2017

City Transformation, No More Cash, 100% Electric, May Hung in June

How to transform a city in 15 years

We recently visited Bordeaux for a few days and what a great city it is – I had no idea! The large historic city centre is stunning and largely dates from the 18th century when Bordeaux was at its peak. Much of its wealth was and is a result of the wine trade and interestingly the city was ruled by England at times. It is the 5th largest city in France after Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Lille but it is larger than Toulouse. The 18th century buildings right across the city centre are a beautiful golden colour, not unlike Cotswold stone. Victor Hugo found the town so beautiful he once said: "Take Versailles, add Antwerp, and you have Bordeaux". Baron Haussmann, a long-time prefect of Bordeaux, used Bordeaux's 18th-century large-scale rebuilding as a model when he was asked by Emperor Napoleon III to transform a then still quasi-medieval Paris into a "modern" capital that would make France proud. Who knew that Haussmannian Paris was inspired by Bordeaux!

Place de la Bourse with Water Mirror in front
Example of buildings before and after

However, the really interesting bit is that just 15 years ago, Bordeaux was a drab, polluted less interesting city which attracted far fewer tourists. Under mayor Alain Juppé, the city was re-generated and transformed. The old buildings which were all black under a layer of pollution were cleaned up, the decrepit warehouses lining the banks of the Garonne and preventing sight of the river were largely removed, cars were banned in the centre and a new tram network replaced them and in addition to large renovations, some world class new buildings, bridges and monuments were commissioned. The sparkling Place de La Bourse for example is stunning and with the Water Mirror, le Mirroir d’Eau, it is one of the great architectural sights of the world attracting people of every age and transforming itself every few minutes. The newly opened Musée du Vin is architecturally memorable, even if you are not into wine. It stands near the pont Jacques Chaban Delmas which levitates elegantly to allow large ships down the Garonne.

La Cité du Vin

And of course we ate some really good food and were impressed by the quality and the quality of the shops and the fine squares where you can sit in cafés and watch Bordeaux go past. The rue Ste Catherine starts at the impressive Place de La Comédie (next to the Esplanade des Quinconces which is Europe’s largest square) with fancy upmarket shops and runs more than a kilometre long and the shops become less expensive the further out you go. Great parks, elegant shopping centres, and a good climate. What is there not to like!

You can see the clean facades and a tram!

No more cash?

On June 20th, I bought my train ticket to London on my phone, which automatically charges my card and provides me with a barcode that opens the ticket barriers (although the ticket inspectors who check on the train can’t read it). I paid my for my car parking at the station on my computer while travelling to London. In London, I travelled around by tube (underground metro) and used my phone to touch in and touch out via Android pay which charges my card. I ate and drank in a couple of cafés on my travels and in each I paid using my phone again. When I got home I realised that the cashless society really is with us now. How fast it spreads depends on customers’ and retailers’ desire to use them. I have to admit that I rarely carry any cash around with me now. A few weeks, back, I tried to park in central Oxford but the parking machines only accepted coins (no £2 coins and no new £1 coins) so I turned round and went to an out-of-town restaurant instead where I could park for free.

It will become increasingly hard for street beggars, charity fund-raisers and other who rely entirely on cash.

Android Pay
No Pay by Phone, No Credit Cards, No £2 coins, No new £1 coins

Most of my driving is now 100% electric.

The majority of my driving is round trips of under 15 miles which means I don't need to use any petrol as my car has a 15 mile electric range. I charge it up at home and then off I go. No noise, no emissions and a fierce acceleration! These days I only fill up with petrol about once a month after I have done a few long trips. In the summer months, the battery works more efficiently and I get about 20% greater range. I thoroughly recommend it!

My home charger

May Hung in June

Theresa May, the Prime Minster of the UK, was under no obligation to have an election in June. In fact, since it was not due for another 3 years, she had to ask Parliament for permission. She was convinced it would give her a stronger majority and another 5 years in power. Her calculations misfired hugely. The one thing we do know is that nothing is predictable in politics today. Brexit, Trump, Macron, and now a much-reduced, weak and wobbly May (anything but 'strong and stable'), who has done a deal with a nasty bunch of 10 ultra-conservative (anti-abortion, anti gay marriage, etc.) Northern Irish MPs in order to stay in power. I will be surprised if she lasts more than a year. 

The trouble is that all the other potential replacements (e.g. Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davies, etc.) are even worse than she is. Unfortunately, unlike in the 20th century, most of our top talent no longer goes into politics. The only upside I can see of the continued uncertainly and political mess is that the Brexit they negotiate should now be a less far-right sort of Brexit as the British people refused to give May and her government a mandate to get on with it. If they have any sense, they will listen and negotiate a deal that is fair to the UK and to the EU, with whom we do most of our trade, one that will make us less poor in the future. Our standard of living is dropping fast and I fear for how the British public will end up reacting to their self-inflicted wound.

Editor is George Osborne who was previously sacked by May!

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” ~ Forrest Gump

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