Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Positive Outcomes

In the early 1800’s Paris was not the Paris that we know today. She was a grand city started in Roman times, rambling through the middle ages never having a central plan for her growth just evolving higgledy piggledy.

The Medieval sunless, airless passageways were choked with heavy wagons, carriages, horses and especially people cheek to jowl. On a good rainy day “cleansing” streams ran down the middle of the streets to sweep away all sorts of waste, including human, into the inadequate sewers. The sewers ran into the river Seine. Parisians got their drinking water from the Seine.

In the early 1800’s the population of Paris doubled to 1 million as peasants in search of jobs poured in from the impoverished countryside. In the early 1800’s cholera was lurking. Epidemics are opportunistic. Cholera was unleashed and swept through the rambling, overcrowded streets.

By 1832 people were dying in ever increasing numbers and with increasing speed. “Victims were said to look like corpses even before they died and some had ice-cold tongues. The cure of the day did little to arrest the spread of the disease: a hot bath infused with vinegar, salt and mustard, some lime tea and a sensible diet. “With these precautions, we need not worry about an epidemic,” an official declared with wild optimism in August 1832.” 19,000 citizens died in six months.

The city and it’s chaotic organizational structure were putting people in the path of the pandemic.

There was little that could be done as cholera swept through the city. When the outbreak was finally under control the city organizers rallied to plan on how to keep from repeating this humanitarian disaster. How to prevent disease was a driving force in urban planning. What would it take to keep the population safe and sound? Wider streets and sidewalks came as a result of the cholera, as well as developing a proper sewage system and running water in all housing.

To say the least change wasn’t easy. Neighborhoods were flattened, buildings cut in half and construction dust floated over the city for years.

By 1870 Paris had the sunniest, most beautiful, and functional streets ever seen. The elegant and practical results were copied throughout the world.

Today Paris has 2,100 kilometers of sewer tunnels and the capability of processing more than 2 million cubic meters of wastewater every day. The streets are swept and washed early every morning while the city gears up for another bustling day.

Are there lessons and examples from this historic event about ways we can work together for the better of all? Are we searching for positive outcomes from our current pandemic and humanitarian crisis?

——and yes Paris and all of France is confronting a new opportunistic infectious disease. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. 

—-“The Epidemic That Shaped a City”, The Bugle May 2020
----all images copied from Google Images

No comments: