Selfies Instead of Love Locks? Hmmm …

Pont des Arts2Just about everyone who has visited Paris or keeps up with news about the City of Light is well aware that there’s a growing problem with tourists–and even some Parisians –placing metal padlocks dubbed “love locks” on several of the city’s bridges (most prominently the Pont des Arts) as a symbol of their undying love.

While the practice has both fans and detractors, the truth is that the tens of thousands of locks are causing structural problems to some of Paris’s bridge: In June, a Pont des Arts railing collapsed into the Seine under the weight of the love locks. And while initially limited to just the Pont des Arts, the practice has spread throughout the city. One love locks bridge may be romantic (and opinions differ strongly as to whether this is so), but seeing locks placed on every bridge in Paris–and even some other sight-seeing destinations, like the Eiffel Tower–is simply an unacceptable eyesore.

bridge collapse

Part of the Pont des Arts that collapse under the weight of “love locks”

Paris’s newly elected mayor, Anne Hidalgo, earlier this year promised that her administration would look into ways to curb the love locks problem. This week, city officials announced they have a partial solution–asking couples that normally would place a love lock to instead take a selfie on a Paris bridge and post the photo on social media websites with the hashtag #lovewithoutlocks. The idea is that couples celebrate their relationships online rather than via real-world padlocks.

The city also launched a website where the selfies can be posted at lovewithoutlocks.paris.fr. (There’s a second site, but it’s not clear if this is part of the official selfies campaign, www.lovewithoutlocks.com. This second site already has images of many things other than selfies of lovers in Paris, including pictures of feet, ads for Apple apps, images of baby animals, shirtless photos of muscle-bound men and–sadly–pictures of newly placed love locks.)

Pont des ArtsNotices are being placed on most Paris bridges this week explaining the dangers of love locks and encouraging couples to immortalize their relationships through online selfies.

Hmmm …

While certainly showing that the city is seriously thinking about ways to address the love locks problem, the selfies solution seems a bit naive, particularly since tourists are likely already doing exactly what city officials are asking them to do..

Many–if not most–of the couples who place padlocks on Paris’s bridges already take photos of themselves posing with or pointing to their locks, or at a minimum snap photos of the newly fastened lock itself–and then post these images on social media. The “solution” offered by city officials offers almost nothing new beyond the unique hashtag.

Pont des Arts4Perhaps the initiative will prompt culturally responsible tourists to eschew placing a love lock or even educate others who thought the practice was benign to the fact that it can cause damage to Paris’s landmarks. And that’s a positive start, certainly.

But will it result in any decline in the number of locks being placed on Paris’s bridges each day? Not likely.

So, what should be done?

Unfortunately, few agree on meaningful, long-lasting solutions.

Pont des Arts5Some call for an outright ban to the practice, the cutting of all locks placed on any Paris bridge or structure, fines for tourists who place a love lock and similar financial penalties for vendors, both for legitimate retailers and illicit street vendors who hawk padlocks at many tourist sites in the city.

Others say that’s extreme, and could result in a backlash that tarnishes Paris’s image as the romance capital of the world and negative affect tourism. Paris’s economy relies heavily on tourism; visitors spend nearly $15 billion in the City of Light each year. City officials worry that tourists slapped with steep fines will not only decide to never again travel to Paris, but will also encourage their families and friends to avoid visiting in the first place. At a minimum, it could be a serious PR debacle.

Pont des Arts3Perhaps a compromise is in order?

Why not designate one bridge in the city as the love locks bridge, likely the Pont des Arts as it already seems the epicenter of the practice, reinforce it as necessary to withstand the additional weight, replace its railings as needed as they fill up with locks, and ban the practice entirely (with fines?) at all other locations in the city. Fans of love locks still have a place to celebrate their love, City staffers and tourism officials are appeased and all those who despise the practice don’t have to see it spreading to–and potentially damaging–every other structure in the city.

Of course, there will be those who are unhappy with any solution that doesn’t completely satisfy their desires. Ironically, two of the leading opponents of Paris’s love locks aren’t Parisian at all, or even French–they’re both American women. They refuse to accept anything other than a city-wide love locks ban complete with stiff fines. Nothing else is acceptable to them. (How to come up with the funds to pay the workers to cut the locks off Paris’s bridges and other sight-seeing destinations each day and for law-enforcement officials to patrol all of the city’s bridges 24/7 to issue fines to violators is another perplexing problem.)

And you should see the names folks on both sides of the issue call each other online. Opponents of love locks are fascists. The two Americans spearheading the “no love locks” campaign are sour, loveless “buttinskies” with too much time on their bored housewife hands. Tourists who place love locks are selfish, uncultured and vulgar, and should never be allowed to visit Paris in the first place. I’ve even seen a comment (ironically, again, from an American) that suggests anyone putting a love lock on a Parisian bridge should be drowned in the Seine.

The vitriol is as distressing as the love locks phenomenon itself. Moreover, it does nothing whatsoever to foster any meaningful dialogue, much less a viable solution.

(Fair warning: Anyone who engages in ad hominem attacks on this blog or ridicules a point of view contrary to their own will have their comments immediately deleted. I don’t care how strongly you feel about this issue and I don’t care how firmly you believe that your opinion is the only valid point of view. If you can’t play nice here, you’re not going to play at all.)

Regardless, the selfies proposal would seem to be a non-starter. It’s encouraging that someone–anyone–is thinking outside the box and trying to do something to address the love locks issue besides call each other names. And while a nice idea in theory, the likelihood that the selfies solution will actually reduce the number of locks fastened to Paris’s bridges each and every day is exceedingly remote.

Back to the drawing board, Parisian officials. Bonne chance!

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