Our Future Paris
The oldest tree in Paris is propped up by a slab of concrete and stands in the center of the Square Vivani in front of Eglise Saint Julien le Pauvre in the 5th arrondissement. Dating back to 1602, the “Robinia pseudacacia” was brought from Virginia to Europe and planted there by herbalist to King Henri IV and director of the nearby Jardin des Plantes, Jean Robin.
From this vantage point, with Notre Dame looming up in the background, one can sense an even more profound history of the city — long before Baron Haussmann bulldozed what stood in the way of his grand plans.
“The numbers are staggering. Between 1853 and 1870 Haussmann demolished nearly 20,000 buildings in Paris and constructed 45,000 new buildings. With an army of 60,000 workers laboring day and night he erased hundreds of streets from the map. Much of the city’s history was lost as some of the oldest quarters in Paris dating back to medieval and Renaissance times crumbled. The island on which Notre Dame sits, Ile de la Cité, was nearly wiped clean. The number of Parisians evicted from their lodgings during this urban makeover reached over 100,000. Many of the large avenues and boulevards famous today as symbols of Paris were created during this great urban upheaval.” Leonard Pitt
What was so intriguing about the three-hour-plus walk ten of us took on Saturday with Leonard Pitt to discover a “Paris Disparu,” are the questions that remain in our minds: If Haussmann hadn’t left his mark, then who would have? And what would Paris look like today?
One thing of particular note when looking at the photos of the city taken before the turn of the 20th-century, is the evident lack of greenery. Barely a tree stood along the cobblestoned streets and blackened stone buildings. Perhaps the tree at Square Vivani was one of only a handful! Life seemed poor, dark and dismal.
In today’s Paris, along the grand boulevards with their symmetrical, straight-lined Haussmannian “pierre-de-taille” buildings, the trees stand tall, well tended, springing with life and blocking the view of the buildings all spring and summer long. While so much of Paris dating before the 19th-century is gone, never to be discovered again, replaced by 21st-century icons such as Starbucks, the Centre Georges Pompidou and La Défense, is that all so bad? What would have been the alternative?
I’m thankful to lawmakers such as André Malraux and the civil-minded folks who saved Le Marais and the 17th-century building I now live in and I’m thankful to the gardeners who keep the oldest tree in Paris alive and standing tall.
We wrestle with the question of progress, good or bad? And we know that it’s impossible to stop, but only to give proper direction. From what I can tell, the city leaders, such as Mayor Bertrand Delanoë and progressive district mayors such as Pierre Aidenbaum of the 3rd, are taking to heart the programs they administer and how it affects our future…our future Paris.
For that, I am thankful.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]
P.S. If you are as fascinated by the future of the city as you are of its past, then stay tuned in by visiting the city site at http://www.paris.fr/. Plus, we write regularly about what you can expect of Paris and Paris the future of your Paris property investments in French Property Insider. Click here to learn more.
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