On Sunday, April 2, one of the first truly beautiful spring days of 2017, the French capital welcomed its newest urban refuge, the Parc Rives de Seine. ‘We’ve dreamed of this moment for 15 years,’ Mayor Anne Hidalgo told the crowds on the converted riverside highway, ‘but now pedestrians and children can have this magnificent walkway.’
When combined with the Left Bank’s pre-existing 2.5-kilometre (1.6 miles) stretch of traffic-free road, the pedestrianisation, planting, and furnishing of 4.5 kilometers of the Right Bank, from the Port de l’Arsenal in the Bastille district to the Quai des Tuileries at the Louvre, has created a park in the centre of Paris with a total area of 25 acres (10 hectares). Already a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the once congested riverbanks are now a dedicated space for relaxation, culture, and sporting activities.
The roadway has actually been closed to cars since October 21 of last year, having received approval from the city council in September. Since then, experts have been analysing the impact of its pedestrianisation on traffic flow. More than creating a pleasant place for strolling, rolling and sprawling on the grass, the move is part of a wider initiative to combat air pollution. ‘We aren’t anti-cars, we’re anti-pollution,’ Hidalgo reminded the park’s critics at the launch.
Conservative opposition to the plans has been highly charged. It had been claimed by motoring groups and politicians that the road closure would adversely affect working class commuters, adding up to 20 minutes to their daily journeys, and simply displace the capital’s traffic problem. In November, these sentiments were echoed by 168 mayors from across Île de France who moved unsuccessfully to have the highway reopened.
While political disagreements simmered at the town hall, plans for the new park progressed throughout the winter, with municipal services leading sports and leisure activities on the closed road and installing a range of services such as cafés, al fresco seating areas, children’s playgrounds, and a bicycle repair shop.
Sports enthusiast will also find a multi-sports ground at the exit of the Tuileries tunnel, a mini-football pitch at the Square Federico-Garcia-Lorca, and a 2-kilometre (1.2 miles) running course starting at the Pont de Sully. For children, there is a 40-metre-long (131 feet) installation of tree logs and stumps ripe for exploration, two climbing walls at the Pont d’Arcole and the Pont au Change, and play areas which boast a pontoon, a wooden boat, and a crate labyrinth.
This park is just one of a fleet of Hidalgo-led initiatives to green Paris, with others including subsidies for planting the city’s walls and steps to make its river and canals swimmable. It is also a crucial part of efforts to revive the city’s tourism industry.