winter street furniture

Duende Studio and François Bauchet. Fire Fountain, 2010

Duende, a design studio that regularly sends notices of very chic French industrial design, sent this elegant garbage can today.  Acknowledging that people on the street light fires in metal barrels, and often set themselves alight, this is a safe version.  It also aestheticises a social condition that is not always beautiful.

François Bauchet calls it a public fireplace, the winter version of Paris's fountains, an idea first floated by Yves Klein.  I doubt Klein, who died in 1962 at 34, had the homeless in mind, but he had made a conceptual shift from dancing fountains in the public domain to a winter version: both water and fire are elemental, fugitive, ephemeral.  So yes, one can see how Kleinian this lovely garbage can might be.

It is also in the tradition of the Art Nouveau Paris Metro entrances: cast iron and romantic, not a utilitarian atom in their sinuous, gratuitous decorativeness.  Well, other than holding up a sign. 
Should gratuitous beauty be put into service?  Is the issue here safety or the propriety of the street?  The poor are always with us, but at least we can make them look good?
Is it overly presbyterian Canadian of me to think that winter fire fountains casting a sweet wood-smoke pall over the city are a cosmetic device?  Yes, it is, and this is no doubt why our Canadian city streets are so bleak, so unlovely, so un-made up, so un-Parisian.

This is another example of a small thing, like the lipsticks given out during the relief of Belsen, that make a hard life bearable.  Of course we should be solving poverty at a structural level, but we don't seem to be capable of doing that.  In the meantime, might we not acknowledge that the sidewalks are our common ground where all levels of society meet the same amenities?