This isn’t quite a street, this is a situation.

Michael Sanderson (Meta Friche) visits Rosalie Paquez and Lyl Lunik in their atelier on rue Denoyez.

Tell us a little bit about rue Denoyez. Is it a squat? An autonomous street? What are we looking at?

This isn’t quite a street, this is a situationIt started as a completely organic process. None of this was planned. None of this was legal. This street was a mix of squatted and commercial spaces. Concerned citizens. The squats were continuously shifting, changing location. And now it has evolved into the urban situation you see.

Are you a long time resident?

I’ve lived on this street for four and half years. This is our gallery here and our apartment. The street has continuously evolved since we moved here. New residents, new collectives, coalitions, projects have kept developing here over an extended period of time.

How is this street organized? It certainly does not resemble many others in the capital. Do you have an agreement with the city?

Yes, the residents and businesses owners you see here have signed an agreement with the city hall. The entire street belongs to the city, and it’s been this way for years. Like in other neighborhoods, the city purchases the properties one by one over time in order to ultimately renovate, regenerate, create new urban spaces. So this street is slated for eventual “rehabilitation”, which is another way of saying demolition. And we are here living and working in the interim. We are using the street for our own projects, residences, for our livelihood with the understanding that eventually, all of this will be removed. In the meantime, however, we are interested in integrated art, poetry, collective visions into daily urban life. And this is an ideal place for this sort of collective experimentation.

Who determines what the street looks like? Whose aesthetic sensibility is this?

We have designed the aesthetic logic of this street collectively. Every organization on the street built a planter, for example. This was part of a small greening the street project. You can see the mosaic planters everywhere, and each one is original, each one is made by a different neighbor. Here is our place. I share it with Marie, who is a painter, and another Marie, a portrait artist. I make costumes for theater pieces. So it is a collective, shared atelier. And sometimes we host events.

Would you say that the street is a collective canvas?

Maybe. What we are looking for a way to give value to everyone’s gestures. And we are keen on keeping art in the realm of the approachable, the popular.  We do not want to make art too sacred, to unattainable. And, yes, we want to share our creative practice.

Is this scenario special to Belleville? Is Belleville’s ornery history and marginal attitude an enabler for this kind of activity?

This situation is not indigenous to Belleville. Something like this could take place anywhere. If you have the human energy, the interest, the engagement, the neighbors, the autonomous attitude, this can take place anywhere you like.

Is graffiti legal on this street?

Yes! For example, this wall is a wall for free expression. It is legal to tag it. Graffiti is completely authorized here. We have the privilege and the authority to tag all the surfaces. Only on Rue de Noyer is this activity legal. You cannot tag anywhere else. You cannot walk across the street and tag over there. Perhaps you could. You could try.

By authorizing graffiti on rue Denoyez and not elsewhere – is this a form of strategic containment of an otherwise unsavory urban activity?

I don’t think so. There are a number of streets like this, where tagging is legal. Do these sites serve as a sponge? Perhaps. But it is bound to spill outside the limits of the street. The engaging part is that this wall is in constant motion. Every day people tag this wall. Sometime the wall changes twice a day.

Do all of the neighbors agree with the aesthetic sensibilities of the collective?

No. There are lots of people that do not like this grassroots form of urbanism.

Is Rue de Noyer is an economic generator?

Sure. The city knows that this is an attractor, but the street is still not a legitimate urban form. The city is still not thrilled, not even comfortable with this form of organization. So even though this is an important urban attractor, it will nonetheless end eventually.  This isn’t forever.  But it is important to recognize that there is something very powerful when urban situations emerge. What we are witnessing is emergent program – and this program is capable of testing the temperature of the water, understand the parameters and the qualities of the urban site. This way things can change and evolve slowing. This is not fashion. This urbanism is rooted. Slow growing and intense.