Paris Wants to Grow ‘Urban Forests’ at Famous Landmarks

The city plans to fill some small but treasured sites with trees—a climate strategy that may also change the way Paris frames its architectural heritage.

Under a plan announced last week by Mayor Anne Hidalgo, thickets of trees will soon appear in what today are pockets of concrete next to landmark locations, including the Hotel de Ville, Paris’s city hall; the Opera Garnier, Paris’s main opera house; the Gare de Lyon; and along the Seine quayside.

The plan falls into an overall drive to convert Paris’s surface to vegetal, introducing soil into architectural set-piece locations that have been kept bare historically.  As a result, the plan will not just increase greenery, but may also provoke some modest rethinking of the way Paris frames its architectural heritage.

While “forest” might be far too big a term for plots this modest in size, the plans as a type are necessary if Paris is to meet its ambitious greening goals. By 2030, city hall wants to have 50 percent of the city covered by fully porous, planted areas, a category that can include anything from new parkland to green roofs.

Accordingly, the city imagines turning the square in front of city hall into a pine grove, while future springtimes will see the opera house’s back elevation emerge from a sea of cherry blossom. The paved plaza at the side of the Gare de Lyon will become a woodland garden, while one of the two former car lanes running along the now pedestrianized Seine quays will be taken over by grass and shrubs.

Such plans will require more than sticking saplings in the ground. Creating the new opera house cherry orchard will mean displacing a current parking lot used by tourist buses, a process that the city plans to repeat elsewhere.

As the mayor notes in this interview with newspaper Le Parisien, traffic on Paris’s roads has been reducing at a rate of 5 percent every year during her term. With the number of cars steadily falling, Hidalgo has suggested steadily removing parking spaces and replacing each one with mini-gardens.

As the city’s greening plans gather pace, plants will increasingly cover the facades of buildings, trees will spread to fill paved squares. Paris will be quite different - more than anything else, a lot more livable for humans.