France's blogging love affair, plus a green oasis in Spain and our Q&A with the Mayor of Berlin.
To blog, or not to blog? That was the question Xavier Darcos had to ask himself on being appointed President Nicolas Sarkozy’s education minister. The right-leaning Darcos, who began his blog xavierdarcos.blogspirit.com in April 2005 – mostly commentating on political matters (pet hates included Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal and tattooed, hooded banlieue dwellers) – finished by beating a strategic retreat from the French blogosphere. But it was clearly a painful wrench for Darcos, whose final entry (dated 19 May) refuses to rule out the possibility of a comeback.
Darcos’s appetite for the blogging fray had momentarily put him at the centre of what is fast-becoming a French national pastime. In France, where self-expression is a raison d’être and demonstrations are an excuse for a public holiday, blogging provides the perfect virtual soapbox for a whole range of views and complaints. Not least in relation to the workplace, where a recent study by FDS, a UK-based field marketing agency, found that the French topped the list of the world’s most disgruntled workers.
For many French people, blogging is more than just a variation on the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am” – in this case “j’écris, donc je sues” (I write, therefore I am) – it also has a decidedly republican (with a small r) core.
In the lead-up to the French presidential elections, ComScore, a US website that measures trends in the digital world, found that visitors to blog-creation sites such as Canalblog.com (up 24 per cent to 3.1 million visitors) and Radioblogclub.com (up 23 per cent to 2 million visitors) had sky-rocketed. This, in a country where 12 candidates for the presidential election – this year’s total – is considered a poor show.
Figures from Forrester Research compiled last November estimated that there are at least a million active bloggers (those who update their sites at least once every three months) in France, more than a quarter of the European total.
Best of French blogs
Pierre Assouline’s literary musings go under the heading “la république des livres”.
An irreverent look at the life of Jacques Chirac’s successor as President.
Wry bilingual site from Emmanuelle Richard, a French journalist based in Los Angeles.
Music & cinema
French artist Jean-Jacques Birgé finds time to lead you off the beaten track.
French wine expert Patrick Dussert-Gerber shows off his fine nose.
Which city offers the best quality of life?
A city that offers a wide range of opportunities. With quality of life you must put citizen participation first.
What is your favourite city?
Berlin. I was born and grew up here – I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
What are your favourite design features in other cities?
Every city has its characteristic landmarks in architecture, art and cityscapes. In Berlin it is most certainly the Brandenburger Tor. I appreciate it when design features fit into and embody a specific city.
What would you eradicate from the built environment?
That’s a tricky question for the serving mayor of Berlin. There have been discussions about the Republican Palace, but many opinions must be taken into account before making a decision.
If you could make one change to the urban fabric, what would it be?
The city’s main task over the coming years will be to adapt to changing demographics. Our society is ageing. The elderly need more care opportunities. For the same reason, public transport must become more user-friendly for the elderly. What do you do with unused school buildings? That’s one of the questions we’re faced with today.
On a more personal level, what is essential to quality of life?
If you want a very personal answer: a nice, well-equipped kitchen is a really important factor for my life-quality.
In May, Vitoria-Gasteiz was named the most sustainable city in Spain by the prestigious Fundació Fòrum Ambientale (Environmental Foundation Forum).
Fifty per cent of journeys in this small northern city are done on foot; the number of bicycle owners rose from 8,000 to 18,500 between 2003 and 2006. The city council promotes alternative fuel – 50 per cent of buses work on biodiesel but the target is 100 per cent by 2012.
“Vitoria is an example to all Spain and beyond, combining as it does a green belt with lots of efforts to improve the environment,” said Carles Mendieta, director of the Foundation.