A district south of Paris is rediscovering how it is like to become a good neighbor. With millions of people living in the City of Lights, many suffer from social isolation and loneliness. This occurs in many urban areas, but especially in Paris, where tourists go in and out of the city, people always moving and going somewhere and not making connections with others.
The experiment began in 2017 to entice residents to come out of their apartments and meet their neighbors. A 215-meter-long table and more than 600 chairs were set up along the Rue de l’Aude and all the residents in 14th arrondissement were invited to a special lunch. Attendees were urged to greet others with “Bonjour.”
City living doesn’t have to be unpleasant and anonymous. We want to create the atmosphere of a village in an urban space. —Patrick Bernard, local resident who launched the République des Hyper Voisins
“I’d never seen anything like it before. It felt like the street belonged to me, to all of us,” said local cafe owner Benjamin Zhong.
The République des Hyper Voisins, or Republic of Super Neighbors, encompassed about 50 streets and 15,000 residents. The social experiment aims to counter some of the disadvantages of living in the city such as elevated stress, depression, urban loneliness and isolation.
Patrick Bernard, a former journalist and local resident who launched the project, said other people have a negative impression of Parisians. “The stereotype of a Parisian is brusque and unfriendly. But city living doesn’t have to be unpleasant and anonymous,” he said. “We want to create the atmosphere of a village in an urban space.”
He pointed out that conviviality is more than just a feeling. “It can become a powerful asset, an essential economic and social agent in the construction of tomorrow’s cities.”
In the five years of the Republic, the community has hosted brunches, aperitifs, cultural outings, garden parties, children’s activities, musical parades and group exercise meets. There are also repair kiosks for broken electronics and equipment, spots to sell second-hand items, and sharing healthcare resources. Nearly 2,000 people attend the weekly events.
Many residents claimed the conscious change to become good neighbors had a great impact in their lives. Anna Morosova, who was originally from Russia, said the project gave her life stability after a divorce. “I live alone, but if I need help there is always someone,” she said. “There’s an energy this place gives me.”
More than a social gathering
In addition to building connections with neighbors, the Republic was instrumental in improving public services related to the environment, healthcare, public spaces and mobility.
Through the help of the city government, the Republic opened a medical clinic to provide care for the residents in the 14th arrondissement. It also collaborated with a nonprofit to install organic waste disposal points for compost.
The latest among the Republic’s projects is the transformation of the Place des Droits L’Enfant. What was previously a deserted area, it is now launched as a new space for people to use. The neighbors cleaned the area, planted flower beds and fixed the broken pavement.
“Paris is a big, cosmopolitan, diverse city, and it must stay a city of the people, a place where people live together happily,” said Pénélope Komitès, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of resilience. “Through conviviality, solidarity and strong links between our inhabitants, we can better absorb unexpected shocks.”