The Greening of Paris

By Adrian Leeds

Paris, February 12, 2003

Bertrand Delanoë's Paris is teeming up for a greening up.

Even if the press weren't reporting it and even if the Mairies (city halls) weren't sending out their pretty glossy printed propaganda about it, there is no denying that Paris is getting greener by the moment.

Former mayor, Jean Tiberi first created the idea of "les quartiers tranquilles," to improve the quality of life by diminishing the number of cars, increasing public space and reducing pollution and noise, in certain areas of the city.

Then, out with the old, in with the new and Delanoë reclassified the program as "les quartiers verts" -- a hot new program promising to be better…to modify the traffic patterns, enlarge the sidewalks, redesign the "places," green it up, warm it up and plan for a Paris of tomorrow.

Certain "quartiers tranquilles" were always in the plans before the "changing of the guard," but others were newly scheduled to be transformed into "quartiers verts" such as: Sainte-Marthe (10th and 11th [arrondissements]), Forge-Royale-Aligre (11th and 12th), Peupliers (13th), Rébeval (19th), Belleville (20th). Soon following was the: Marais (4th), the Faubourg-Montmartre (9th), the Faubourg-Saint-Denis (10th), la Voûte - BelAir (12th) and the porte de Ménilmontant (20th). Scheduled for 2003: the Sentier (2nd), the neighborhoods of Bretagne (3rd), Saint-Germain (6th), Château-des-Rentiers (13th), Commerce (15th), the Jonquière (17th). In 2004: the Roquette (11th), Boileau (16th), the Butte Montmartre (18th) and Sorbier (20th).

Not everyone is happy about it.

Not long after Delanöe took office, bus and taxi lanes were installed on major streets all over town reducing the lanes for cars and speeding up the access for public transportation. Motorists were quick to complain about the increase in traffic jams, but the hope was that it provided incentive to reduce usage of cars and increase usage of public transportation, thereby reducing pollution, traffic and noise. As a result, more than half (55%) of Parisians do NOT own a car.

What's more in store?…enlargement of sidewalks, planting of trees, more pedestrian-only streets and bike lanes in an effort to create a better balance between the cars, bikers, skaters and pedestrians. Enlarging sidewalks reduces the number of parking spots and designated delivery spots and because people generally want to park their cars as close to their homes as possible, motorists are certain to be less than pleased.

In my own neighborhood (at the time of this writing), rue Béranger is losing one side of its parking to make way for a wider sidewalk and trees will be planted every few feet along the way. I've been watching them lay the large rectangular stones, spotted by "holes" making way for the trees. What type of trees is impossible to guess.

My own street is designated to become one of the pedestrian-onlys from which I hope the value of my apartment will increase. It may follow suit, since the change in the direction of the traffic flow of rue de la Tombe-Issoire in the 14th, merchants claim to have lost 25% of their business, but apartments there and on neighboring rue Père-Corentin have increased in value 20%.,

To create more green environs, the reduction of space for cars means traffic patterns must change. Expect to encounter a disorientation of the drivers - be prepared for frequent horn-blowing and occasional fender-benders. After a few months, things should be back to normal.

Moreover, the committees are encouraging the populace to do its part wherever possible and to plant their balconies, terraces, roofs and windows. I did mine last spring when I filled the window boxes with red geraniums and started a flower "war" among my neighbors. Color sprung up everywhere!

Some fear that Paris risks becoming a tad too residential and will lose its diversity. But I don't see how a little more green in our lives and a lot more oxygen in our lungs will lead to conformity. Do you?

For more information, visit http://www.lesvertsparis.org/ or call the Mairie at +33 (0) 1.39.22.56.40.